EAST LYME — Infrastructure was the buzzword on Wednesday as officials pushed ceremonial shovels into the ground to kick off the I-95 Exit 74 reconstruction project that will realign interchanges, widen lanes and replace the bridge at Route 161. The $150 million project is expected to be completed in Spring 2027.
“It is just transformative for a state like Connecticut that has an awful lot of old infrastructure,” said Gov. Ned Lamont. “[The project] is going to be just the first step in a long march as we upgrade our transportation” that will make it easier to travel to destinations in the southeastern portion of the state due to 80 percent funding from the federal infrastructure bill, he said.
As he addressed the crowd of construction workers, press and state officials, Lamont pivoted to rail infrastructure, thanking the state’s federal delegation for supporting the expansion of rail lines to speed up train service between New York and Boston.
“Senator Chris Murphy made specific emphasis on Amtrak and you’re gonna see an hour taken off that commute over the next five to 10 years between Boston and New York and just getting started,” he said. “Thanks to Joe Courtney and our other delegation, we’re going to be going to 40-40-40, 40 minutes down to New Haven, 40 minutes to Stamford and get that eventually down to 30-30-30.”
He said Connecticut’s greatest strategic advantage is its location, “but it only works if you can get there.”
Garrett Eucalitto, state commissioner of transportation, said the project will alleviate bottlenecks in an area with a high rate of crashes due to inadequate design, especially in the on- and off-ramps.
“Over a three year period, we had nearly 200 crashes on I-95 and route 161, resulting in over 50 injuries,” Eucalitto said.
He said the project will help improve safety for people traveling on I-95 as well as those walking or riding bikes on Route 161, where lanes will be widened, and sidewalks and shoulders will be added.
The state has also attached a Project Labor Agreement, or PLA, to the project, Eucalitto said, “which means that workforce training will occur right here on this job site.”
“PLA’s help ensure the next generation of trades people get the hands-on training they need to help deliver the infrastructure of our future,” he said.
After a number of short speeches, state and local officials grabbed their shovels and tossed ceremonial dirt into the air to officially mark the commencement of the project.
The project was presented in 2019 and slated to begin in 2021, but was delayed two years due to COVID. The project includes improving the vertical geometry of the highway, extending on- and off-ramps and adding auxiliary lanes between Exits 74 and 75. The bridge at Route 161 will be replaced and widened. Route 161 will be widened, with sidewalks, shoulders and travel and turning lanes added.
East Lyme Chief of Police Michael Finkelstein said that the state’s department of transportation and the its engineering consultant on the project, GM2 Inc., have worked to coordinate issues of handling traffic throughout the project, using lessons learned from the 2019 Costco construction project.
“I think we’ve learned a lot from the Costco job on problems that happened here. This job has a tremendous amount of limitations in it where they can’t work certain times and in certain ways,” he said. “It just makes the project longer, but it actually makes it easier for us, because it limits the number of times we’re gonna have, or we anticipate having larger backups.”
He said there would be limited closures of Route 161 and no highway closures at all, barring an emergency or a very short term construction need.
He said Route 161 will only be closed when the new bridges, which will be preconstructed, are put into place.
First Selectman Kevin Seery said most of the work on I-95 will be done at night, and construction hours on Route 161 will be limited from approximately 9 a.m. to 3 p.m.
He said that his office and CTDOT have communicated with the neighborhoods in East Lyme that will feel the impact of drivers using side roads to bypass the construction. He said the project’s website and social media will have updates on traffic conditions.
Bob Obey, resident engineer with GM2, told CT Examiner that throughout the project there will always be two lanes going north and south on I-95.
“There will be barriers and we’ll be widening behind the barriers, and then it’s just a matter of shifting those barriers perpetually over the next three, four years to move traffic so we can establish a new work area,” he said.
He said the new bridge will be built in pieces alongside the old one and traffic will be shifted as each phase is completed.
“We have probably seven or eight stages. It literally is a puzzle and these puzzle pieces go in, they come out and some stuff is temporary, some stuff is permanent. We’re constantly moving and adjusting to maintain all the traffic and really build the whole job underneath everybody. That’s not easy and that’s what takes so long,” Obey said.
More information is available at I-95eastlyme.com.
Editor’s note: Garrett Eucalitto is the state commissioner of transportation, not Gary Eucalitto as previously published. This story has been corrected.