Study calls for 'strategic' widening of I-95
Hartford — Rather than advocating for widening Interstate 95 in both directions from the New York border to the Rhode Island border, the state is calling for "strategic" widening in spots to ease traffic congestion.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and state Department of Transportation Commissioner James P. Redeker announced during a news conference Thursday the results of a study on widening I-95 that found "limited, directional [and] strategic" widening only in bottleneck areas would ease congestion.
Malloy said the proposal would be less expensive than widening the entire length in both directions, easier to develop and could be constructed over a shorter period of time, without the need for the state to acquire additional land, for the most part.
The governor stressed the need to improve I-95, pointing out that traffic congestion on the highway costs $1.2 billion in lost productivity and 54 million hours of delay on a yearly basis. He said it makes Connecticut less attractive to families and businesses, and the state is lagging behind other states that have made investments in transportation infrastructure.
Malloy said improvements for the western I-95 corridor "will significantly reduce congestion and improve the quality of life for commuters and businesses." He said the eastern part of I-95 needs improvements to ease both weekday and weekend traffic in an area in which tourism is a major economic driver.
"This is not just an economic issue, it's a safety issue," he added. "From 2014 to 2016, we saw nearly 3,500 crashes on the eastern portion of I-95, including nearly 1,000 injuries and 23 fatalities."
Redeker said the study, part of the governor's Let's Go CT! ramp-up plan, changes a long-held perception that I-95 needs to be widened in both directions across the state to alleviate traffic.
"After a detailed study of alternatives, we have determined that strategic, directional widening on I-95 between New Haven and New York can significantly reduce congestion and can be built within existing CTDOT right of way," Redeker said in a statement. "Similar strategic, localized investments can also reduce congestion between New Haven and Rhode Island."
"These findings indicate that we can achieve congestion relief through strategic and much less costly investments far sooner than previously thought," he added. "In addition, the return on these investments would far exceed the cost of the projects."
If transportation funding is available, the proposed projects could be started in phases in 2022 and the entire plan could be completed by 2030, Redeker said.
While the proposal is conceptual and doesn't include detailed maps yet, for the eastern portion of I-95 the study proposes strategic widening between Exits 54 and 55 for $81 million and improving Exits 88, 89 and 90 for $70 million.
The study further proposes improving and widening the I-95 and I-395 interchange for $900 million, at an estimated timeline of 2024-29 for construction; and strategically widening I-95 between Exit 70 and 74 for $510 million at an estimated timeline of 2025-29 and between Exits 80 and 82A for $260 million at an estimated timeline of 2023-26. More specific details about those plans were not immediately available.
Another improvement would include work on the I-95/Route 32 interchange, at a cost between $40 million and $60 million, according to the proposal.
Other widening between Exits 54 and 69, a proposed long-term improvement, requires further study, according to DOT's plan.
For the western part of the state, the proposal recommends widening I-95 northbound from Exits 19 to 27A for $399 million, southbound I-95 from the New York border to Exit 7 for $659 million, and northbound I-95 from Exits 9 to 19 for $1.25 billion.
The results of the study are released at a time when the state is grappling with how to fund transportation projects, with the state projecting the Special Transportation Fund is heading into deficit. The state has suspended $4.3 billion in planned infrastructure investments, including I-95 widening projects.
"I don't believe these improvements are optional," Malloy said on Thursday, regarding the study's proposals. "They are absolutely necessary if we want to move our state forward, but without new revenue in the Special Transportation Fund, we will not be able to make the necessary investments in reducing congestion and making Connecticut a better place to live and work."
Malloy released last month proposals — including raising the gas tax by 7 cents over four years and adding electronic tolls — to add revenue to the transportation fund, and he said Thursday that he is ready to work with the legislature.
Gregory Stroud of SECoast, a nonprofit organization that works with communities from Greenwich, Conn., to Charlestown, R.I., on finding environmentally sound and preservation-minded solutions to challenges of infrastructure and development, reacted to the announcement on Thursday: "We appreciate the obvious efforts CTDOT has taken to target and minimize impacts, but given that these are multi-billion-dollar investments with enormous stakes, we'll need a lot more detail before we can make an informed decision on this planning."