As CTfastrak Construction Begins In Hartford, Capitol Area Traffic Hits The Slow Track
By DON STACOM
October 04, 2012
HARTFORD — — Thousands of insurance and state employees in the Capitol area can expect longer rush-hour delays and a lot of extra company in the next year or so as the state rebuilds the Broad Street bridge as part of the CTfastrak busway construction.
The bridge, leading to a key eastbound ramp to I-84, is usually a rush-hour bottleneck, but delays grew worse this week after contractors closed two lanes of Broad Street. Conditions won't return to normal until the heavily used bridge is replaced next October.
Starting next month, even more traffic is expected to head for Broad Street when the state shuts down Flower Street to through traffic. Flower Street, the closest parallel street to Broad, is scheduled to close to through traffic permanently next month so the busway can operate alongside the Amtrak line.
If backups get bad enough, motorists trying to reach eastbound I-84 might find it best to give up on the Broad Street on-ramp and instead go to other ramps few blocks west or across a long stretch of downtown.
"On Monday, that's how I went — left on Capitol and then through downtown [to the Morgan Street ramp]," Capitol Police Chief Walter Lee Jr. said.
State Transportation Commissioner James Redeker said Wednesday that his department is doing everything possible to keep Broad Street traffic flowing.
The contractor working on Broad Street has been directed to keep the I-84 on-ramp open throughout construction.
On Monday afternoon, gridlock stalled hundreds of drivers on Capitol Avenue, Broad Street and surrounding streets so badly that Lee deployed officers to direct traffic during rush hour for the rest of the week. But Monday's meltdown was an aberration, Department of Transportation officials said, caused by a crash on I-84, not the bridge construction.
"You couldn't turn onto the ramp because cars were backed up from the highway. But if you were just going north or south on Broad, you could go straight through," Project Engineer David Ferraro said.
On Tuesday and Wednesday, the afternoon jams weren't as bad. Northbound Broad Street traffic was slower than usual Tuesday, and backed up beyond the Capitol Avenue intersection. On Wednesday, afternoon traffic was heavy but moving.
Contractors are tearing down the Broad Street bridge one side at a time. They're widening the piers to accommodate the busway, but Ferraro noted that the bridge deck had to be replaced anyway, so the work would have been done regardless of CTfastrak, he said.
From now through April, drivers in both directions will be using just one side of the bridge while the other half is rebuilt. After that, the pattern will reverse, and the major construction should wind down sometime in October 2013, DOT officials said.
Redeker acknowledged that the simultaneous shutdown of Flower Street will create extra pressure.
The DOT is also working with Hartford neighborhood groups to see if there's a practical way to maintain pedestrian and bicycle traffic on Flower, and is willing to put up $5 million for a pedestrian/bicycle overpass or similar solution, he said.
Aetna and other major employers in the area have been advising employees for the past several months that Flower Street, a north-south link between Farmington and Capitol avenues, will be closing.
"We've kept people informed, so this shouldn't be a surprise," said Cynthia B. Michener, Aetna's communications manager.
Elsewhere, Central Connecticut political leaders gathered in New Britain Wednesday to review progress on the 9.4-mile rapid-transit bus system that will run between Hartford's Union Station and Columbus Boulevard in New Britain.
Standing on the site where New Britain's station will be built, Mayor Tim O'Brien said his city expects that the project will bring new businesses and housing to the surrounding blocks.
"We want to be a model for transit-oriented development," O'Brien said. "We can make this a real blockbuster for the entire state."
Jack Miller, president of Central Connecticut State University, promised that his school will help the DOT reach its projection of 15,000 rides a day on the busway. Fewer than half of CCSU's 12,000 students and 1,500 employees live on campus, and most of the others are potential CTfastrak customers, he said.
"This project has been central to our plans at CCSU in the 7 1/2 years I've been here. We're going to provide riders — I can guarantee you it will be a lot of people," Miller said.
Work is still in the early stages, but so far Redeker said the busway is on track to meet its $567 million budget. The DOT had been saying the system would open in December 2014, but Redeker said Wednesday that the target for starting service is now early 2015.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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