The project will realign the roadway near Harpers Ferry Road to eliminate the “S” curve, reconfigure interchange ramps and relocate the Mad River and Beaver Pond Brook.
Interstate 84 winds through the city of Waterbury, Conn., with two lanes of traffic in each direction navigating a substandard “S” curve alignment near Harpers Ferry Road. Approximately 125,000 vehicles travel on the 55-year-old highway every day. High traffic volume causes congestion due to lack of roadway capacity and design deficiencies in ramps and weave areas.
This segment of I-84 was designed to handle approximately 34,000 vehicles per day, but currently handles more than 105,000 vehicles daily,
On March 30, 2015, the Connecticut Department of Transportation, in collaboration with the Federal Highway Association, Lochner, AECOM, Ammann and Whitney, AI Engineers Inc., Comprehensive Environmental Inc. and I-84 Constructors joint venture, launched the I-84 Waterbury Project to widen a 2.7-mi. (4.3 km) segment between Washington Street and Pierpont Road.
Designed to improve safety, operation and highway capacity, the project will add a third lane and full-width shoulders in each direction to improve traffic flow and reduce current and future traffic congestion along the mainline and the local roadways. It also will realign the roadway near Harpers Ferry Road to eliminate the “S” curve, reconfigure interchange ramps and relocate the Mad River and Beaver Pond Brook.
The reconstructed corridor will have 12-ft. (3.6 m) wide shoulders on both sides in each direction of travel and three 12-ft. wide travel lanes. A 10-ft. (3 m) wide concrete barrier section will divide the lanes traveling in different directions. Additionally, a 12-ft. auxiliary lane will be added on I-84 westbound between the on-ramp from Harpers Ferry Road and the off-ramp to Hamilton Avenue.C
According to the Wilton Bulletin, the proposed reconstruction includes realigning approximately 1 mi. (1.6 km) of I-84 in the vicinity of Harpers Ferry Road to eliminate the sharp reverse-curve alignment. Approximately 2,000 ft. (609.6 m) of Reidville Drive will be relocated to accommodate this realignment. On the north side of I-84, a new frontage road, referred to as Plank Road East, will be constructed parallel to I-84 between Scott Road and Harpers Ferry Road. Roadway improvements are proposed for several streets.
The project includes construction and replacement of eight highway bridges — four of them over water, one pedestrian crossing over the Mad River, seven box culverts and 20 retaining walls. An existing pedestrian access leading to Hamilton Park underpass will be eliminated, but pedestrian access will be maintained along the east bank of the Mad River under the new bridge and a new pedestrian bridge over the Mad River will replace the existing one.
As a result of the realignment of I-84 and the reconfiguration of the ramps, portions of seven state and local roads with intersections will be reconstructed. Five existing culverts constructed with corrugated metal pipe will be rehabilitated, using innovative technology in the lining of the deteriorated cross culverts located under highway embankment.
Additional improvements include replacing and upgrading traffic signals, new highway illumination, signs and pavement markings and replacing or relocating sanitary sewer, potable water and other public utilities.
These traffic enhancements are expected to result in improvements to air quality, noise, aesthetics and the quality of life. Gov. Dannel Malloy claims no corridor is more important than the I-84 corridor and laments lagging economic development because previous administrations haven't invested sufficiently in the state's transportation system.
Getting to Work
Budgeted at $330 million, the project is expected to be complete in June 2020, with incentives in place for August 2019 completion.
In the hopes of meeting that deadline, I-84 Constructors JV, the general contractor on the project, has crews working two shifts and occasional Saturdays. Using two Tadano cranes; four Cat bulldozers; 18 Cat, Mack and Volvo triaxles; 10 Cat excavators; five Cat loaders; a Cat paver; five Cat rollers, a Freightliner sweeper and two Ver-Mac message boards, as well as various pickups, light towers, buckets, compactors, compressors, forklifts, generators and hammers, they are moving excavated dirt, asphalt, concrete, concrete pipe, metal pipe, rebar, structural steel, steel piles, retaining walls, temporary precast barriers, box culverts, water main, ductile iron pipe, noise barrier walls, electrical cable, erosion control matting and other materials.
At the start of the project, in order to reduce a short weave in the highway and to increase safety, Exit 24 westbound off-ramp was permanently closed. It's part of the redesign of the corridor. The new design eliminates the close proximity of on- and off-ramps because they impede the flow of traffic.
