I-84 redesign plans in Hartford include ground level and underground aspects

I-84 redesign plans in Hartford include ground level and underground aspects

Record-Journal


HARTFORD — Officials are hopeful that a redesign of Interstate 84 through much of the state’s capital will help reunite neighborhoods and spur redevelopment in one of its busiest sections.

Plans to bring the highway down to ground level — below in some locations — and reroute the rail line will create a “great new growth opportunity,” Tom Jost, senior urban strategist with engineering firm WSP Group, said Thursday.

The state Department of Transportation is still in the planning phase for a project that would remove the viaduct structure that carries I-84 through Hartford, instead bringing the highway down to ground level.

The DOT’s design was presented at a meeting Thursday in Hartford to gain input from the public. Roughly 40 people, largely Hartford residents, attended.

Some portions of the target area, which stretches from just west of the Connecticut River to the area of Sisson Avenue, would actually be below ground level. Caps would then be placed over the underground sections, allowing for streets, pedestrian paths and even development on top.

The DOT’s team has identified the ground-level option as the best alternative to replace the viaduct, which has met its 50-year life expectancy, for both cost and engineering reasons.

Other options, rejected over time, included rehabilitating the existing structure, replacing it with a new one, and drilling a tunnel under the city. The project team opted for the ground level option in September 2015, but has since decided to include portions below ground level with caps.

As part of the project, the DOT will also need to realign the rail line through Hartford, including a dramatic shift between Sigourney and Walnut streets. The line is already used for Amtrak and freight services, and will also be part of the CTrail Hartford Line slated for operation next May.

Richard Armstrong, a principal engineer with the DOT, said the cost for realignment is part of the estimated $4.3 billion to $5.3 billion price tag for the project. He also said the shift will straighten the portion of the railroad, making it better able to accommodate all the services passing through.

“From a rail operations point of view, it’s a dramatic improvement,” he said.

The shift will also require the relocation of the station currently located on Union Place. Members of the design team showed off preliminary plans for two options, both centered on a train station on Asylum Avenue.

One would place it north of Asylum Avenue, with a new bus station just northeast in a location across from the existing station. In the second option, the train station would be south of Asylum Avenue with the bus station right behind it, close to the Capitol area.

Some residents raised concerns about the two options, saying the general area already sees plenty of traffic and isn’t pedestrian friendly. They suggested a location farther north along Walnut Street, but members of the design team said one goal is to locate the station close to the Capitol and Bushnell Park area.

Jost, whose firm was hired by Hartford as a consultant, said there are several other options, and both the city and project engineers will take into consideration Thursday’s feedback.

He said the city’s main concern is finding opportunities to reconnect neighborhoods that have been divided by I-84, and to create new opportunities for development.

“This project right here has an incredible opportunity to reposition the city of Hartford, and part of our mission and mandate for this is to think in that context — how can we make that happen,” he said.

He said the city was originally a collection of densely-populated and well-connected neighborhoods revolving around Asylum Avenue and the train station, but that changed with the viaduct, which opened to traffic in the 1960s.

He said I-84 “in and of itself is a physical barrier, something that cuts through the city,” and neighborhoods “really dissipated into a lot of parking and a lot of auto-centric uses.”

In particular, he said city officials are hopeful the new design will allow for increased development between the downtown and Asylum Hill sections of the city. Downtown Hartford includes the portion of Hartford along the Connecticut River between Capitol Avenue and the railroad.

Asylum Hill abuts the north side of I-84 and runs to just south of Walnut Street and just west of Woodland Street.

Armstrong said the project remains on schedule for a final design to start in 2021, with construction starting sometime in 2022 or 2023.

msavino@record-journal.com 203-317-2266 Twitter: @reporter_savino


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