Route 11 project back from the dead

Hartford - With $4.4 million in federal funds as his smelling salts, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Monday that he is reviving the long-stalled Route 11 extension project that some saw as all but dead.

"This is a system that I ultimately believe needs to be built out," Malloy said during a news conference in the state Capitol, joined by U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, state Department of Environmental Protection Commissioner Daniel Esty and James Redeker, acting commissioner of the state Department of Transportation. Also present was Amy Jackson-Grove, division administrator for the Federal Highway Administration.

Malloy said the federal dollars and $600,000 of matching state funds - $5 million altogether - will finance several studies for the Route 11 extension that the governor insisted are necessary. A previous round of environmental studies that was cut short must be completed before new engineering and funding analysis studies are conducted.

The studies are to begin this summer and will require two and a half years to finish, Malloy said. Another consultant will examine options for funding the full project, such as the installation of temporary toll booths.

The governor said it is too early to gauge the full cost of completing Route 11, but he anticipates a big price tag: "This is not going to be an inexpensive project."

An earlier estimate reported by The Day in 2007 put the cost at between $843 million and $924 million in 2013 dollars.

"For too long we have failed to properly invest in our infrastructure in Connecticut, and it's time that we do invest in our infrastructure," Malloy said.

Route 11 has been only partially complete since 1972, when the state ran out of money to finish it. The highway abruptly ends in Salem and detours traffic to Route 85 via Route 82, both narrow two-lane roads. Local and state officials view the current situation as potentially hazardous.

A 2007 study on the Route 11 project identified seven fatalities and more than 1,400 motor vehicle accidents on Route 85 since 1999.

The project would extend the road by 8.5 miles so that Route 11 would connect with Interstate 95 in Waterford. It would also refurbish the interchange at the intersection of interstates 95 and 395.

Plans to extend Route 11 have been discussed since the 1970s. State Rep. Ed Jutila, D-East Lyme, a Route 11 supporter, recalls working on an early environmental study for the highway extension back in 1980, when he was a young legislative assistant for Richard F. Schneller, a former state Senate majority leader.

The project was revived in 1997 and received support from governors John Rowland and M. Jodi Rell, as well as former U.S. congressman Rob Simmons.

In 2004, the federal DOT named the extension one of six projects in the country on a "fast track," but the momentum later petered out.

The project was shelved in 2009 by then-state DOT Commissioner Joseph Marie because of lack of funding. At the time, the department estimated it had spent nearly $5 million since 1997 on Route 11 consultants - almost all of it on environmental studies.

Monday, Jutila applauded Malloy and Courtney for the renewed commitment to finishing Route 11.

"I think it's a major, positive step forward," Jutila said. "It's certainly a lot better place that we're in now than we were a year ago when the project looked dead."

Jutila is a sponsor of a bill pending in the General Assembly that would raise money to complete Route 11 by authorizing the DOT to place tolls on new highways. But some critics doubt whether the toll booths could collect enough money if motorists chose to then avoid the highway.

A separate but related initiative is the Route 11 "greenway," a proposed bike and pedestrian path that would run on either side of the extended highway.

Dan Steward, chairman of the Route 11 Greenway Authority Commission and Waterford's first selectman, said Monday that his group hasn't met for about a year and is awaiting further direction from the state.

Salem First Selectman Kevin Lyden was glad to hear Monday that the Route 11 project is alive once again. He said the extension would reduce traffic on Route 85, which is overused yet must function as the region's emergency evacuation route.


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