In the early 1970s, the state ran out of money while constructing Route 11. So the road was halted in the middle of Salem, with promise that it would one day be extended eight more miles to Waterford, as originally designed.
That promise has yet to come true. The road still ends in the middle of one of Connecticut’s smallest towns, forcing motorists to use Route 85, a two-lane state road, as a major roadway to Hartford.
“It is extremely frustrating,” Waterford First Selectman Dan Steward said. “In my opinion it is a road that should be built, it should have been completed when they stopped. That would have worked, because then they could get through things. EPA was not paying attention back then, as opposed to now, where they are very concerned.”
But thanks to a new governor who has said many times he wants to get the road done, studies are simultaneously going on looking into the environmental and financial ends of the project, state Rep. Betsy Ritter, D-Waterford, said. This is the first time studies have been going on at the same time, she said.
“That has never happened before,” Ritter said. “So that is encouraging.”
Still, even if everything goes perfectly, the project is still 10 years away from being completed, Department of Transportation spokesman Kevin Nursick said. And the state still needs to come up with a way to find $200 million, and then get the federal government to kick in the remaining $800 million.
Where It Is Now
During his campaign for governor in both 2006 and 2010, Dannel Malloy said many times he wanted to complete Route 11. , he kept his pledge, spending $5 million on a new study to look at both the environmental and financial feasibility of the project.
“I believe this is a system that ultimately needs to be built out,” Malloy said at a press conference when announcing the study. “I’ve said that over a long period of time, over many years.”
The study, which is being done by a consultant, will look at the exact design of the road, Nursick said. Also, perhaps more importantly, it will look for ways to get the $1 billion funding to complete the highway.
Of the cost, $500 million will go extending the road eight miles from Salem to Waterford. The other $500 million will go to fixing the “inappropriate” interchange in East Lyme, where I-395 meets Interstate 95, Steward said.
The money can come from federal funds, but as general rule, the state has to kick in 20 percent, Nursick said. That means the state has to come up with a way to raise $200 million, he said.
One new option, which is being researched in the study, is if all-electronic tolls would work, Nursick said. While people are against tolls for a variety of reasons, if it is the only way the state will fund the project, it is worth doing, Ritter said.
“If our choice is we cannot have Route 11 finished without tolling, it would be in our benefit to seriously consider tolling,” Ritter said. “Because that is a permanent solution.”
There have been numerous studies on the environmental consequences of extending Route 11, as some of the land it would be built on is wetlands, Steward said. Also, to allow animals a place to go without crossing the road, the bridges will be extended over dry land so they can walk through there, Steward said.
A few years ago, former U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons came up with $10 million of federal money to buy land necessary to build Route 11. However, to buy the land a bike path had to be built, because there had to be some completed project associated with the purchase, not just the chance Route 11 might be built, Steward said.
The bike path had to meet federal standards, which meant it had to be 10 feet wide and paved, and would have cost $3 million, he said. That was not a good use of money, Steward said, who at the time was the chairman of the greenway committee, the group charged with building the bike path.
“That’s not a good use of taxpayers dollars,” he said. “First off you can’t get to it, second of all nobody is going to use it, and third of all somebody has to maintain it.”
The Road Itself
The road will end right at the Waterford-East Lyme border. It might have one more exit on Rt. 161, although that has yet to be determined, Nursick said.
The road will make Route 85 much safer, Steward said, and having motorist drive on a highway is much more efficient, Nursick said. Additionally, it could have major economic benefits as well, Ritter said.