Transportation Committee

JOINT FAVORABLE REPORT

Bill No.:

SB-501

Title:

AN ACT CONCERNING THE CONSTRUCTION OF TUNNELS FOR INTERSTATE ROUTES 84 AND 91 IN THE HARTFORD REGION.

Vote Date:

3/17/2017

Vote Action:

Joint Favorable

PH Date:

2/27/2017

File No.:

403

SPONSORS OF BILL:

Introduced by the Transportation Committee

Co-sponsors-

Sen. Timothy D. Larson, 3rd Dist

Sen. Carlo Leone, 27th Dist.

Sen. John W. Fonfara, 1st Dist.

REASONS FOR BILL:

Allows DOT to consider using federal funds that may become available to build tunnels for I-84 and I-91 in the Hartford area

RESPONSE FROM ADMINISTRATION/AGENCY:

None

NATURE AND SOURCES OF SUPPORT:

Nate Brown, on behalf Operating Engineers Local 478 – This bill is important to help fund much needed infrastructure repair and putting the men and woman of the Connecticut's construction industry back to work. We believe this bill could be extremely successful when properly implemented.

Congressman John B. Larson, 1St District – These challenges offer an opportunity to fix planning mistakes of the past, invest in job creation and economic growth, and to transform our region for generations to come. Rather than taking a piecemeal approach, we need to reunite Hartford, recapture the Connecticut Riverfront, and repair our crumbing levees.

This plan would bury I-84 in a tunnel beneath much of Hartford and into East Hartford. A second tunnel would bury I-91 along CT River, allowing us to finally recapture the waterfront. Tunneling will allow us to repair our eroding levee systems before a tragedy happens. It would also alleviate the severe traffic congestion along our highways and bridges. Directing that traffic through a tunnel bypass would allow it to flow through smoothly without clogging up local roads or interfering with drivers bound for Hartford.

This plan has the support of businesses and stakeholders such as MetroHartford Alliance, CT Construction Industries Association, Travelers, ST. Francis Hospital, and Trinity Health. They understand the importance of improved mobility and livable communities for attracting and retaining their workforce and they understand that investing in infrastructure will create more jobs and stimulate the economy. This legislation is exactly what we need.

The MetroHartford Alliance – The Alliance is highly supportive of the I-84/I-91 tunnel proposal as developed by Congressman John Larson (the Proposal”) and the aims of SB 501 that would reroute I-84 underground from the area of Flatbush Avenue in West Hartford to the Charter Oak Bridge and then underneath the CT River to the vicinity of Roberts Street in East Hartford and bury I-91 along the CT River north of Riverside Park in Hartford to the South Meadows.

The combination would produce additional acres for development and recreation in both Hartford and East Hartford, the reduction of congestion via the rerouting of through traffic and the repurposing of sections of I-84 and I-91 into the types of boulevards that are at the land-side of the flood control system of CT River and therefor fortify the levees on the Hartford side of the River without additional expense if such fortification was a separate project.

A number of the region's major employers have expressed concern about the impact of the viaducts replacement on their decisions to retain and increase their levels of employment and investment in the city and the region. The prospect of keeping I-84 open during construction phase and thereby reducing the impact on employment, deliveries, public safety vehicles and through traffic is central to The Alliance's enthusiastic support of the Proposal.

We believe that addressing the challenges of the viaduct and of the I-84/I-91 congestion represent a historic opportunity for the city of Hartford and the region.

Senator John Fonfara 1St District – Hartford has a historic opportunity to renew its transportation infrastructure, remove a monumental architectural barrier dividing the State's Capital City, an improve Hartford making more livable City, resolve a very real problem with the economic development around a renewed transportation infrastructure that will serve the State and the Capital Region for the next century. This study embraces a bold 100-year solution that solves all the problems which have arisen due to inadequacies related to the current interchange.

Revisiting the construction of a Beltway System around Hartford is no longer practical. The dedicated corridors have subsequently been developed or environmental regulations have been adopted that would preclude their use for highway purposes. Rebuilding I-84/I-91 interchange in place is simply not feasible. There is only one alternative which has the ability to separate the through traffic from local traffic, drastically reducing the overload flow of traffic through the city that is placing the interstate highway approaches and the interchange within a tunnel.

This option would reduce the local traffic in both Hartford and East Hartford to volumes which could be easily handled on Urban Boulevards built on smaller footprints, at grade within the current Interstate Highway Right of Way and served by Signalized Intersections. It is essential that CONDOT include the “Tunnel Option” for further study in the current interchange alternatives analysis. When fully evaluated alongside the “Rebuild in Place Option” the CONDOT Study will prove the tunnel concept to be a cost competitive more fully engineered solution. With I-84/I-91 through traffic in tunnels, there is an opportunity to raise the grade along the land side of the Hartford Dike system adjacent to the existing Buckley Bridge Abutments. This simple alteration will assist in resolving a critical Corps of Engineer identified deficiency in the Hartford Flood Protection systems, which there is alarmingly no current programmed improvement to repair.

With proper planning, the reconstruction of the interchange within a tunnel can create an urban framework that successfully incorporates the Asylum/Farmington area(s) into the downtown district, unlocks transit-oriented development potential and revitalizes Downtown West. The tunneled option would create the long overdue and originally contemplated though traffic bypass to the city, in the form if a free flowing tunnel beneath. Providing the required relief and the essential safe passage of through vehicles with no intended destination in Hartford.

This I-84/I-91 highway interchange is the state's highest volume intersection with daily traffic volumes of approximately 275,000 vehicles. We must separate the through traffic in a tunnel and rebuild boulevards to handle local traffic where elevated highways stand today. This would better serve the city of Hartford neighborhoods, the Capital Region, the State of Connecticut and the Interstate Motoring Public. Both can be implemented without shutting down the current systems to traffic which would cause irreparable harm to the State's economy.

For these reasons the Tunnel Option must be considered in the Interchange Study currently being performed by CONDOT. The economic future of the Capital Regional and the State of Connecticut are dependent on a fully engineered I-84/I-91 interchange solution with a 00-year vision.

Joseph R. Sculley, President of Motor Transport Association of Connecticut- MTAC is uncertain that the current replacement plan for the I-84 Hartford viaduct would do much, if anything, to relieve congestion at the current 84/91 interchange. It is very possible that Congressman Larson's proposal could result in congestion relief. The safety of all motorists, and congestion relief, must be addressed. Congestion is a huge burden on interstate commerce and the broader economy. ATRI states that congestion costs in the U.S. economy more the $49 billion per year. In a related study, ATRI recently released their top 100 freight bottlenecks in the U.S. The I-84/ I-91 interchange was CTs first location on the list, which was the 24th most congested freight bottleneck in the country.

If this plan were to go through, MTAC would want to ensure that hazmat transportation is not disadvantaged. The cost of this project is sure to be major factor in how or if it proceeds. Multiple reports have estimated that the cost of this tunnel proposal would be about $10 billion, although MTAC has not reviewed any documents that go into detail on that estimate.

NATURE AND SOURCES OF OPPOSITION:

John Chunis, Rocky Hill - With all the cuts currently being proposed to towns and the transfer of state financial obligations to towns that have been proposed, we clearly can't afford to take on additional bond payments at this time. Connecticut has one of the worst financial ratings in the country. We just need to learn to live with what we currently have, and what we can afford until the state gets back to a secure financial position.

Reported by: Nicole Pattavina

Date: 3/28/17