This 1999 photo shows a nearly empty northbound CT 11 Expressway near EXIT 5 (Witch Meadow Road) in Salem. The lack of a direct connection to I-95 and I-395 has suppressed traffic counts. (Photo by Steve Anderson.)
REPLACING AN OVERBURDENED ROUTE 85: The partially completed CT 11 Expressway parallels CT 85, part of the Colchester-New London Turnpike that dates back to the early 1800's. Plans for the CT 11 Expressway date back to 1953, when the Connecticut Highway Department drafted preliminary plans for a CT 85 Expressway between the CT 2 Expressway in Colchester and the Connecticut Turnpike (near the I-95 / I-395 interchange) in Waterford.
In 1958, after studies recommended by the state General Assembly, the Connecticut Highway Department made more definite plans for a "modern highway between Hartford and New London." Beginning at the CT 2 Expressway, the proposed four-lane CT 85 Expressway was to stay west of the existing two-lane CT 85 for most of its length. Interchanges were to be built at the following locations:
Lake Hayward Road CT 82 (East Haddam Road) CT 161 (Flanders Road) I-395 (Connecticut Turnpike) I-95 US 1 (Boston Post Road)
Construction of the CT 85 Expressway began in 1966 at the CT 2-CT 11 interchange in Colchester. After several years of delay, a 7.5-mile section opened to traffic from the CT 2 Expressway southeast to EXIT 4 (CT 82-East Haddam Road) in 1972. When the expressway opened, it received a new designation: CT 11.
The new four-lane CT 11 Expressway was constructed to contemporary freeway standards, with 12-foot-wide lanes (and additional climbing lanes where appropriate), 10-foot-wide shoulders and wide, variable medians. According to the Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT), the CT 11 Expressway carries approximately 7,000 vehicles per day (AADT). In 1998, ConnDOT increased the speed limit on the expressway to 65 MPH.
Two 1999 views of the built and unbuilt CT 11 Expressway. LEFT: The current southern terminus of the CT 11 Expressway at EXIT 4 (CT 82) in Salem. In the distance beyond the EXIT 4 ramp lies a paved, but unused section of highway. RIGHT: View of a dirt ramp from CT 82 to the unbuilt southbound CT 11 Expressway in Salem. (Photos by Steve Anderson.)
"As a former commissioner of the DEP, I came to understand that if the public supports a project, it usually happens. I am here to commit to you that we will be working with our DOT and DEP to be sure they move this project along in the most expeditious fashion." - Sid Holbrook, chief of staff for Governor John Rowland (2001)
THE MISSING LINK: The entire 16-mile length of the CT 11 Expressway was originally scheduled for completion by 1969. On October 24, 1972, ConnDOT suspended further construction of the CT 11 Expressway because of a lack of funds. A 1975 master plan proposed $59 million in four projects to complete the expressway, with work starting after 1978.
At EXIT 4 (CT 82) in Salem, the CT 11 Expressway comes to a sudden end. Evidence exists for a future extension of the CT 11 Expressway southward: an unused overpass to carry the expressway over CT 82, graded "dirt ramps" from CT 82 to the proposed expressway, and graded "dirt carriageways" complete with rock cuts awaiting pavement just south of CT 82. Until the 1980's, signs even pointed the way to the unbuilt CT 11 Expressway.
During the late 1970's, ConnDOT initiated studies for continuing the CT 11 corridor southeast for 8.5 miles to the I-95 / I-395 interchange in Waterford. The state released a draft environmental impact statement (EIS), but due to funding shortages, it deferred plans for the CT 11 Expressway extension in 1979.
Beginning in 1984, ConnDOT revived plans to complete the CT 11 Expressway southeast to the vicinity of the I-95 / I-395 interchange. A study conducted by ConnDOT 1986 revealed the following alternatives:
ALTERNATIVE A: This "do-nothing" alternative would continue to detour CT 11 traffic along two-lane CT 82 and CT 85. However, the existing two-lane CT 85 suffers from numerous intersections and driveways, steep grades with limited passing areas, a lack of truck climbing lanes, narrow lanes and shoulders, and heavy seasonal traffic.
ALTERNATIVE B: This alternative would widen CT 82 and CT 85 between the existing southern terminus of the CT 11 Expressway and I-95 in Waterford. However, this alternative would disrupt the communities through which CT 82 and CT 85 pass, requiring the condemnation of homes and businesses.
ALTERNATIVE C: This alternative would extend the four-lane CT 11 Expressway along land previously condemned by the Connecticut Highway Department in the 1960's for the original route. Under this alternative, the road would continue past I-395, and end at I-95 (between EXIT 81 and EXIT 82) in Waterford. No displacements would be required.
ALTERNATIVE D: This alternative would extend the four-lane CT 11 Expressway to the I-95 / I-395 interchange. Providing the most efficient route, this alternative would offer the highest traffic congestion relief and economic benefits among the four alternatives. However, 29 homes and two businesses would have to be displaced. (Still, the displacement under this alternative would be less than that under the CT 85 widening.)
Under both alternatives C and D, the remaining exits on the CT 11 Expressway would be located as follows:
EXIT 3: CT 161 in Chesterfield (two options have been considered for this interchange: a diamond and a partial cloverleaf)
EXITS 2-1: I-395 and I-95 in Waterford (several options have been considered for this interchange to provide access to I-395 and I-95; however, these options are being redeveloped due to the close proximity of EXIT 75 (US 1) on I-95)
Combined with a widening of I-95 between Waterford and New London, costs for the CT 11 Expressway extension project were estimated at $185 million for the two-lane "super 2" proposal, and between $285 million for the four-lane "full-build" proposal. The expressway alternative would also require about 44 acres in wetland fills. Citing difficulties with funding and environmental wetlands issues, Governor Lowell Weicker reversed his 1992 campaign promise to complete the expressway. Subsequently, ConnDOT classified the expressway extension as infeasible, and instead called for improvements to CT 82 and CT 85.
