Published January 28. 2009 4:00AM Updated December 11. 2009 1:21PM
East Lyme - An Interstate 95 improvement project between East Lyme and New London was met with disparagement from area motorists who asked for larger and broader safety improvements for the stretch of road some called “accident alley.”
State Department of Transportation officials outlined the project Tuesday night for about 70 people who packed a meeting room and stood in the hallways of East Lyme Town Hall.
The two-year, $29 million project includes both sides of I-95 between Exit 72 - the Rocky Neck connection - and about Exit 84 in New London. DOT officials said they don't expect the project to start until after Labor Day.
Most of the proposed construction would take place in East Lyme. It includes milling and paving the highway and replacing existing metal beam rails in the median with 45-inch concrete barriers. Improvements also include repairs to bridges over North Bridebrook Road and Flanders Road and upgrading the acceleration lane of the Exit 74 southbound on-ramp.
It also includes upgrading guide rails and medians in Waterford and New London.
The project was a result of recommendations from a 2004 study and modifications after a fatal 2007 tanker-truck crash in East Lyme, DOT officials said.
”I think the proposed project we have here will help mitigate a lot of the accidents,” said Brian Cunningham, a project manager with the DOT. “It'll be a number of years before [another lane] gets here. We owe it to the people on the roadway to make it as safe as we can.”
Officials stressed that this project does not include a widening of the highway, which is part of a more than $1 billion project that isn't expected to begin construction for at least another five years.
However, the nearly two-dozen residents who spoke during the meeting suggested their own ideas for safety improvements, from cameras to tunnels to signage, and said the roadway needed to be widened sooner and they'd rather see congestion improved.
”Spending $29 million on a stretch of road to make it smoother and replace a barrier is a waste of money,” said Karen Kari, of East Lyme. “It's called 'accident alley' by everyone in this area.”
Other residents said they were concerned the funding would be wasted because the eventual plan to widen the roadway could require removing some of the improvements.
“I'm a bit frustrated because we've been asking for the widening of the road for years,” said Robert Liguori of East Lyme. “I know it's not a short-term thing, but how do we speed it up?”
Some said they did support the project and any measure to reduce the number of crashes. “It's a good idea to put any kind of safety improvement forward,” said one motorist.
State Rep. Ed Jutila of East Lyme asked if the funding had been approved and whether or not the project could be considered “shovel-ready.”
DOT officials said they believed the bonds for the project were approved, but had yet to be sold. They said they were researching whether the project would meet the criteria as “shovel-ready.”
One lane of I-95 southbound will close between the hours of 8 p.m. and 6 a.m. Monday through Thursday while the median work is being done. There will also be temporary lane closures on the northbound side while repaving is completed.