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Daily Bottleneck + Repairs = Perfect Traffic Storm

No plans on reducing traffic when DOT begins two-year bridge repair on I-84 in Hartford

By MARY JOHNSON, Hartford Business Journal Staff Writer

January 21, 2008

The state Department of Transportation has no definitive plans on how to reduce traffic jams when it begins repairs on a severely deteriorated bridge on Interstate 84 that passes over Hartford.

Already the site of a daily bottleneck created by 187,000 vehicles that travel over the bridge during peak traffic times, the traffic delays are expected to become worse when the DOT shuts down lanes on the highway for the repair work.

Although the repairs are slated to be done in two years, there is already public concern. In a meeting last week, the DOT’s Bureau of Engineering and Highway Operations revealed tentative plans for the renovation of the bridge, referred to as the Aetna Viaduct. The plan will take at least two years to complete, and although project engineers are looking to keep lane closures at a minimum, even minimal closures will exacerbate the area’s already snarled traffic.

Bridge experts say that the bridge is safe but structurally deficient; rated a four on a scale of nine. It means it’s “time to do a fix,” said Julie Georges, principal engineer for bridge design with the DOT. “This is one of the big monsters that’s really in need of repair.”

The bridge was built in 1965. Ever since, time, pressure and water have been eating at the steel and concrete that comprise the bridge’s vital organs.

According to Georges, the viaduct, which stretches 3,200 feet from the Sisson Avenue exit to the Capitol Avenue off-ramp, endures the most traffic of any stretch of road in Connecticut. It slices through the heart of downtown Hartford, connecting commuters with major insurance hubs, the Capitol and Union Station.

The DOT has been inspecting the bridge every two years and fixing what problems it could. But the decay has gotten too bad to maintain.

Safe But Deficient

The viaduct’s asphalt is pockmarked with patch jobs, potholes and cracks that are signs of serious deterioration, said Steven Harlacker, of Hardesty & Hanover. The DOT commissioned the engineering firm to analyze bridge problems and help present design solutions.

The steel in the super-structure and even in the crucial sub-structure is corroded. And the load capacity has been reduced due to the erosion of the bridge’s supports.

DOT maintenance reactions are becoming too expensive, too time-consuming, Harlacker said. And now it’s time to bite what will likely be a $111 million bullet.

The DOT is now working to develop a design plan. But that isn’t the only project element still at large. When the construction demands lane closures, what will happen to those 187,000 vehicles?

Georges said the first two stages of the raw plan will keep five lanes open in the viaduct’s main drag. Then, the second two stages will ensure that the minimum number of lanes will be closed during peak travel hours.

Still, traffic jams are almost inevitable. And so far, the DOT doesn’t have any solutions.

“Truthfully, I think it’s going to be hard,” Georges said at the meeting. “I think we’re going to try and push the envelope as much as we can with traffic restrictions.”

Georges said advanced notification through electronic signage and other means could help ease the automotive tension. But more substantive plans will be a continued focus as the proposed construction moves forward.

But even the completion of the two-year project won’t mean the end of structural — and, subsequently, traffic — issues.

“Essentially, it’s going to buy us time,” said Carmine Trotta, assistant planning director for DOT.

The project is meant to be a temporary fix so that officials, engineers and citizens can determine a viable, long-term plan.

Bob Painter is chair of Mayor Eddie Perez’s task force to develop responsible and creative community development options. Painter hopes to enlist the advice of experts to determine every possible solution.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Business Journal. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Business Journal Archives at http://www.hartfordbusiness.com/archives.php.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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