Formica pushes for improvements for traffic at Exit 74 by state DOT [New London Day]

February 13, 2015

Article as it appeared in the New London Day

Hartford — In a brief presentation on a bill to improve Exit 74 of Interstate 95 in East Lyme, state Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, told the Transportation Committee his aim was to inform them of existing Department of Transportation plans for the exit – plans that Formica has said he hopes to see prioritized during the legislative session.

“Transportation seems to be (the) number one issue in the entire legislature right now,” said Formica.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced at the beginning of his term that he intended to emphasize improvements to the state’s transportation infrastructure during the 2015 legislative session.

The Exit 74 and 75 area of I-95 in East Lyme is a hotspot for car accidents and sits near the proposed Gateway Commons, a commercial and residential village being planned by developers Simon Konover Co. of West Hartford and KGI Properties of Providence.

The overall project comprises 425,000 square feet of retail space, including one anchor store near Exit 74; roadway infrastructure improvements; and a residential component of 280 rental units, which is currently under construction near Exit 73.

The bill would require DOT to widen the four-lane Route 161 overpass that crosses I-95 to six lanes, and reroute exit ramps. Formica has said that the DOT already has plans to make the repairs and alterations.

He said after the hearing that, in the short term, he would ideally like to see DOT straighten out the Exit 74 off-ramp from Route 161 to I-95 South, and see a Frontage Road added to the exit ramp to bring drivers to the site where a Costco store is planned to be built as part of Gateway Commons.

Formica’s presentation followed the release Tuesday of a plan the state House and Senate Republicans’ proposed for funding transportation improvements. The proposal includes provisions to reserve a set amount of General Obligation Bonds to be used for transportation projects, and preserve current Special Tax Obligation bonds dedicated to transportation.

The proposal also recommends the DOT fill vacant positions, stating the department “is 114 positions below where they were 6 months previously”; and re-establish a Transportation Strategy Board to help the department “assess proposed projects and identify community needs.”

“It’s great to have big ideas” for transportation improvements, said Rep. Aundre Bumgardner, R-Groton, in an interview after the committee hearing.

“If you don’t fund them, they’re just going to sit on the shelf,” continued Bumgardner, who sits on the committee and has proposed transportation bills that include improvements and expansions to airport and rail line infrastructure.

Formica said in an interview after the hearing that if all the changes he envisions at Exit 74 were implemented – including widening of the overpass, addition of a light at the site of the off-ramp from Route 161 to I-95 South and redesign of the exit ramp from Route 161 to I-95 North – the exit could handle more traffic, opening up an opportunity for conversation about redesigning Exit 75 to make it safer.

The northbound Exit 75 on-ramp from Route 161 to I-95 dumps traffic onto the two-lane portion of the interstate only roughly a quarter of a mile before the interstate splits, providing an opportunity to merge onto I-395.

Those who enter I-95 via the exit, with the intention of merging onto I-395, thus have only a short period of time to change lanes – something Formica said is a frequent cause of accidents.

He floated the idea of constructing a barrier along Exit 75 so that traffic from it enters I-95 only after the split with I-395 has passed. Drivers could still access I-395 from I-95 if they entered at Exit 74, said Formica.

The developers of Gateway Commons are willing to provide some funding to make changes to Exit 74, Formica noted during the hearing.

“So you have a public-private partnership,” he said in an interview later Wednesday, adding that he thinks the state should take advantage of that.

Formica said the changes would help facilitate the development of Gateway Commons, leading to creation of jobs at retailers, in addition to increasing safety of the exit.

“There’s a lot of benefits for doing this,” he said.