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April 09, 2006

The Plan to Widen I-95

Among the wackiest solutions to our never-ending traffic problems on I-95 was the one floated by then-Commissioner of Public Safety (the CT State Police), Art Spada. He suggested double-decking the highway. Although Spada is gone, his idea lives on. The Stamford Chamber of Commerce keeps talking up the plan as did a state lawmaker in the current session.

Just imagine: a ten-year construction project costing billions of dollars… huge fly-over bridges… construction tie-ups… pollution… and on day one when it opened, traffic would swell to fill the new lanes and we’d be back to square one. We complain enough that I-95 always seems under construction, but this “double-decking” idea is patently absurd.

The answer isn’t double-decking or, that other non-starter idea offered by Governor Rowland, allowing traffic to drive in the break-down (emergency rescue) lane.

Ask any engineer and they’ll tell you that I-95 is an out-of-date disaster. Nearing it’s 50th anniversary, the ramps are too short and the lanes too narrow, especially around the bottle-necks we know so well… northbound coming into Stamford and approaching Exits 13 and 14 in Norwalk.

So, if we’re not going to double-deck it, why not at least widen I-95? Well, that’s not going to happen for any number of reasons… not enough land, it’s too expensive, and environmental opposition will drag it out in the courts for years.

Several years ago, a fourth lane southbound was added from Exit 10 (Darien) to Exit 8 (Stamford). The construction took over three years and it cost almost $50 million, or about $15 million a mile. And did all that asphalt do anything to improve driving times? Not really.

But our friends at CDOT are trying again. They have plans to add a pseudo fourth lane from Greenwich to Westport. But rather than calling it a “widening” of the highway, these new lanes are being given a new euphemism, “operational lanes.”

Running from each on-ramp to the next off-ramp, these new lanes would allow vehicles to enter the highway, build up speed and merge without the Indy-500 style acceleration required with our short on-ramps of today. Exiting traffic would have a chance to move right long before the Exit, allowing through-traffic to pass on the left.

Some of this might help, especially around the Stamford and Norwalk bottlenecks that back up traffic for miles. The first project in this “operational lane” scheme is set for Darien and will be in the less-than one mile stretch between Exits 10 and 11. The cost will be $3.5 million. (A public hearing will be held on the plan on Thursday April 20th, 7 pm at Darien Town Hall.)

I never expect to see I-95 finished in my lifetime. I just wish we’d stop pouring money into concrete and steel and invest it instead in better mass transit. That’s the way to improve traffic… get cars off the roads by putting passengers on the trains.

But as I testified recently before a legislative hearing in Hartford: “This building is crawling with lobbyists for highway construction interests, but who’s here speaking for the interests of commuters and mass transit?”

JIM CAMERON has been a commuter out of Darien for 15 years. He is Vice Chairman of the CT Metro-North / Shore Line East Rail Commuter Council, and a member of the Coastal Corridor TIA and the Darien RTM. You can reach him at or . For a full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, see


Kasey said...

Why don't they widen route 7 first, or at least build the limited access highway from Norwalk to Danbury like they were supposed to 25 years ago?? Which is worse, cutting down some trees and developing otherwise inhabitable marshland, or the build up of carbon monoxide from people sitting in bumper to bumper traffic in Wilton every day??

dick carpenter said...

Why don't we work urgently with our neighboring states and the freight railroads to establish truck-competitive rail freight service along the I-95 corridor - with the clear and direct objective of getting some of the trucks off the highway and on to the railroad?

yvette Ghannam said...

It is logic to think that is the trains of Metro North will be expand to a new route " New Haven-Hartford_Massachusetts" the people of Fairfield County will have it easier and safer because will be less people from outside Fairfield Conty traveling to go to work and less car on 1-95.

It would be very wise to have the railroad trains coming down , and less expasion on 1-95.