DOT shares update on I-95 exit 33 plans

Many of the roughly 150 people who went to the Baldwin Center in Stratford Thursday night to hear the state Department of Transportation’s (DOT) update on a plan to add an exit and entrance ramp at exit 33 of I-95 in Stratford said they hate the plan.
Some oppose it because it’s estimated to cost $29.5 million, and they think that’s too much money to spend.

“We don’t have tons of money,” said Stratford resident Stephanie Brackett, who lives behind the Home Depot store, an area she said has been plagued by noise from construction and other work for years.

Another resident called out, ”Ninety percent will come from the federal government, which is broke: 10% will come from the state government, which is broke.”

Others from Milford, like former Speaker of the House James Amann, along with McDonald’s owner Christian Trefz, said the project would rob business owners in Milford’s Devon section of customers because motorists would be able to bypass that stretch of road. Today, many people get off exit 34 in Milford and drive along Route 1 to get to Stratford.

“The current traffic pattern that flows through U.S. Route 1’s Devon/Milford and nearby Stratford is the lifeblood of the local small business community that exists near Exit 33,” Amann said.

Others said they fear the project will disturb underground, capped groundwater from the Raymark plant.
In support of the plan
Still, there was plenty of support for the project, and plenty of facts presented by the DOT to fuel that support.

The DOT public information meeting was organized on June 16 to update residents on the state plans, which call for adding the ramps. The southbound exit ramp would run from I-95 just after the Moses Wheeler Bridge to the intersection of Ferry Boulevard and Veterans Boulevard; the northbound on-ramp would start on the northbound side of Ferry Boulevard where it intersects with the northbound Barnum Avenue Cuttoff and will run about 1,200 to 1,500 feet to I-95.

The plan has a lot of sub-plans, including building a new retaining wall and bridge over the Barnum Avenue Cutoff, installing a new three-phase traffic light at the southbound ramp; building sound barriers and improving the traffic signals in the area so that traffic flows more smoothly.

According to documentation provided at the meeting, the DOT will take into account comments made at Thursday’s meeting. People can still submit comments by emailing them to  by July 1.

Nilesh M. Patel, project manager for the DOT, said the final design is expected to be completed in June of 2017 and construction will start in the spring of 2018, with the project taking about two to three years to complete.

While many in attendance questioned whether funding will be available, Patel said the money is “programmed,” and that when the DOT has gotten the permits and the rights of way it still needs, and has finished the design, it can request the funds be released.

Stratford Mayor John Harkins, a major supporter of the project, said Route 1 in Stratford “never took off, and one of the issues was access.”

He said there was initially supposed to be a full interchange at exit 33 but it was scrapped from I-95 plans to prevent people from getting off the highway before the tolls that existed on I-95. Completing the interchange with an exit and entrance ramp is long overdue, he said, adding that the ramps will boost business in Stratford.

Roger Salls is a Stratford businessman and he agrees with that. Owner of Roger Salls Photography on Ferry Boulevard, Salls said his customer base stands to improve if there’s an exit ramp onto Ferry Boulevard and a more direct route for him to get onto I-95 from his shop.

State Rep. Joe Gresko (D-121) said that if Amann and Milford businesses want to squash the exit 33 project to protect Devon businesses, they’re being more than a little selfish at the expense of Stratford businesses. But Gresko doesn’t agree with Amann anyway: He doesn’t think the new ramps will hurt Devon businesses: He said that now, Devon is often “a parking lot” of backed up cars because of congestion exacerbated by the lack of a southbound exit ramp at exit 33.

Xi Zou of STV Inc., the project group planning the work, conducted a survey of Devon businesses, and results he presented Thursday night indicate there will be minimal impact on Devon businesses. He said there are 65 businesses in Devon, but that only 26 are restaurants and the types of shops that don’t rely on appointments for business. He said only about 6% of business — worst case — might be lost by those businesses that profit from drive-by motorists.

Others at the meeting who countered accusations that the new ramps are a bad idea included EPA representative Ron Curran, who said the ramps will have no impact on the Raymark groundwater, and other project supporters who said safety on the highway and in the neighborhoods near the project will improve with the redesign.
Some want more information
While many meeting attendees have their minds made up, some people wanted more information before deciding if the exit 33 plan is the right move.

Milford Mayor Ben Blake said he thinks more information needs to be gathered, though he did say the nearly $30 million price tag is a stumbling block.

Tina Manus, a Stratford Town Council member representing the 10th district, said she doesn’t have a clear opinion yet. Manus said she would welcome the construction workers who will become Stratford business customers as the project is taking place, but first, she wants to be sure there won’t be more traffic from motorists cutting through Stratford neighborhoods, or groundwater disturbance.

“People live in that area, and I’ve got to have something better for families,” she said, stating that she wants assurance that the streets will remain safe for children.

And on the statement that Raymark groundwater will not be disturbed, she said, “I want a thousand times guarantee on that.”