Local leaders and merchants support legislation to stop Exit 33 project

A group of small business owners, environmentalists and elected officials from Milford gathered at a press conference on Tuesday, Nov. 25 to protest plans to add an exit and entrance ramp at I-95’s Exit 33 in Stratford. The group vowed to introduce legislation with the assistance of the Milford area state legislators that would stop the project.

Among those speaking in opposition to the Exit 33 relocation on Tuesday was James Amann, former Speaker of the Connecticut House of Representatives, a long-time Milford resident and chairman of the Devon Revitalization Committee. Amann described the project as unnecessary and a waste of taxpayers’ dollars.

According to the Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT), the project would create a new I-95 southbound off-ramp that would end by the Longbrook Avenue/Ferry Boulevard connector at Veterans Boulevard in Stratford, and a new northbound on-ramp near the Ferry Boulevard/northbound U.S. Route 1 intersection.

According to opponents, the project would effectively allow motorists to bypass the Washington Bridge and the Devon section of Milford, where a number of businesses are located.

Recalling what he described as the economic devastation Devon businesses encountered when the Washington Bridge was closed for repairs in the 1990s, Amann said, “We’ve been here before. We know the harsh impact this project will have on local businesses by bypassing traffic around Devon, only this time it will be permanent.”

Amann and several Devon merchants outlined their opposition with five main points:

1. They said the state, City of Milford and the Devon merchants have already invested millions of dollars into revitalizing the Devon area. This proposal could turn Devon into a ghost town, they said.

2. The proposed change will reduce traffic flow through Devon by 50% to the detriment of the Devon business owners, the group argues.

3. They also say this project has been estimated to cost the taxpayers up to $34 million, “an unnecessary expense.”

4. They said it bewilders them that the state’s public policy would benefit one city, Stratford, at the detriment of another, Milford.

5. Finally, they say that a better use of $34 million would be  to split it between Devon and Stratford, giving them each $17 million to invest in their community and economy.

Additionally, environmentalists say construction of the new interchange has the potential to disrupt and cause further contamination of ground water surrounding the nearby former Raymark (Raybestos) manufacturing facility in Stratford.

For decades automotive brakes and asbestos brake linings and other oil and asbestos-based automotive products were made there. The site is now a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Superfund site.

Charles Perez, who represents Stratford Action for the Environment (SAFE), has said that neither the EPA nor Connecticut’s Department of Energy and Environmental Protection currently has a plan to mitigate this problem should it occur.

On the other side

One of the project’s main supporters is Stratford Mayor John Harkins, who touts the changes as a key to revitalizing business in his community. The Stratford mayor has said the expanded I-95 interchange 33 project would lead to increased commerce and business expansion along Stratford’s Route 1 corridor.

He also suggests that further development of Ferry Boulevard/Stratford Avenue could be achieved if the project is implemented, noting that the project would also relieve traffic congestion in Stratford Center and at I-95 Exit 32 in Stratford.

Harkins and CTDOT officials say the new ramps would provide relief for drivers exiting I-95, improve traffic flow and provide direct access to shopping centers in Stratford.

Traffic Engineer Steven Scalici, who supports Harkins and the CTDOT position, said last month that the decline of traffic in the area would actually help drivers gain access to stores in Devon and elsewhere in the two towns.

“[The project] would free up roadway space for local traffic that really desires to access Devon and the [West Broad area] of Stratford,” Scalici said. “So Devon shoppers should experience fewer delays and be able to access their shopping destinations  without through-traffic slowing them down.”

State Rep. Kim Rose, D-118, who represents that area of Milford, said she will not take a stand until an economic study is done because she isn’t convinced the exits are a bad thing.

“I have spoken to the business owners in Devon, and they are in favor of the exits, as are the constituents that I have spoken with,” Rose said “The mayor has requested that an economic study be done, and I will not sponsor or co-sponsor any legislation until that study is complete.

“The businesses in Devon don't depend on drive-by traffic and many people cut off down the side streets during rush hour,” Rose added.

Amann not buying it

Amann said he can’t believe the CTDOT would prioritize a project like the Exit 33 changes, a project that he said was not met with enthusiasm during his tenure in the state house.

“I’m shocked that those who know better have breathed new life into this project. Neither Devon, nor Milford — nor even Stratford – can afford the economic impact to our tax bases and the loss of revenue our local businesses will face as a result of this redesign,” Amann said.

The opposition group on Tuesday said they plan to request legislation that would halt the project.

In in a prepared statement, State Representative-elect Pam Staneski (R-119) said, “As an incoming Milford state legislator, I am opposed to any plan for the expansion of the I-95 interchange at exit 33. This plan is bad for Milford businesses and future job creation and economic development in the city.”