Governor’s Transportation Plan Recommends Project on I-84 in West Hartford

This double-span bridge over Berkshire Road in West Hartford (viewed looking north) is one of the projects being considered for a toll as part of Gov. Ned Lamont's CT2030 plan. Photo credit: Ronni Newton (we-ha.com file photo)

Gov. Ned Lamont’s retooled $21 billion transportation plan, released publicly Thursday morning, includes rebuilding of an I-84 bridge over Berkshire Road and connection of the exit and entrance ramps between exits 40 and 41 in West Hartford, with some of the funding coming from a toll gantry above the bridge.

Looking south on Berkshire Road, a double-span bridge crosses I-84 near Conard High School in West Hartford. Photo credit: Ronni Newton

By Ronni Newton

Gov. Ned Lamont’s CT2030, a $21.1 billion proposal which is being rolled out to the public Thursday, is a completely re-tooled vision for the state’s transportation system, and a multi-modal plan signed to reduce traffic congestion through a variety of enhancements, bridge replacements, and improvements to air and train travel throughout the state.

Included in the CT2030 are several projects that would directly impact local travel for West Hartford and other area residents, including replacement of the I-84 bridge crossing over Berkshire Road and connection of the I-84 westbound on/off ramps between exits 40 and 41 – a project estimated to cost $75-$110 million.

The Berkshire Road bridge has been listed on the Connecticut Department of Transportation’s (CTDOT) five-year project plan. The new bridge would be wider, and connecting the on/off ramps essentially creates an extra lane at Exit 40, eliminating a major choke point for drivers.

Financing for the work in West Hartford would include installation of a toll gantry, with fees of $0.40 each way ($0.80 round trip) for passenger vehicles that have a Connecticut-issued transponder, or $0.50 each way for those with an out-of-state responder. Fees would be higher for trucks, ranging from $1.00/$2.00 for medium-sized trucks with Connecticut transponders and $2.80/$5.60 for heavy trucks, also a 20 percent discount as compared to fees that will be charged to out-of-state vehicles.

Charges at all toll gantries would be capped at one round-trip per 24-hour period for all vehicles.

Municipalities that are directly impacted by the addition of toll gantries will also receive money back from the state as reimbursement for potential “leakage” of traffic onto local roadways.

Those funds – which represent 5% of revenue generated from user fees according to CT2030, are estimated to result in slightly more than $1 million of revenue directly to West Hartford which can be used for local transportation and other infrastructure upgrades.

“This allows West Hartford to have a serious level of control over money collected through the user fees,” Max Reiss, director of communications for Lamont, and a West Hartford resident, told We-Ha.com Thursday.

“There’s bipartisan agreement that modernizing our transportation infrastructure is vital to economic growth and the safety of residents,” West Hartford Mayor Shari Cantor told We-Ha.com Thursday. “I applaud Gov. Lamont for having the courage to address this problem head-on and for having the vision to put practical solutions on the table.

“While I have not been briefed on the plan, I would say that if tolls are needed to maintain essential infrastructure and Connecticut’s economy, they should be limited in pricing and location to the extent possible. It is very important for the administration to engage affected local communities and thoroughly study the impact on surrounding neighborhoods before moving forward with any specific proposal,” Cantor added.

In all, 14 projects outlined in CT2030, directly impacting 17 municipalities, would be paid for in part by user fees – i.e., tolls – to be collected beginning in 2023 through the use of an “overhead electronic, high-speed gantry system,” the executive summary to the plan states. Because user fees qualify as a dedicated funding source for transportation, the implementation of user fees would also qualify those projects for low-cost (1-2% rate) financing through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Build America Bureau.

The executive summary states that “100% of net revenues go directly into the CT2030 transportation program to pay for the costs of the user fee bridges and to fund other needed transportation improvements in Connecticut, including eligible transportation improvements within affected municipalities for roads, bridges, transit, etc. Federal law and our state constitution prevents all net user fee revenues from being diverted for any other purpose.”

It’s estimated that statewide about 38 percent of user fees will be generated by out-of-state vehicles.

Locally, a plan for removing the traffic lights on Route 9 in Middletown, and rebuilding the Charter Oak Bridge Bridge on I-91 in Hartford would also be qualifying projects involving user fees. See the PDF below for a complete list of user fee projects.

Other local projects outlined in CT2030, including improving the traffic flow between I-84, Route 9, and Route 4 – utilizing the “abandoned highway” that already exists, at an estimated cost of $110-$140 million, would not involve user fees. The plan also calls for an estimated $270 million in targeted improvements to the I-84 and I-91 connection area in Hartford.

Briefings have been and are continuing to be held for state lawmakers, and more information is being disseminated to stakeholders over the next two weeks.

A website, CT2030.com, went live Thursday morning, and more in-depth information about the plan, including the location of other projects and more details about user fees and other financing, can be found there.

A news release issued by the governor’s office Thursday afternoon notes that CT2030 seeks to reduce costs as much as possible for Connecticut taxpayers by leveraging new funding and federal financing opportunities as well as making the CTDOT more efficient. For details on how the plan is financed, click here.

It is not yet clear when the legislature may consider the plan.

Lamont said there is urgency surrounding the implementation of this plan, which would not only prevent the state’s Special Transportation Fund from becoming insolvent in the next decade but also keep infrastructure in good repair and make travel more convenient state-wide.

“For generations, the state has neglected critical investments in our infrastructure, hampering economic growth and leaving residents in endless hours of traffic wondering why state officials didn’t fix these problems years ago,” Lamont said in a statement. “For the future of our state, we can no longer kick the can down the road on these improvements – we must fix this long overdue problem and move our state forward today.”

“CT2030 creates a multi-modal, congestion-reduced Connecticut through smart enhancement projects that remove stoplights from Route 9, replace unreliable 19thcentury and early 20th century railroad bridges, and expand air service in south-central Connecticut,” the executive summary states. “In CT2030, roads will be swift and safe, trains will be fast and functional, and travel across our state will be quicker, safer, more convenient, and more reliable. Our residents deserve the economic growth and time with their families that this investment will unleash.”

More information about CT2030 on a statewide level can be found on CTMirror.org.

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