Each day, 140,000 vehicles zoom through New Haven’s Long Wharf area, which runs between the city and Long Island Sound. Forty-five years after it was incorporated into Eisenhower’s interstate program, I-95 now bulges with traffic — and the Connecticut Department of Transportation is proposing to add more lanes.
Wednesday night, DOT hosted a “Public Scoping Meeting” at 200 Orange Street. About 50 people came to hear department representatives speak about the department’s proposed construction project for the stretch of I-95 between Howard Avenue and Canal Dock Road, in the Long Wharf area.
Speakers briefly described the project proposal, but the meeting centered on environmental and community issues. The Department of Transportation conducted the meeting to comply with both federal and state environmental laws, which require public consultation during the project-planning process. The department can now take the next step, which will be to assess the potential impacts of the project on the environment and the community.
“[We are here] to get your input,” said Ned Hurle, director of environmental planning with the Department of Transportation.
Hurle emphasized that public input was needed to ensure the identification and consideration of all possible impacts.
“By and large, we don’t live here,” he said, encouraging his audience to share their knowledge and comments.
The department has been working in conjunction with the Federal Highway Administration and Parsons Brinckerhoff Quade & Douglas, the project consultant, in planning the expansion of I-95 through the Long Wharf area. The project aims to improve traffic safety and flow, reduce delays, and enhance access to the waterfront at Long Wharf.
After exploring three alternatives for I-95 along the waterfront — elevating the interstate, depressing it underground, or keeping it at ground level — the department decided the best option would be to leave it at its current level.
All three alternatives would include the addition of at least three lanes to the highway. The department has also proposed a relocation of exit 46 farther south, and the construction of a new pedestrian bridge over I-95, among other changes.
A public comment session followed the presentation, and Karyn Gilvarg, executive director of the New Haven City Plan Department, spoke first. She described the city’s amended version of the project, which would include preserving and enlarging the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Long Wharf Park, and purchasing the Wyatt/Williams site. The acquisition would increase public access to the harbor, and better connect the area with the rest of the city, stimulating economic development.
New Haven residents and members of advocacy groups stood up to speak after Gilvarg. Among them were Robert Grzywacz, chairman of the New Haven Historic District Commission, trail advocate Gary Davis, from Vision Waterfront, and Anstress Farwell, president of the New Haven Urban Design League. The public response was a mixture of skeptical comments and suggestions for altering the department’s project proposal according to their respective concerns. Farwell suggested the creation of an artificial hill through which to run the highway.
Gilvarg said the impending construction presents the city of New Haven with an opportunity for positive change. She said the guiding question should be how the city can effect this change in a way that begins to correct past mistakes.
Douglas Rae, Richard Ely Professor of Management at Yale, said when the highway was first constructed, it severed the interface between the city and the Sound.
“In so doing, it replaced one barrier (filthy water) with another (whizzing cars),” he wrote in an e-mail.
Now, with cleaner water and ample cultural and economic opportunities in the Long Wharf area, New Haven revisits the consequences of the 1958 decision to run the interstate through its waterfront.