I-84 Condition Answers
Why is this project needed?
The I-84 Hartford Project corridor is less than two miles long; however, it comprises approximately 4.3 miles of mainline and ramp bridges with a total elevated deck area of more than 1.1 million sq. ft., or about 25 acres. These structures were originally designed in the 1960s for a 50-year service life. Now that they are reaching the end of their intended life span, costly and frequent repairs are routinely needed to control their continued deterioration.
Between 2005 and 2012, the Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT) spent $58 million to maintain the bridges within the corridor. An additional $45 million is dedicated for repairs from 2013 to 2017. Despite continuous maintenance, repairs, and capital investment the condition of the bridges will continue to worsen over time and will need major reconstruction, including the full replacement of many of the bridges.
In addition to bridge deficiencies, the interchanges within the corridor cause driver confusion, leading to accidents and congestion. From 2009 through 2011, there were almost 1,850 motor vehicle accidents within this corridor. Some of the many operational deficiencies that contribute to a higher than average crash rate include:
- Closely spaced interchanges that create weaving conflicts between traffic entering and exiting the interstate
- Partial interchanges with left-hand entrance and exit ramps
- Substandard shoulder widths
- Undesirable horizontal alignments
What is an interchange?
An interchange is where a limited access highway connects with local roads via entrance and exit ramps.
What is meant by horizontal and vertical alignment?
Horizontal alignment refers to refers to curves in the roadway, while vertical alignment refers to the way a roadway goes up and down over terrain.
What is a viaduct?
A viaduct is an elevated structure that carries a transportation facility such as a highway, walkway, or rail line typically over land. The longest viaduct structure begins at Laurel Street and ends at approximately Broad Street.
What is a corridor?
A corridor is a linear area where one or more transportation facilities pass (i.e. roadway, railroad track, bike path). It also refers to the surrounding land and terrain within the defined linear area.
What is the difference between a bridge and a viaduct?
A viaduct is a series of smaller bridges which leads a roadway or other transportation facility over land or over an obstacle such as a river or valley.
What does “useful life of a bridge” mean?
When bridges were designed in the 1950s and 1960s, they were expected to last approximately 50 years. Most of the bridges through this corridor were built in the early 1960s and have reached the end of their useful life. When a bridge has reached the end of its useful life, it needs to be replaced or have extensive rehabilitation. Nowadays, bridges are designed to last 75 to 100 years.
What is meant by “substandard features” or “substandard alignment?”
The term “substandard” can refer to:
- how a road or bridge design does not meet current design criteria
- the type of construction technique used
- how it functions
Engineering design criteria for roadway and interchanges have evolved over time, and some design practices that were common in the late 50s or early 60s would not be considered adequate by today’s design criteria.
How many accidents per year occur on this stretch of I-84?
There were approximately 1,850 motor vehicle accidents on I-84 in the project area from 2009 through 2011.
You say some of the bridges are in poor condition. Are they safe to drive on?
The condition of Connecticut’s bridges is assessed on a biennial basis. Each bridge is given a numerical rating from 0 to 9. A rating of 0 means the bridge can no longer support traffic. A rating of 9 is a newly constructed bridge in excellent condition.
Many of the bridges within the I-84 Hartford corridor have ratings in the 4-5 range, which the Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT) describes as “fair to poor.” The bridges are still considered safe to drive on, but the condition rating suggests the bridges are in need of major repair in the near future. Bridges with this rating need repairs more frequently. This supports the need to fully rehabilitate or replace these structures.
Why is there so much congestion during my morning/afternoon commute?
The interstate and interchange layout was originally built in the 1960s to accommodate 50,000 vehicles per day. Today, there are more than 175,000 vehicles per day using this stretch of interstate. Closely spaced interchanges, left-hand on- and off-ramps, short weave sections, narrow shoulders, and curving alignment all contribute to driver confusion and congestion. The interstate layout, combined with the extremely high traffic volumes, can cause excessive traffic delays on both interstate and connected city streets.
Will the Department of Transportation continue maintenance work on the existing viaducts during The I-84 Hartford Project study process?
The Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT) inspects all bridges within this corridor on a biennial basis. After every inspection, a list of suggested repairs is given to the department’s Bridge Safety and Inspection Unit. The department then makes a decision on how to repair each bridge. From 2002 to 2012, CTDOT spent more than $60 million to maintain the bridges within the corridor, and an additional $45 million is dedicated for repairs in the next three years, 2014 to 2016. CTDOT will continue to spend money on repairs to maintain the safety of the bridges in the I-84 corridor. However, despite continuous maintenance, repairs, and capital investment, the condition of the bridges will continue to worsen over time, leading to the need for full replacement of many of the bridges.
How many vehicles travel on I-84 in Hartford?
I-84 through Hartford is the busiest section of highway in the state of Connecticut, carrying more than 175,000 vehicles daily - more than three times its original design capacity! Although vehicle miles of travel (VMT) has been declining for the past 10 years in Connecticut, traffic on I-84 through Hartford has increased slightly.
Study Process Answers
What are the different steps of design development?
