State and federal officials broke ground Monday for the Interstate 95/Interstate 91 Route 34 interchange that is the last major phase of the $2.2 billion New Haven Harbor Crossing Corridor Improvement Program.
The interchange itself is a $357 million contract with O&G Industries and Tutor Perini Corp., which is being undertaken to relieve congestion and accommodate construction of the new 10-lane Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge over the Quinnipiac River.
The state just finished the $99 million Route 34 flyover bridge, a small piece of the corridor project, which replaced a left lane exit off I-95 to downtown New Haven.
The interchange project, slated for completion in 2016, extends a mile along I-95 from Exit 46 to about East Street. It will eliminate left-lane exits and entrance ramps and result in the replacement of 21 bridges, while adding lanes to I-95 and lane connections to I-91 to reduce bottlenecks.
The entire corridor improvement plan covers 7.2 miles of I-95 in New Haven, East Haven and Branford from Exit 46 in New Haven to Exit 54 in Branford. Every $1 billion invested in construction supports some 27,800 jobs, according to federal estimates.
Federal Highway Administration Administrator Victor Mendez said it is work that "will improve the state for many decades. It is not just about today's groundbreaking, it is about the future."
James Redeker, acting commissioner of the state Department of Transportation, said the interchange will bring 12,500 jobs over the next five years and will upgrade a section of highway that now sees 140,000 vehicles daily, three times the 40,000 it was designed for.
It will be completed in stages, with lane closures set to take place at night.
"This intersection will improve not just the flow of traffic, but the flow of business," Redeker said.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy congratulated the contractors and DOT workers for moving the project along in a timely fashion.
U.S. Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro, D-3, who was credited with garnering the necessary federal funds for the project, put in a plug for a national infrastructure bank that partners with private investors to continue these upgrades.
She said this is about "whether we can continue to produce middle-class jobs and middle-class incomes right here in our country."
Mendez, when asked Monday about the controversy surrounding a new Exit 46 northbound ramp off I-95, said he expects it will be worked out after consultations with the public, as well as local and state officials.
The proposal is to take about one-third of an acre of 2.4 acres deeded to the New Haven Land Trust off Long Wharf Drive.
Members of Elm City Cycling also attended the groundbreaking and presented Malloy with a letter appealing to him to continue his support for more bike lanes statewide and to refocus the DOT on "pedestrians, cyclists and the urban infrastructure" for safer travel modes.
David Streever, a member of the group's board of directors, said bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure creates twice as many jobs as road construction and improves safety and the economic health of the cities.
The interchange is one of several major transportation-related plans that are under way in New Haven, including a $32 million public boathouse, known as the Canal Dock project, off Long Wharf Drive that is 50 percent designed.
City Planner Karyn Gilvarg said the platform for the structure will be put out to bid by late fall and the boathouse itself, nine months later, with completion by fall 2013 or spring 2014.
This public facility is part of the required federal mitigation plan to make amends for razing the former Yale Boathouse as part of the Pearl Harbor Bridge expansion.
It will provide a waterfront park, marina and gathering place for residents.
The other project is the reclamation of 12 acres downtown, which will be accomplished by filling in the eastern portion of the Route 34 limited-access highway.
It is 30 percent designed with demolition set by early 2012 and extends from Union Avenue to Park Street. City streets cut off for decades by the highway will be reconnected and the first development project will be a $140 million biotech office-lab complex.