Opinion: Complete I-95 Exit 33 interchange

A small but vocal group of Milford residents is attempting to block completion of the full I-95 Exit 33 interchange in Stratford. Their position is that Devon stores will suffer a loss of business if the interchange is completed, allowing motorists traveling to and from the east to directly enter and exit the highway in Stratford.

As evidence of their concerns, they point to a time in the 1990s when the Washington Bridge was closed for construction, and businesses were negatively affected. That argument is a misleading one because there is a world of difference between no traffic and a reduced volume of traffic.

The reality of the current situation is that motorists are forced to travel a congested one-mile section of Rt. 1, which funnels down to one lane in each direction in Devon, to make the connection between Exit 34 in Milford, and the three shopping districts in Stratford: The Dock Shopping Center, the big box stores on the former Raymark property, and the strip mall across the street.

At 5 p.m. on weekdays, traffic stretches in an unbroken line from the Washington Bridge to the Naugatuck Avenue light.  The effect is that a certain amount of traffic shifts onto local roads, particularly those in Rivercliff, in an attempt to get away from the congestion. All those idling vehicles are wasting fuel and increasing emissions in the area.

Those motorists who might actually wish to shop in Devon feel pressured by those driving through as they attempt to park their cars. Other potential shoppers may avoid the area entirely, not willing to deal with crawling traffic.

With regard to the businesses that the exit opponents are trying to protect, the majority are small, locally-owned shops and restaurants that cater to a local clientele.

For those people who have the larger stores in Stratford as their destination, most are likely to focus on getting their shopping done, and heading for home, rather than stopping to do additional shopping at a small store in Milford.

Completion of the Exit 33 interchange makes total sense. The exit was not designed as a full interchange, solely for the purpose of making it difficult for someone to avoid the Stratford tollbooths on I-95, which are long gone and never to return.

The state Department of Transportation is in the business of helping people get to their destination. If the DOT had to make decisions to benefit businesses on Rt. 1, the logical extreme of that position would be to shut down I-95 to create a greater traffic flow through Milford.

If the full interchange opened tomorrow, this is the probable scenario. A certain percentage of traffic would by-pass Devon because their destination is Stratford, as it was when the full interchange did not exist. There would still be a steady flow of traffic from Milford residents, who live in and around Devon.

Some people would also chose to drive across the Washington Bridge because they do plan to shop in Devon, or they are headed for Milford attractions including Walnut Beach and the Milford Audubon Center. There would also be a steady stream of traffic when I-95 backs up, as happens all too often.

Others who might avoid the area entirely due to the heavy volume of traffic might be more willing to head to Devon, simply because it would be easier to do so.

Those who do drive on Rt. 1 would find it easier to actually pull over and shop with reduced traffic flow. Emissions would be reduced. There would be less traffic on local streets off Rt. 1.

If businesses are appealing to shoppers, the businesses will continue to survive and thrive. In the age of the Internet, all businesses can and should have virtual storefronts in the form of their own web page, along with social media websites. Someone looking for a particular business can likely find reviews of that business on website, providing an incentive to visit there.

The full Exit 33 interchange makes sense for transportation, environmental, and even economic reasons. The state DOT should proceed at full speed with completing this vital transportation link.