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    Thursday, June 13, 2024

    Plans to extend Route 11 pass into history

    It is with deep regret that we note the passing of the long-debated, but ultimately unrealized plan to finish Route 11 and provide a better transportation link between this region and the Greater Hartford area.

    News of its demise passed almost without notice. On Sept. 28, the Federal Highway Administration issued a statement that it was “rescinding its Notice of Intent (NOI) to prepare an Environmental Impact Statement” for the project. On Oct. 4, the FHA published the notice in the Federal Register, “The Daily Journal of the United States Government.”

    The Day picked up the story Oct. 19.

    It was a fitting bureaucratic ending. The common sense of completing a highway and improving transportation in the region could never overcome the regulatory impediments that confronted it.

    Federal environmental officials were never keen on this project, which had kicked around for a couple of decades. There were concerns about protecting the New England cottontail rabbits. And philosophical objections that new highway construction only encourages more suburban sprawl.

    There were efforts to construct a large “greenway” around the planned 9 miles of new highway to serve as a bulkhead against adjoining development and to protect wildlife. Multiple bridges were planned to protect wildlife and sensitive wetlands. The state Department of Transportation expended $12.7 million on studies and preliminary design work.

    With each new requirement the price tag rose, to north of $1.5 billion, or about $167 million per mile. Even with the state legislature giving the nod to assessing a toll on the new stretch of highway to help pay for it, the cost became impracticable, crowded out by more pressing and affordable needs.

    Perhaps if state and federal officials were willing to push the project forward years ago, when the costs were less, it could have become a reality. Alas, it was not meant to be.

    The Connecticut Department of Transportation, with no clear indication the project would ever be funded, stopped working on it. Faced with that, the FHA officially terminated the plans for the environmental impact statement, a necessary step before any such project can proceed.

    Route 11, which connects to Route 2 and from there to Hartford, abruptly ends in Salem, Exit 4. Originally intended to run to the shoreline, it stopped there in 1979 for lack of funding.

    This newspaper long advocated for completing Route 11 because it would have taken traffic off Route 85 through Waterford, Montville and Salem. That now serves, and will continue to serve, as the primary route for traffic traveling between southeastern Connecticut and the Hartford region. Yet it is poorly suited for the purpose. The undivided roadway has a single lane in both directions and numerous cut-ins for residents and businesses. It has many accidents, often serious. The FHA once estimated extending Route 11 would cut accident rates on Route 85 by more than half.

    A quicker, safer route to Hartford would have also been of benefit to the region’s economy and to its housing stock, making commutes to the Hartford region more feasible and housing here that much more attractive.

    But we’ve seen the corpse. It’s dead. Life goes on.

    That post Route 11-extension life should include major improvements to make Route 85 safer. It’s up to local officials and our state representatives and senators to make that case.

    And improvements to Interstate 95 must include the connection to I-395 in Waterford, a high-accident area. Plans called for the redesign of the interchange when Route 11 tied into it.

    We knew for a long time that the plans to complete Route 11 were not doing well. That makes its passing less shocking, but no less disappointing about what could have been.

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