Interstate 95 near the Raymond E. Baldwin Bridge, a link between the Connecticut towns of Old Saybrook and Old Lyme, carried an average of 40,000 vehicles a day in the late 1950's.
By 2016, that number more than doubled to 97,000 vehicles daily, and is projected to increase to 126,000 vehicles in 2045.
The Day, New London's daily news source, reported those increases are among the challenges facing state Department of Transportation (CTDOT) officials, who recently began a new study of I-95 from Branford east to the border with Rhode Island designed to find both the short- and long-term solutions needed to address traffic demands on the freeway.
CTDOT and CDM Smith, a global engineering and construction firm, with an office in East Hartford, gave two virtual presentations in November on the I-95 Eastern Connecticut Planning and Environmental Linkages Study, which started earlier this year.
The study came at a time when the corridor area was projected to see an 18 percent population growth and 26 percent employment growth between 2016 and 2050, a faster pace than Connecticut overall, Krista Goodin, project manager with CDM Smith, told The Day.
Goodin said the I-95 corridor from Branford to Rhode Island was examined in 2004, and again in 2018. Both studies identified the need for additional capacity to address increasing congestion, and improvements were recommended, including widening the highway in some areas and safety and design improvements at interchanges.
The state agency is intending the study 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 examination also is "intended to provide the framework for the long-term implementation of transportation improvements as funding becomes available."
Several Upgrades Needed to Make I-95 Safer
The Day reported that Becca Hall, CDM Smith's deputy project manager, outlined issues with the corridor, where 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 spaced together too closely.
The 59-mi.-long stretch of I-95 under review has five lefthand on- and off-ramps, which can lead to slower traffic in the left lane, Hall said. In addition, 70 percent of the off-ramps and 55 percent of the on-ramps are too short, which causes drivers to slow down on the highway. Another 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.
Citing the Connecticut Crash Data Repository, Hall noted there were 2,925 crashes in the study area from 2018-2020. About a quarter of the accidents resulted in an injury, with 19 proving fatal. During summer weekends, crashes were 67 percent higher than the state's annual average.
CTDOT and CDM Smith said they have gathered and analyzed data on the corridor but stressed that there are no specific recommendations at this phase of the study.
In response to questions from residents and commuters about bottlenecks on I-95 in East Lyme, Scott Harley of CDM Smith said the team noted several highway issues in that area, including narrow shoulders, steep vertical grades, and tight spacing between all the ramps at Exits 74, 75 and 76. For example, the northbound Exit 76 off-ramp is on the left side, which is opposite of what drivers expect as most off-ramps in Connecticut are on the right side.
Harley noted that next spring, CTDOT plans to begin a project centered around the reconstruction of I-95's Exit 74 interchange, including the replacement of the bridge carrying the freeway over Connecticut Route 161. At the same time, the design team will continue to investigate solutions to reduce congestion and improve safety along this section of I-95, he said.
Goodin announced that a final report on improving the I-95 corridor from Branford to Rhode Island is slated to be complete by the fall of 2023.
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