The Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT) is looking for a way to improve I-95 between Rhode Island and Branford.
CTDOT has begun a new study of I-95 that will help identify long-term and short-term solutions needed to address the increased traffic since the highway was built and the anticipated increase in the coming years.
CDM Smith, an engineering and construction firm, along with CTDOT gave two presentations Tuesday on the I-95 Eastern Connecticut Planning and Environmental Linkages Study that started this year, and they are looking for residents’ comments on how they think the highway can be improved.
The corridor area is projected to see an 18% population growth and 26% employment growth between 2016 and 2050, a faster pace than Connecticut overall, said Krista Goodin, project manager with CDM Smith.
Goodin said the I-95 corridor from Branford to Rhode Island was previously studied in 2004 and later studied in an update in 2018. Both studies identified the need for additional capacity to address increasing congestion and recommended improvements, including widening in some areas and safety and design improvements at interchanges.
CTDOT is now undertaking a Planning and Environmental Linkages study of the corridor, a type of study intended to “consider environmental, community, and economic goals early in the transportation planning process” and “use the information, analysis, and products developed during planning to inform and streamline the transportation project development and environmental review process,” according to the project website. The study also is “intended to provide the framework for the long-term implementation of transportation improvements as funding becomes available.”
Becca Hall, deputy project manager with CDM Smith, outlined issues with the corridor. Many of the shoulders are too narrow, six bridges are in poor condition, and nearly half of the interchanges, including Exits 86 and 87 in Groton, are too closely spaced.
The 59-mile long stretch of highway has 5 left-hand on- and off-ramps, which can lead to slower traffic in the left lane, Hall said. In addition, 70% of the off-ramps and 55% of the on-ramps are too short, which causes drivers to slow down on the highway. In addition, 40 off-ramps and 33 on-ramps have curves that are too tight, and the highway itself has steep grades and seven curves that are too tight.
According to the Connecticut Crash Data Repository, there were 2,925 crashes in the study area from 2018-2020. About a quarter of the crashes resulted in an injury and 19 were fatal. During summer weekends, crashes were 67% higher than the annual average.
The project team said that they have gathered data of the corridor, but there is no course of action to improve it at this time. They are looking to hear from residents.
After the presentation, people asked CTDOT questions.
In response to questions about bottlenecks on I-95 in East Lyme, Scott Harley of CDM Smith, said the team noted a number of issues in that area, including narrow shoulders, steep vertical grades, and very close spacing between the Exits 74, 75 and 76 on- and off- ramps. The northbound Exit 76 off-ramp is on the left side, which is opposite of drivers’ expectations as most off-ramps in Connecticut are on the right side.
Harley said next spring CTDOT plans to begin a project centered around the reconstruction of the Exit 74 Interchange and includes the replacement of the bridge carrying I-95 over Route 161. He said the design team also will continue to investigate solutions to reduce congestion and improve safety in this section of I-95.
CTDOT asked residents to comment on the Draft Purpose and Need statement for the corridor and what they think needs to be improved based on their day-to-day experience. The formal comment period ends Nov. 30, though CTDOT said it will welcome comments throughout the project.
A final report is slated to be completed by the fall of 2023, Goodin said.