Fixing I-95 at a crawl?

It's positive news that the state Department of Transportation is moving ahead with a study of how to fix the gauntlet that is Interstate 95 in eastern Connecticut.

To a driving public who can see for themselves how dangerous and congested the highway is, the announcement of an update to a 10-year-old study may sound like stalled progress. They see little justification for 18 months of work.

The Day believes otherwise. Much has changed, if not the hazards and congestion.

Thomas Maziarz, bureau chief for the state Department of Transportation's Bureau of Policy and Planning, told the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments Wednesday that DOT will conduct the study of the "safety, rail, bus and traffic improvements, and the potential for economic development" in the entire I-95 corridor between the New York and the Rhode Island state lines. East of the Connecticut River, it will include emphasis on dangerous interchanges like the one at interstates 95 and 395 on the East Lyme-Waterford border.

That particularly hazardous interchange, although studied before, was not a focus of the decade-old blueprint that is being updated as a part of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's 30-year, $100 billion transportation proposal, dubbed "Let's Go CT."

Ten years ago, and for most of the time since, the state was keeping the proposed Route 11 on life support, and with it the need to factor in the route's connection to the interstates in the same area. The demise of the project at the hands of the Federal Highway Administration, however, has recently relieved highway engineers of the Route 11 complication.

Also new in the last two years is the governor's proposal to widen the highway in sections so it does not go from three lanes to two and back. A possibility is to close down some exits. Both of those tasks would need new engineering, and that means a study.

And it is good to hear at last that DOT has concluded that access to the Gold Star Bridge in New London and to various connectors, including Route 32, is not only unsafe but an economic deterrent to the city. Since the 1970s the spaghetti bowl of ramps and connectors has occupied many acres and led to drivers entering secondary roads at high speeds. Speed has contributed to crashes and injuries. The state is already planning repairs to the bridge, starting with the northbound span.

After investigatory reporting that produced an award-winning multimedia report on Interstate 95 last year, The Day shares the frustrations of the highway's travelers and those who won't even use it, preferring a slow ride on secondary roads to the high odds of being stopped completely on a blocked interstate.

But DOT has been doing something right — something the Federal Railway Administration did not do in developing its rail transportation plans for the state: The department and its commissioner, Joseph P. Redeker, have been consulting with public officials in the towns lining the highway before coming up with plans. 

From town leaders, including those who make up the regional council of governments, the DOT has heard that tightened roads, lack of shoulder space and steep grades are all problems they want resolved. Crash reports from the past two decades, used as data in The Day's I-95 series, cited human factors as major contributors, but it is clear that following too closely, improper lane changing, a driver losing control, speeding and an animal or foreign object in the road carry greater risk in a narrow, winding, hilly roadway. Local police and fire departments are familiar not only with the crashes but also the difficulties in reaching victims on some stretches of the highway.

The State Bond Commission has approved $125,000 for the part of the study covering eastern Connecticut, and DOT has said it will seek federal highway funds towards the study. The cost for the section west of the river is estimated at $1 million.

Commissioner Redeker has set an example of accessibility and communications with local officials that the DOT, frankly, was not known for. While 18 months of study may seem like just another waiting period, engineering takes time and roads have to be built right to last.

Meanwhile, drive carefully.

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.

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