|Issue 258||February 25, 2000|
A coalition of regional environmentalists commended the Corps on this commitment. A letter from CT Fund for the Environment, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign and others reminded decision-makers that since 1995, ConnDOT has submitted and been denied permits for two other strikingly similar road construction alignments which were staunchly opposed by the US EPA and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Agency.
As before, a big concern is the highway's relation to the Hop River watershed, which contains some of the state's largest tracts of valuable wetlands. Another is that the project, to run from the current terminus of I-384 towards Rhode Island, would be a leg of an eventual east-west highway connecting Hartford and Providence, a ConnDOT goal for thirty-three years. Opponents feel such an interstate would drive traffic to new heights and encourage sprawl development.
Though buoyed by the Corps decision, expressway critics worry about the limited nature of the alternatives ConnDOT will analyze. All alignments under consideration are variations on a route that crosses the Hop River and encroaches on sensitive open space on its northern banks. Two other strategies are not included: up-grading the two-lane Route 6 and keeping the whole road south of the river.
The Army Corps concluded in 1998 that the upgrade option would not sufficiently meet the safety and traffic needs of corridor, but the reasons for this finding have never been publicly released or defended. Similarly, no official reasons have been given for dropping the southern alignment alternative, but some of the same towns that pushed ConnDOT to resubmit its proposal strongly oppose it. Karyl Lee Hall, Staff Attorney for the CT Fund for the Environment, said that a truly complete analysis would include these alternatives.
ConnDOT has promised an alternatives analysis by early May. The Corps expects to announce its finding of the least environmentally damaging course for the controversial highway by August.