Issue 436 November 11, 2003

ConnDOT Presses I-95 Expansion Plan

Based on the public comments received earlier this year, the Connecticut DOT has "added a step" to the process for its I-95 "Commuter Shoulders" project. DOT is currently doing a preliminary screening of three alternatives: opening the shoulders to rush hour traffic (as originally proposed), adding operational lanes to complement the shoulder strategy ó mainly near on and off ramps and a no build scenario. The screening is being conducted in response to public concern that opening the shoulders to rush hour driving would cause unsafe conditions near entrances and exits and block emergency response access along the highway. These worries were highlighted in public meetings that began the project earlier this year.

Rowland and ConnDOT want to open 12 miles of I-95ís emergency lane to car traffic during peak hours. The extra lane would extend between Stamford and Westport. As part of the "pre-screening," ConnDOT is doing modeling, traffic forecasts, and evaluating the projectís impacts on local roads.

Consultants Fitzgerald and Halliday will probably finish this report by mid-winter. DOT officials say that a longer term project time frame is hard to ascertain for two reasons: 1) much of data being collected for pre-screening is normally done for an environmental assessment, so the subsequent environmental review may move relatively quickly, and 2) this project is very controversial, so public hearings and opposition may slow the project.

There is no question that congestion and crashes on the Fairfield county stretch of I-95 have reached unbearable levels. Recently, the Stamford Advocate reported that traffic crashes on this stretch of road, known as "Death Valley," had increased 30% between Stamford to Darien from 2001 to 2002.

Unfortunately, opening shoulder lanes to traffic may only make the road more dangerous.

Moreover, like any highway expansion in an area with congestion like I-95ís is unlikely to produce sustainable congestion relief. The new lanes are likely to be filled quickly, yielding congestion on a wider scale and possibly worsening the frequency of crashes.

Discussion of alternatives to the present situation, other than a drawn out schedule of capital investment in the New Haven Line, is still inadequate. Fairfield County needs a better land use plan, it probably needs forms of transit other than commuter rail, and I-95 needs some form of demand management, whether HOV lanes, road pricing or some other strategy. The Connecticut legislature recently passed a law stating that highway expansion should be a last resort to combat congestion. It is not yet clear how the law will be applied along I-95.

 


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