NORWICH'S SOUTHERN BYPASS: The 3.2-mile-long CT 2A Expressway connects I-395 (Connecticut Turnpike) with fast developing areas in southeast Connecticut, and provides an important crossing of the Thames River. An additional 2.3 miles of the CT 2A Expressway is multiplexed with I-395, but is not well signed. Plans for the CT 2A Expressway were first announced in 1961, when the Connecticut Highway Department proposed the following act before the state legislature:
"Sec. 13a-32. Thames River Bridge: The commissioner is authorized and directed to construct a new state highway, which is made hereby a part of the state highway system, as a two-lane facility from a point on the Connecticut Turnpike (now I-395) northerly of the toll station existing in Montville, to a point on Connecticut Route 12 not more than two thousand feet south of Connecticut Route 27 (now Route 2A east), including and over a new bridge, across the Thames River from a point northerly of the developed portion of Fort Shantok State Park in Montville to a point southerly of the Norwich Hospital in Preston."
The Tri-State Transportation Commission also recommended construction of the CT 2A Expressway in its 1962 report, Regional Highways: Status Report. The two-lane ("super 2") section between I-395 and CT 12, including the Mohegan-Pequot (Thames River) Bridge, was scheduled for completion by 1965. A 2.8-mile-long, two-lane extension to the proposed CT 2 Expressway was scheduled for completion by 1972.
Construction of the CT 2A Expressway began in 1965, and by 1968, a 2.9-mile-long, two-lane section of the CT 2A Expressway was opened to traffic. This section featured a concrete ("Jersey") barrier to separate opposing traffic flows. Tolls were charged on the Mohegan-Pequot Bridge when it first opened to traffic. These tolls were removed in 1985.
CASINO OPENING SPURS IMPROVEMENT: The 1996 opening of the Mohegan Sun casino-resort required an accelerated upgrade of the CT 2A Expressway. Between January and October of that year, the Waterford Hotel Group, which constructed the Mohegan Sun complex, widened the CT 2A Expressway to a standard four-lane, dual-carriageway design. The two-mile-long widening project between I-395 and Mohegan Sun Boulevard, opened in October 1996 at a cost of $29 million.
When the CT 2A Expressway was widened, the exits were numbered sequentially: EXIT 1 (CT 32) and EXIT 2 (Mohegan Sun Boulevard). The four-lane section of the CT 2A Expressway ends just short of the Mohegan-Pequot Bridge.
According to the Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT), the CT 2A Expressway carries approximately 10,000 vehicles per day.
This 2001 photo shows the eastern terminus of the CT 2A Expressway at CT 117 in Preston. During the past four decades, the state has made several proposals to extend CT 2A east to CT 2. (Photo by Douglas Kerr, gribblenation.com.)
AN EASTERN BYPASS FOR NORWICH? In 1969, the Connecticut Highway Department proposed a northeasterly extension of the CT 2A Expressway. Extending approximately ten miles from the Mohegan-Pequot Bridge, the expressway was to veer north just beyond CT 12, and have interchanges at the (proposed) CT 2 Expressway extension, CT 165, CT 12 before terminating at I-395 (then designated CT 52) just north of EXIT 83 (CT 97).
Under this proposal, which did not appear in earlier state reports, the CT 2A Expressway would have formed an eastern bypass of the Norwich area. However, this plan never evolved beyond the preliminary design stage.
EXTENDING EAST TO ROUTE 2: Spurred by continued development around the Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods casino-resorts, ConnDOT is studying plans to revive the CT 2A Expressway Extension. These plans include constructing a new span parallel to the existing two-lane Mohegan-Pequot Bridge, and constructing a four-lane freeway on new rights-of-way east to CT 2 in Preston.
Existing two-lane roads such as CT 2A and CT 12 are ill equipped to deal with current and expected volumes. Along the CT 2A corridor, traffic volume is expected to exceed 40,000 vehicles per day (AADT) by 2020, a 50 to 75 percent increase over current levels. Limited sight distances and driveways, combined with ever increasing traffic congestion, compromise safety.
During the late 1990's, ConnDOT, along with a number of local and tribal officials, devised a major investment study (MIS) for CT 2A and other area roadways. The state explored the following alternatives:
ALTERNATIVE A: This "no-action" alternative assumes no further construction by ConnDOT other than those projects already approved for the area, including the 2.4-mile-long (four-lane) widening of CT 2 from CT 164 in Preston to CT 214 in Ledyard, and the 1.5-mile-long (four-lane) widening of CT 2 from I-95 to the CT 78 Expressway in Stonington.
