The slowdown on Interstate 95 at exits 14 and 15 is so predictable it cries out for a coffee kiosk on the median.
Drivers have been enduring the addition of twin speed-change lanes, also known as auxiliary lanes, for two years and will do so until summer 2015, when the $42 million project to eliminate the clogging concludes. Complete fourth lanes will then unite exits 14 and 15 on both sides of the highway.
Connecticut Department of Transportation spokesman Kevin Nursick called the auxiliary lanes “proven congestion busters.” He characterized them as “critical, strategic, tactical projects” that target known pinch points. They are also called “surgical projects.”
“We know we cannot remake all of I-95,” Nursick said. “But we can have tremendous impacts with these smaller, critical projects.”
Nursick said the exit14-15 project was undertaken because the spot was already a notorious chokepoint. Without the improvements, the brief distance between exits 14 and 15 was three lanes, creating chaos termed “bumping and weaving” by Nursick. Many use the exits just to get around Norwalk, he said.
More than 100,000 cars per day pass the spot. “Historically, it has backed up morning, noon and night,” Nursick said. “With 14 coming on and 15 going off, it was utterly inefficient.”
The project will also see the replacement of three bridges along the stretch: on Taylor and Fairfield avenues, where work continues, and on Cedar Street, where the new bridge is complete.
Nursick said the bridges were due for replacement and that the economics of combining the project were ideal. “We were thinking the price could have been potentially double what we are paying,” he said. The recession that hit the construction and materials industries hard has brought prices down, he said, resulting in “phenomenal bang for the buck for the taxpayer — no question about it.” Torrington-based O&G Industries Inc., with offices in Stamford and Bridgeport, is the construction contractor.
The roadside blasting that has added to the already-congested scene is expected to wrap up for good by July’s end. Nursick said the remaining blasting is below grade, which is easier than blasting through above-ground shelf because the blasted material is self-contained and can be readily scooped from the ground. “It’s a more appealing process below grade,” he said.
The inconveniences have not escaped notice, but Nursick said drivers, particularly those who live in the neighborhood, have been understanding. “There are obvious impacts of noise and traffic with a project like this,” he said. “But I would use the analogy of a sick person needing medicine to describe the situation. The medicine may not taste great, but it is necessary to cure the problem. I think people recognize this. This is a great project for Fairfield County and, because of our interconnectedness, it’s a great project for the entire state.”
As for next summer, Nursick promised a dramatic change. “When we open those auxiliary lanes, it will be like throwing a switch. Turn that switch on and the problem is solved.”