Malloy budget would support major local transportation projects [New London Day]

February 19, 2015

Article as it appeared in the New London Day

Hartford — In his budget message Wednesday, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy pledged to make improvements to the Old Saybrook-to-Groton stretch of Interstate 95 and to the Gold Star Memorial Bridge.

He also said the extension of Route 11 would continue under his plan for transportation, which includes the addition of a commuter train station at Niantic and extension of commuter train lines to Rhode Island.

Some aspects of local improvements are included in the governor’s five-year “Let’s Go CT!” transportation ramp-up plan, while others are suggested as part of the governor’s 30-year long-range plan for transportation.

The five-year plan includes $374.3 million for a transportation capital plan in eastern Connecticut, starting with $11.2 million in the 2016 fiscal year and $9.3 million in the 2017 fiscal year. Projects in eastern Connecticut categorized under the 30-year plan are estimated to cost a total of about $5.6 billion.

Widening of I-95 from Old Saybrook to Groton and from Greenwich to Bridgeport is slated for planning as part of the five-year plan, with construction falling into the 30-year plan, according to Department of Transportation Commissioner James P. Redeker.

Malloy pushed for improvements to the East Lyme section where I-95 and I-395 split, long known to be a hot spot for car accidents. He said fixing the interchange is crucial to extending Route 11.

The 30-year plan provides an estimated cost of $1.2 billion for the widening, which would include a new I-395/Route 11 interchange.

“Our state has talked about this problem for decades,” Malloy said of the stretch of highway in East Lyme.

Redeker said that funding for some improvements to the Gold Star has already been allocated and that the 30-year plan includes additional improvements.

The 30-year plan calls for replacement of a significant amount of the northbound span at a cost of $900 million.

Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, lauded the proposal to widen the interstate but said he hoped plans to widen it would not stall repairs Formica has called for in the area of where Interstates 395 and 95 merge in East Lyme.

Rep. Ernest Hewett, D-New London, said that while he is a “Gold Star guy” — the western end of the bridge lies in his district — he was even more concerned about the I-95/I-395 intersection.

“That spot in Niantic is troublesome,” he said, noting the high frequency of accidents there.

He said repairs to the bridge “need to be done.”

“It is great to see the governor is cognizant of the need for transportation infrastructure investments in southeastern Connecticut,” Rep. Aundre Bumgardner, R-Groton, said.

The northbound bridge was built in the 1940s and the southbound in the 1970s.

The overall plan for transportation includes a 7.2 percent bump in the Special Transportation Fund in fiscal year 2016, to $1.4 billion, and 10.3 percent increase to the DOT budget for fiscal year 2016, bringing the department budget to $62.5 million.

Debt service on bonds for DOT projects and most other expenses that fall under the department are largely covered by the fund, which also bankrolls transportation-related expenses in other departments, according to Garrett Eucalitto, undersecretary for transportation policy and planning at the Office of Policy and Management.

The five-year ramp-up plan includes funds in addition to funding already included in DOT’s base five-year plan, he explained. The ramp-up plan calls for $2.8 billion in bonds, on top of the $3.8 billion in bonds included in DOT’s base five-year plan, according to the undersecretary. He said the bump is intended to help the state complete a backlog in transportation capital projects.