Malloy: widen I-95 to relieve traffic, spur development [CT Post]

January 9, 2015

Article as it appeared in the Connecticut Post

MERIDEN — Proclaiming “the transportation system in Connecticut is terrible,” the governor said he wants to add a lane in both directions of congested, confounding Interstate 95 in southwestern Connecticut.

Without a better flow of traffic and a vision for all forms of transportation, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said, the state’s economic development will continue to lag.

During a news conference to drum up statewide support for the multi-decade, multibillion-dollar transportation initiative he outlined to the General Assembly the day before, the governor deflected questions about particular plans he may support for new tolls on state highways — and made no mention of how much it might cost.

Instead, he said the decision will be up to a consensus among lawmakers in the General Assembly.

A long-term study of tolls is already underway, however, and James P. Redeker, commissioner of the state Department of Transportation, said it will be completed within months.

The tolls will have to be spread equitably throughout the state or the proposal will be the target of bipartisan opposition, Sen. L. Scott Frantz, R-Greenwich, said.

Malloy’s legacy-setting transit plans also include widening Interstate-95 from Greenwich to Stonington to relieve the traffic that routinely bogs down for hours, discouraging drivers and regional development.

“It’s time to do what should have been done long ago,” said Malloy, a former 14-year mayor of Stamford. He said that a successful strategy in New Jersey that Redeker helped develop when he worked there was the construction of parallel highways next to existing ones.

“We’ve got to take this issue on big,” Malloy said. “The reality is that the three-lane portion is in worse shape than the two-lane portion and they’re both in terrible shape.”

Malloy reiterated a report that came out last week shows that underinvestment in transportation costs the state $4.2 billion.

“A lot of that has to do with (Interstates) 84, 95 corridors, less of it to 91 but there are improvements that need to be made to 91,” Malloy said. “These are gigantic projects that should have been taken on in the past and I intend to have a very, very thorough discussion of our transportation needs. The Merritt Parkway is absolutely gorgeous, but you get over to 95, in substantial portions of our state you can’t go more than 15 or 20 miles an hour on an interstate highway for substantial portions of the day.”

Asked what type of toll program he foresees, Malloy deferred judgment.

Frantz, whose Senate district includes Greenwich and parts of Stamford and New Canaan, said that there are many questions surrounding both tolls and highway widening.

“No road is better than its weakest link and some of these (Interstate-95) bridges are less than three-and-a-half or four lanes,” Frantz said. “I’m all for everything we can possibly do to increase the through-put on all interstates, but I don’t know how they’re going to do it.”

Frantz recalled that the idea of reinstituting tolls has been floated in four of the last six years.

“We’ve been vociferous and we’ll be loud on the issue and fight it. If they go through with tolls, they have to spread out the transponder stations throughout state, including Norwalk, New Haven, Meriden, places like that.”

Redeker said that the agency is still collecting toll data, which has to be studied further. “That goes into models. The models feed the outputs and we’ll have to see what it looks like,” he said, adding that it will be several months before the study is concluded.

Malloy held the meeting room in the local Chamber of Commerce offices downtown, with a sweeping view of this city’s new 14-acre park, housing, flood-control project and adjacent intermodal center, to highlight enhanced train service between New Haven and Springfield, Mass. that will begin in late 2016.

“We want people to be able to live in Connecticut with a car and without a car,” Malloy said. “We want this train apparatus throughout our state on the additional lines to the existing ones to run more like a subway system than a train system. To have more-constant availability of trains.”