ALTERNATIVE E: This alternative involves constructing a new limited-access CT 2A Expressway Extension between CT 12 and CT 2 in Preston, along with a four-lane divided CT 2 between Preston and I-95 in Stonington. The CT 2A extension would be a 2.3-mile-long, four-lane freeway on a new right-of-way, with 12-foot-wide lanes, 10-foot-wide shoulders and a 16-foot-wide grassed median. The bypass, which would have no intersections or interchanges between its endpoints, would run through rural farmland, and join a widened four-lane CT 2 north of Poquetanuck Cove. The cost of implementing this alternative would be $94 million.
ALTERNATIVE F: In addition to all the provisions of "alternative E," this alternative would add a 6.8-mile-long, four-lane, limited-access CT 2 bypass between CT 214 in Ledyard and I-95 in Stonington. Between the two points, there would only be grade separations, no interchanges. The cost of implementing this alternative would be $131 million.
In March 2001, the Route 2 / Route 2A Advisory Committee recommended the implementation of the preferred alternative - "Alternative E" - before a two-hour meeting in Preston. Mark Alexander, transportation planner at ConnDOT's Office of Environmental Planning, said that the state favored the extension of the CT 2A Expressway because of existing and anticipated increases in traffic throughout the region. The proposed development at the former Norwich Hospital site, and the expansion of the Mohegan Sun complex would aggravate the situation, according to ConnDOT.
Local opposition to the state project focuses on the insistence that the road improvements will benefit only those patrons traveling between the Mohegan Sun and Foxwoods casinos. Representatives from both the Mohegan tribe and the Mashantucket tribe (operators of the Foxwoods casino, which would appear to be a beneficiary of a widened CT 2) have voiced opposition to the project. Moreover, environmentalists fear that the project would remove farmland, harm nearby Poquetanuck Cove and raise ambient noise levels.
The Norwich Bulletin recommended against the immediate construction of "Alternative E" as follows:
At present, ConnDOT has not proven any need for an expanded Route 2, a new highway or a new bridge. Traffic in the vicinity of the two casinos is steady, and at times heavy. But beach traffic long caused similar inconvenience, although that was confined to summer months. While traffic is heavy now year-round, the volume is well short of overwhelming. Existing problems such as speeding and reckless driving can be readily addressed by a beefed-up police presence, which would prove considerably less costly than the proposed bypass of which ConnDOT is so enamored. When the "future" does arrive, that will be time enough for ConnDOT to wheel out this $60 million to $80 million plan.
In May 2003, Governor John Rowland gave the go-ahead for "Alternative E" by formally requesting $76 million in Federal funding for the project.
This 2000 aerial photo shows the Mohegan-Pequot Bridge and the eastern terminus of the CT 2A Expressway. In the distance is the environmentally sensitive Poquetanuck Cove, which local leaders fear may be harmed by an easterly extension of the expressway. In 2003, Governor Rowland gave the go-ahead for the extension. (Photo by Greg Amy.)
INTRODUCING THE CT 78 EXPRESSWAY: The CT 2A Expressway should be re-christened the CT 78 Expressway, and extended southeast from Preston as a four-lane route to the existing CT 78 / RI 78 (Westerly Bypass) in Stonington. The CT 78 Expressway, which would parallel the existing CT 2 and connect to I-95, would improve safety and alleviate congestion resulting from current and future development in southeast Connecticut.
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); "Routes 2-2A-32 Transportation Improvement Study," Connecticut Department of Transportation (1999); "Residents Dismayed Group Advises Route 2 Widening" by Megan Bard, The Norwich Bulletin (3/20/2001); "Mohegan Leader: Route 2A Bypass Is Unnecessary" by Greg Smith, The Norwich Bulletin (4/10/2001); "State Only Fan of Route 2A Bypass Plan" by Rob LeBlanc, The Norwich Bulletin (4/21/2001); "ConnDOT Should Forget Route 2 Bypass Until the Need Is Clear," The Norwich Bulletin (5/04/2001); "State Asks Feds for $76 Million for Route 2A Bypass," WFSB-TV (5/16/2003); Jay Hogan; Scott Oglesby; Alexander Svirsky; William F. Yurasko.
CT 2A and CT 78 shields by Barry L. Camp. Lightpost by Millerbernd Manufacturing Company.