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    Saturday, July 13, 2024

    State proposes long-term rail, port and highway improvements for region

    Norwich — With tourism and freight critical to the region's economy, a state planner said transit proposals for Eastern Connecticut over the next three decades will focus on upgrading rail and port infrastructure and making it easier to access the region.

    Tom Maziarz, chief of planning for the state Department of Transportation, presented Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's 30-year transportation vision plan to the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments on Wednesday.

    The planning document, accompanied by a "ramp-up" plan for the next five years, grew out of DOT's 18-month strategic planning process that included meetings in southeastern Connecticut and across the state, Maziarz said.

    On Wednesday, Maziarz highlighted the challenges facing the state's highways — over which 85 million vehicle miles are traveled each day — and aging highway bridges, about half of which were built during the post-World War II construction boom. He also told the regional council about past transit investments and future proposals for the state.

    For Eastern Connecticut, the 30-year plan highlights infrastructure improvements that make it easier for people to reach the region's tourism centers or move goods to and from the area.

    More than other parts of the state, Eastern Connecticut — with casinos, Mystic Seaport, Mystic Aquarium and beaches — has an economy that relies on tourism, according to the presentation. It's also home to major manufacturers, such as General Dynamics Electric Boat.

    Reducing congestion on Interstate 95 and continuing "to call for investments in Shore Line East rail service in a significant way" are objectives for the region, Maziarz said.

    He stressed the importance of reconstructing the northbound side of the Gold Star Bridge, an estimated $900 million project.

    He said the plan also calls for widening I-95 from Branford to the Rhode Island border, particularly its most congested stretch from the Raymond E. Baldwin Bridge to the Gold Star Bridge and its interchange with Interstate 395. Widening the distance between the two bridges and fixing the interchange would cost an estimated $1.2 billion.

    "What we're proposing here is to add the third lane, but also to reconstruct the interchange so that it operates safely, operates more efficiently and, in the future, can accommodate Route 11, as well, when we get Route 11," he told the council. The presentation estimated extending Route 11 would cost $700 million.

    Turning to Shore Line East, Maziarz said the Connecticut River Bridge, a rail bridge from Old Saybrook to Old Lyme, is in need of replacement. Though the bridge is owned by Amtrak, the state would likely split the project's cost with Amtrak, he said.

    A long-term goal is to implement direct Shore Line East service from New London to New York City, but it would first require infrastructure investments, including upgrading the rail's electric power system, he said.

    Freight enhancements also are part of the plan, which endorses improvements to the state's ports and upgrades to bridges and rail lines so they can carry weight up to the national standard, according to the presentation.

    Maziarz said freight rail is particularly important for Eastern Connecticut. He said the plan recommends infrastructure investments in New England Central Railroad — a Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grant was announced last year for upgrades to the freight rail — as well as the Providence and Worcester Railroad. 

    The plan also includes the option in the future for passenger rail, particularly on New England Central, but he said it would be important to first fully upgrade the rails' infrastructure.

    k.drelich@theday.com

    Twitter: @KimberlyDrelich

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