In the years since, given the rapid development of tourism in southeast Connecticut, ConnDOT revisited the CT 11 Expressway extension proposal in 1997. In 1999, ConnDOT developed a draft EIS that explored several alternatives along the CT 11 / CT 85 corridor, including extending the four-lane CT 11 Expressway to I-95 / I-395, extending CT 11 as a two-lane "super 2" to I-95 / I-395, transit-demand management (TDM), and spot improvements.
In 2000, the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) presented the following opinion before the Army Corps of Engineers and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):
The "sensitive" upgrade is not sensitive to the community's needs and desires… This upgrade and other upgrade (widening) alternatives along Route 82 and Route 85 do not provide an adequate level of service to meet the basic purpose and need of this project. It is the expert opinion of the FHWA that the widening of Route 82 and Route 85 is not practicable in light of the basic project purpose. The FHWA considers the completion of Route 11 an opportunity to build more livable communities.
SOLUTION - THE ROUTE 11 GREENWAY: Led by the Route 11 Greenway Committee, residents and businesses are pushing for completion of the CT 11 Expressway, believing that this proposal would maximize economic benefits while minimizing community disruption. Moreover, advocates also say that as a "greenway corridor," the CT 11 Expressway would prevent suburban sprawl and help preserve wildlife habitats.
During the spring of 2001, Congressman Rob Simmons (R-Norwich), and EPA Secretary Christine Todd Whitman formed the Route 11 Environmental Streamlining Working Group to come up with a solution to the proposed extension. The group, which includes representatives from various agencies (including ConnDOT, the Army Corps of Engineers and the EPA), was instrumental in reaching a compromise with the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments for a revised "greenway" plan on September 19, 2001.
Under the compromise plan, the revised "greenway" design for the remaining 8.5 miles of the CT 11 Expressway would be as follows:
The newly created "central alignment" will be situated at least 1,000 feet away from residential areas. Rejected were a "western alignment" (favored by the EPA) that would have passed within 500 feet of residential areas, and an "eastern alignment" (favored by ConnDOT) that would have been routed through an environmentally sensitive forest.
The 100-foot-wide footprint will accommodate four 12-foot-wide lanes, 10-foot-wide right shoulders, four-foot-wide left shoulders, and a concrete "Jersey" barrier to separate traffic flows. (This relatively narrow footprint compares with the 300-foot to 400-foot right-of-way width for a conventional freeway.)
The 60 MPH design speed, five percent grades and 1,115-foot curve radii will be somewhat less than conventional freeway design standards (70 MPH design speed, four percent grades and 1,850-foot curve radii), but still allow for fully controlled access.
Some of the CT 11 right-of-way will be used for multi-use trails and wildlife preserves.
ON THE FAST TRACK: In February 2003, ConnDOT received a $1 million Federal grant to study the greenway, and began seeking permits to finally build the Route 11 greenway. In August 2004, U.S. Transportation Secretary Norman Mineta announced that the CT 11 Expressway would be placed under the "fast-track" review process, becoming one of only 13 such projects nationwide. Under the "fast-track" process, the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers would be subject to a faster, higher-level review process to avoid duplication of efforts that delay final decision making.
Planning for the CT 11 extension is expected to take two years, with construction expected to take an additional six years. A final record of decision is scheduled for release in the summer of 2008. Completion of the $240 million greenway alternative is not scheduled until at least 2010. At the present time, several interchange designs are being developed for the junction with I-95 and I-395 in Waterford.
WHAT BECAME OF THE EXTENSION TO OCEAN BEACH? The CT 11 (CT 85) Expressway extension from I-95 south to Ocean Beach, which was mentioned in the 1962 Tri-State Transportation Commission report, Regional Highways: Status Report, was removed from the state's long-range plans by the late 1960's.
This 2000 aerial photo shows the half-completed interchange between the CT 11 Expressway and CT 82 in Salem. Plans have advanced in recent years to complete the route as a controlled-access greenway. (Photo by Greg Amy.)
The CT 11 Expressway should be completed using the standards established by the Route 11 Greenway Committee from the existing terminus at EXIT 4 (CT 82) south to the I-95 / I-395 interchange, finishing one of the final links in Connecticut's highway system. In the words of Jay Hogan, creator of the former "New England Turnpikes" web site:
May Route 11 be finished. Enough said.
SOURCES: Regional Highways: Status Report, Tri-State Transportation Commission (1962); Connecticut Highway Needs, Connecticut Highway Department (1967); Planning for the Future, Connecticut Highway Department (1968); "State Lists Alternatives to I-84," United Press International (9/08/1983); "Transportation Improvements in the Route 11 Corridor," Connecticut Department of Transportation (1986); "Connecticut Route 11: Administrative Action Draft Environmental Impact Statement and Section 4(f) Statement," Federal Highway Administration and Connecticut Department of Transportation (1999); "Born To Run: Politics Snarl Route 5½," The Associated Press (12/30/2000); "Route 11 Cuts a Path" by Charna Mamlok, The Norwich Bulletin (5/09/2001); "State Calls for Route 11 Compromise" by Greg Smith, The Norwich Bulletin (9/05/2001); "Route 11 To Be Completed," WFSB-TV (2/21/2003); "'Highway to Nowhere' Gets Fast Track" by Peter Marteka, The Hartford Courant (8/18/2004); Route 11 Greenway Committee; Erich Bachman; Dianne Grenier; Jay Hogan; Scott Oglesby; Peter Sielman; Alexander Svirsky; William F. Yurasko.