With Memorial Day weekend upon us, I am looking forward to a trip to New Hampshire to enjoy warm sunshine, cold beverages and a little R&R sitting on the front porch and looking at the mountain view. But before I get there, I will be one of the 38 million Americans expected to travel. This will be what AAA projects will be the second-highest travel volume on record and the most since 2005. Spurred by the lowest gas prices in more than a decade, about 700,000 more people will travel this year compared to last. Memorial Day is the kick off to summer and the kick off to traffic, traffic, traffic. Add a little highway construction to summer travel plans and you have a perfect storm for the frustrated “wish I was on vacation” worker.
Travel through Hartford this summer will not make the trip up North much easier, as the Route 2/I-84 Interchange Bridge Rehabilitation Project gets underway. According to the Department of Transportation we can expect long-term ramp closures, detours and land closures as the reconstruction of four bridge structures within the Route 2/I-84 Interchange in East Hartford commences.
Despite the frustration this will undeniably cause commuters and vacationers alike, this is a much needed construction project. The I-84 corridor is less than 2 miles long, yet contains approximately 4.3 miles of mainline and ramp bridges. It has a total elevated deck area of 1.1 million sq. ft. which equated to nearly 25 acres. These structures were designed to sustain a 50-year life span. But since they were built in the 1960s, that time has come. In fact, many of the bridges within the I-84 corridor have a rating of 4 or 5 which the Connecticut Department of Transportation describes as “fair to poor.” Despite the $58 million already expended to maintain the bridges, and an additional $45 million allocated for repairs through 2017, the maintenance, repairs and money will not perpetuate the longevity of the bridges indefinitely. Bridge replacement is necessary.
But as with many construction deficiency projects, repair and rebuild presents an opportunity for redesign and improvement. In the case of the I-84 interchange project, modifications to the current interchange design presents an opportunity to reduce accidents and improve the flow of traffic. From 2009 through 2011, approximately 1,850 motor vehicle accidents were reported within the corridor. When the corridor was originally built it was designed to accommodate 50,000 vehicle per day. Today there are more than 175,000 vehicles using this 2 mile corridor. Redesign of the confusing, closely spaced interchanges may help to reduce accidents. The design of the I-84 interchange is not finalized, and is guided by a federally-regulated program which requires developing alternatives, obtaining stakeholder input and performing environmental assessment impacts — a process that involves many players and many years. As such, the final project, currently in the environmental phase, is likely to require approximately ten years to complete.
So, rather than canceling your vacation plans because of planned closures, add a little more extra time to your drive and while you wait in the holiday traffic, think about how happy you are about to feel when your bare feet are in the grass, the sand, the lake or wherever your travels take you this Memorial Day weekend.