As work progresses, several temporary detours will be necessary, particularly during steel removal and installation, overhead sign truss installation and during rock blasting by Maine Drilling and Blasting. However, two lanes of traffic in each direction will be open during peak hours.
During construction of a box culvert and the realignment of the Mad River from April to October 2015, Plank Road was closed at the intersection of Harpers Ferry Road, and traffic was detoured. Once the culvert was completed and Plank Road reopened, a portion of the road it intersects, Harpers Ferry Road, was closed for utility work and retaining wall construction. The new Plank Road over the box culvert is part of the new detour route from Harpers Ferry Road to East Main Street.
Traffic delays due to construction, detours and lane closures for things like rock blasting, bridge demolition and overhead utility work have not only frustrated motorists, but also have hurt local businesses. News 8 WTNH reported last summer that many local businesses were suffering because even the side roads were too congested for customers to get to them — the very problem the project is expected to eventually alleviate.
Area business owners aren't the only ones upset. Previous work to widen I-84 through Waterbury was plagued with cost overruns, delays and construction defects involving storm drains that resulted in state and federal officials launching criminal investigations, according to the Boston news.
In a report issued by then-Gov. Jodi Rell, two contractors were blamed for failing to properly complete and inspect the project. “However,” she wrote, “the Department of Transportation bears responsibility for completion of the overall project in a satisfactory manner and it is clear to me that a change in the way business is done at the DOT is required. ‘Oversight' means exactly that — and it is clear that it was absent.”
In addition to the drainage issues, the report documents errors in the project design process, improper installation of bridge bearings, defective light poles and payments to the contractor for work that was never done. The report also notes that contract change orders resulted in a $13.4 million, or 26 percent, increase in the total cost of the project. The original contract for the construction was $51.9 million; the change orders boosted that to more than $65 million.
Believing that problems relating to DOT business practices, oversight, review, inspection and design procedures and change orders demand action, Gov. Rell instituted sweeping reforms in DOT procedures and contracts. Several DOT employees were fired or reprimanded and the FBI and a federal grand jury launched an investigation.
In order to widen and realign I-84 and to accommodate new bridge crossings, the Mad River, Beaver Pond Brook and a stream and several tributaries have to be realigned or relocated. ConnDOT worked with the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection on the realignment and stream bed construction, incorporating features such as vortex weirs, channel structures that create pooling effects for fish, and fish ladders to facilitate their movement up and down stream.
The newly realigned Mad River now flows through the box culvert under newly constructed Plank Road. The culvert was constructed using pre-cast concrete sections to form a three-barrel box culvert. Streambed material was arranged inside the culvert, burying the concrete to mimic a natural streambed environment for fish and other wildlife. The design of these relocations has incorporated habitat enhancement measures intended to improve habitat and fish passage potential, integrated with channel structural grade stabilization elements. Sedimentation basins and hydrodynamic separators were installed.
The project impacts 7,700 ft. (2,347 m) of watercourses and 1.3 acres of wetlands. Mitigation of impact is accomplished by eliminating obstructions to fish migration and extensive in-stream habitat enhancements. Based on the mitigation strategy and mitigation ratios accepted by the U.S. ACOE, the project will need to provide approximately 1.2 hectares (3 acres) of restored or newly created wetlands. ConnDOT is in the process of investigating wetland creation sites.
When jacking the new sewer pipe under I-84, rocks and boulders were hit that could not be broken up using the jack/reaction-wall method. Workers went into the 25-ft. (7.6 m) deep pit, through the 42-in. (107 cm) diameter pipe sleeve, to mechanically break the rock using chipping hammers and rock splitters for most of the 300-ft. (91.44 m) total length of the sleeve.
Reaching Out to Soothe Tensions
When work began, city and state officials warned that traffic delays would be inevitable, but promised that motorists would gain a wider, safer highway that's less prone to the day-to-day delays they have been experiencing for years.
The DOT has said motorists should expect lane closings and occasional detours at least through the fall of 2019. Knowing the situation will get worse before it gets better, commuters brace for five years of what one local resident called “a nightmare.”
Meanwhile, the DOT's Public Information Team is busy working on public outreach to ease tensions. They offered to present informational sessions on the project at local schools and organizations and discuss career opportunities in transportation and the Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) fields. The DOT also has instituted “public listening sessions” to field feedback from motorists, welcoming ideas to alleviate traffic congestion during the next five years' of construction.