The engineering design development process consists of three steps: conceptual design, preliminary design, and final design. A description of each of these steps follows:
- Conceptual design - In this phase, we establish the layout of alternatives, how they function, limits of the project, what the project intends to address, and the feasibility of alternatives tested. Steps include:
- Defining the problem – Needs and Deficiencies
- Collecting data and performing analyses
- Specifying requirements
- Creating alternative solutions
- Choosing the best solution
- Preliminary design - In this phase, the preliminary layout of the preferred alternative is further refined with schematics, diagrams, and layouts that are developed to provide a thorough understanding of benefits, impacts, and costs of the project. The preliminary design focuses on creating the general framework on which to build the project.
- Final design - During final design, the specific details of project elements are worked out. Detailed architectural and engineering drawings (the "blueprints") of all physical components of the project are produced. Virtually all design problems must be resolved before the end of the final design phase. Sufficient detail must be provided in the drawings to allow reasonably accurate estimates of construction and operating costs, as well as the construction scheduling. All revisions to construction materials, machinery, and equipment specifications are made. The updated schedule, cost estimates, and specifications are contained in a final design report.
Project Schedule Answers
How long will it take to replace I-84?
The I-84 Hartford Project is a very complicated endeavor. Due to the complexities and the size of the project, we must go through a federally-regulated process to develop alternatives, obtain stakeholder input and provide a thorough assessment of our anticipated environmental impacts. This process is governed by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and usually takes 2-3 years. At the end of the environmental process, we will have a “preferred alternative” and a Record of Decision (ROD). Once the final ROD is obtained, our consultant design engineers will begin the formal design process where they will add the details necessary for construction. The design process usually takes 3-5 years. The length of construction is dependent on the preferred alternative and could will vary greatly. At this point, the construction process is anticipated to take 5-7 years.
Development of Alternatives Answers
How does CTDOT decide which alternatives to evaluate?
Many sources of information, including public and stakeholder input, are used to help generate alternatives.
The I-84 Hartford Project alternatives evaluation will follow a process outlined by the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). It is designed to ensure that all reasonable transportation alternatives are considered, that community input plays a key role, and that the environmental and community effects are fully assessed and disclosed.
A four-step process will be used to identify, review, and revise the range of alternatives to be analyzed in the environmental document. Each alternative will be analyzed based on its ability to meet the project Purpose and Need Statement. In addition, each alternative, or any specific element of an alternative, must be able to accommodate travel demand, must be evaluated for potential impact on community, environmental, cultural and historic resources, and must be physically and financially constructible.
The illustration on the right identifies the four steps to which each alternative will be subjected in the evaluation and analysis:
- Initial Screening
Initial screening eliminates alternatives and/or elements of an alternative that do not have a realistic chance of being designed or built. A series of “yes-or-no” questions are used to evaluate alternatives during this step. This step is sometimes referred to as a “fatal flaw” analysis. Questions include:
Alternatives or elements of an alternative that are not eliminated in the initial screening are then refined and evaluated in comparative screening.
- Will the element meets the basic project Purpose and Need?
- Is it technically feasible to construct?
- Does it address project goals and objectives?
- Comparative Screening
Comparative screening looks at alternatives or elements in more detail to determine if some are clearly better than others. A qualitative (“good/better/best”) approach is used to decide the element that is most effective at meeting project Purpose and Need. Examples of “better” can be:
- Having fewer impacts on environmental resources
- Being less expensive to construct
- Being less disruptive to the surrounding community during construction.
- Detailed Screening
Detailed screening is a quantitative (numerical-based) analysis that identifies the strength of the various alternatives. During this screening step, the elements that remain after the second level of screening are combined to create stand-alone alternatives. These alternatives, the “build alternatives,” are defined fully and designed to a level that allows for analysis of potential impacts on environmental resources, and socio-economic conditions. The build alternatives are also analyzed for their constructability and the costs of construction.
- Alternative Refinement
The remaining alternatives are fully evaluated during the environmental phase of the project with the assessment of impacts presented in the NEPA document. These alternatives are determined to be those best suited to meet the project’s Purpose and Need; they are constructible and cost-effective. These alternatives are further refined to eliminate impacts on environmental resources and socio-economic conditions. For those impacts that cannot be eliminated, mitigation strategies are developed and become part of the proposal, and are analyzed in more detail.
How many alternatives will be studied?
The Project Team will examine several alternatives early in the process. Each concept will be developed and screened to determine whether it meets the requirements of the Purpose and Need Statement. The Connecticut Department of Transportation, project stakeholders, and the public will have an opportunity to review and comment on the conceptual alternatives. Through this review process, the less desirable alternatives will be removed from further consideration. Once there is a small group of viable alternatives, the environmental impacts, property impacts, impacts during construction (including traffic and noise), and the ability of each alternative to manage a high volume of traffic will be assessed.
Who decides which alternative to select?
Ultimately, the lead agencies of the project decide which alternative best meets the evaluation criteria of the stated Purpose and Need for the project. Agency coordination and public input is required to help reach this decision. In this case, the Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT) and the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA) are the lead agencies, but they seek input from stakeholders to arrive at a decision.
Will the rail corridor be affected by I-84 reconstruction?
