“New Haven is the gateway to New England,” says Brian Mercure, an assistant district engineer at the Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT). Specifically, that gate swings at the Harbor Crossing Corridor, where US Interstate 95, which runs through New Haven from New York to Boston and on up to Maine, crosses US Interstate 91, which goes north from New Haven to Hartford and beyond into Vermont. Add a state highway and a river crossing to that, and you’ve got hundreds of thousands of vehicles passing through each day. This seven-mile interchange is the target of ConnDOT’s I-95 New Haven Harbor Crossing Corridor Improvement Program. With a timeline about as long as its title—from 2000 to 2016, to be exact—the $2 billion program is updating a system that was originally built in the late 1950s. Its slate of objectives includes adding lanes, widening shoulders, removing traffic jam-causing left on- and off-ramps, building concrete medians, and incorporating more efficient central lighting. Here’s how it’s getting done.
1. Keep traffic moving
Early on, ConnDOT made a vow: “We promised that we would never reduce the level of service during peak hours,” Mercure says. “So, between 6 and 9 a.m. and 3 and 6 p.m., if you had three lanes of travel in any direction [before construction], then you would have three lanes of travel [during construction]. If you had a one-lane ramp, then you would have a one-lane ramp.”
2. Plan the order of operations
Early on, three themes were developed to guide the construction: first, add value to the traveling public as much as possible. Second, plan for future projects as you go along. Third, work in available areas. All of this “dictated how we were going to sequence things,” Mercure says. “So, if we have an available area next to a bridge that we’re going to build, let’s put a lane there. On a straightaway highway, if you have space on the right-hand side, let’s build a lane. Then you move a lane of traffic over to the new piece of highway that you built and build in the middle, then move the last lane over and build the other one. You end up with three lanes while constantly maintaining two lanes of traffic.”
3. Provide alternative options
Facing public fears head-on regarding construction-related congestion, in 2000 the department began construction of State Street Station on the south side of the highway exchange. Connecting the regional railway to this local stop, which was within walking distance of downtown New Haven, encouraged commuters from eastern Connecticut to travel by train and skip the highway system entirely.
Additionally, ConnDOT funded nearby cities with small stations to increase their access to the new Shore Line East Commuter Rail and encourage growth of a public transportation system that now serves 2,100 commuters per day.
4. Parcel out contracts
The only hiccup so far came in December 2006, when no bids came in for an integral piece of the program, the Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge. To encourage companies wary of signing on for a project with so many complicated steps and such a long timeframe—who knew what the price of steel or fuel might be in a decade?—ConnDOT packaged the project in smaller bundles, splitting the bridge’s components into Contracts B and B1 and the interchange into E, E1, and E2, for example.
The repackaging resulted in 29 contracts awarded to different construction companies, with Parsons Brinckerhoff named as project manager.
5. Build a bridge they’ll remember
The mile-long Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge, nicknamed the “Q” because it crosses the Quinnipiac River, is the first extradosed bridge (a cross between a girder bridge and a cable-stayed bridge) in the United States, and after completion in 2015, it will become the program’s signature element.
ConnDOT, with URS Corporation designing and Walsh Construction Co. and PCL as joint contractors, is already replacing the current bridge, which was built in 1958 with a service life of 20 years and a capacity of 40,000 vehicles. Forty-two years later, nearly 150,000 cars are using the bridge, Mercure says—a strain, needless to say, on the original design.
A hybrid, the extradosed bridge has shorter towers than a cable-stayed bridge and more slender girders than a plate-girder bridge. “So, you can maximize the airspace above and the waterway headroom below,” Mercure says. The design is also mindful of the immediate area’s other major transportation hubs, including the New Haven Port and the Tweed New Haven Regional Airport, which will send and receive ships and planes, respectively, under and over the Q every day.
The bridge, when completed, will have memorial spotlights on its towers, 10 lanes, and a lifespan of 100 years. It’s the symbol of the corridor’s improvement program, and it will make New Haven, as the “gateway to New England,” just a little wider.