The futures of the rail corridor and the highway are intertwined—just like the two transportation features themselves. The railroad long predates the highway, and the elevation of much of the highway was originally designed to avoid the railroad. At present, both the highway viaduct/bridges and the rail viaduct that approaches Union Station are at the end of their useful lives. Both require frequent and costly maintenance to keep them safe and operational, and both need to be replaced or reconstructed in a different way. Alternatives for I-84 will be developed in coordination with the railroad study and vice versa so that the ultimate solution will benefit users of both facilities as well as the community through which they pass. This might include moving the railroad alignment to eliminate the need to cross over it twice as in the current condition. The location of these two vitally important transportation features in one constrained corridor represents a very complex challenge.
Is the I-84 Hartford Project evaluating specific options for relocating the railroad?
CTDOT is conducting the Hartford Rail Alternatives Analysis concurrently with the I-84 Hartford Project. These two study efforts are being closely coordinated to ensure that the best possible comprehensive solution is identified to meet both rail and highway-related needs. As concepts for highway reconstruction are evaluated and refined, rail reconstruction options will also be reviewed to ensure that the highway and rail design concepts are compatible.
Has creating a tunnel along the I-84 Hartford corridor been considered?
At this time, a tunnel option is under consideration, but there is not yet enough data to determine whether tunneling is a feasible or desirable option in this corridor. Further evaluation as the study progresses will help determine this.
Is the state considering a “ring road” or beltway?
No. The Department of Transportation is studying I-84 primarily because of the deteriorating condition of the viaduct. A beltway was last considered in the 1970s, and was vigorously opposed by the public on environmental grounds. Even if a beltway is considered again, the state will still have to reconstruct I-84 because of the deteriorating bridge conditions and the fact that a majority of the traffic on I-84 begins or ends somewhere in Hartford.
Is there a city, comparable to Hartford, which has successfully dealt with reconstruction or reconfiguration of a highway bisecting it?
Many other cities - Milwaukee, San Francisco, Boston, Syracuse, and Providence - have either studied or are studying similar “urban highway” situations, but none have the exact same issues as Hartford in terms of traffic volumes, travel needs and corridor features. While we can learn from those situations, I-84 will certainly require unique solutions. See the Other Urban Highways page of this website for a little more information.
Environmental Review Process Answers
What does environmental documentation or environmental review mean?
Every project which proposes to use federal or state funding must comply with the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) or Connecticut Environmental Policy Act (CEPA), or both, and cannot be built without some level of environmental review.
What is NEPA?
In 1969, the U.S. Congress passed the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which promotes more informed decision-making of federally funded projects. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) was formed shortly after the act was passed. NEPA requires preparation of an environmental document to evaluate the environmental effects of federally funded projects. NEPA requires project teams across the country to provide clear reasons of why a project is needed (“Statement of Purpose and Need”), adequate consideration of feasible alternatives, and the development of measures to ensure that potential negative impacts from the proposed project are avoided, minimized, or reasonably mitigated wherever reasonably possible.
What is CEPA?
Similar to NEPA, Connecticut legislature passed the Connecticut Environmental Policy Act (CEPA) in 1971 for projects using state funding. Many other states also have state-level environmental legislation that mimics NEPA. If a project involves both federal and state funding it must comply with both NEPA and CEPA.
What is “scoping”?
Scoping is the first official step of the NEPA and CEPA environmental documentation process. During the scoping period, regulatory agencies and the public are asked to provide input on:
- The project’s Purpose and Need
- The project alternatives under consideration
- Specific impact concerns.
By providing input during the scoping phase, regulatory agencies and the public help to develop the “scope” of the environmental document so that the process is thorough, comprehensive and focuses on the key items of concern. At the end of the scoping period all comments from the regulatory agencies and the public will be summarized and responded to in a Scoping Summary Report. The material in the Scoping Summary Report helps set the direction for the further development of project alternatives.
What is a Purpose and Need Statement?
The Purpose and Need Statement is a document that explains why a project is necessary. It sets the stage for the consideration of alternatives. The “Purpose” defines the transportation problem to be solved and outlines goals and objectives that should be included as part of a successful solution to the problem. The “Need” provides data to support the problem statement.
The Purpose and Need Statement should clarify the expected outcome of the project and why it is necessary. It will be used to guide the development of a reasonable range of alternatives for further study. Also, it will be used as a fundamental element when developing criteria for selection between alternatives.
Cost and Financing Answers
How will the state pay for improvements to I-84 in Hartford?
Funding sources for the I-84 Hartford corridor improvements have not yet been determined. The State of Connecticut is responsible for maintaining its interstates with some assistance from the Federal Highway Administration (FHWA). Historically, the federal government has covered about 80 percent of reconstruction costs with the other 20 percent coming from the state. However, the total amount of federal aid necessary for transportation improvement projects is insufficient. Many states, including Connecticut, are exploring new and innovative ways to finance transportation projects. As one possibility, CTDOT has initiated a study to explore the feasibility of using a modern tolling system on I-84 to provide funding assistance towards reconstruction and to relieve congestion in the corridor. For more information about that study, currently in process, please visit that project website at www.ct-congestion-relief.com.