REGIONAL – While traffic continues to increase on Interstate 95, some motorists think an expanded highway will solve traffic congestion but it appears rail service is really the solution.
Old Saybrook Selectman Bill Peace, a former DOT engineer, believes adding a third lane to each direction of I-95 from Branford to Stonington, estimated to take 12 to 15 years and cost over $2 billion, will not solve congestion problems.
“When the ribbon is finally cut, the road will still be over capacity. If the state was serious in creating a road for capacity it would need to have doubled the number of lanes but the land around the highway is unbuildable so this will never happen,” Peace said.
In the meantime, John Korte, DOT Transportation Engineer, said ten variable message signs will be installed on I-95 along with a highway advisory radio in Old Saybrook and Waterford, but Peace believes this will create more traffic problems.
During heavy volume on I-95 in the past, Peace said most drivers who chose to leave the highway to get to Route 1 were familiar with the area.
Peace believes the signs will encourage unfamiliar drivers to leave the congested highway to get onto Route 1, increasing congestion on a road which has “no capacity for additional traffic.”
The signs and highway advisory radio “will tell you how long you will be sitting there (on I-95), it doesn’t solve the problem,” Peace said.
The real solution to the gridlock, Peace said, is for the DOT to invest in the railroad.
Shoreline East and Amtrak serve our region, both making stops in Old Saybrook, New Haven, and New London.
Stations in Westbrook, Clinton, Madison, Guilford, and Branford are used for Shoreline East while Amtrak has a station in Mystic.
Shoreline East trains are owned and operated by the DOT under contract with Amtrak while Metro North operates trains on the New Haven Line.
“Every time they provide more parking, more people use the train,” Peace said.
On a recent weekday afternoon, it was observed all 200 parking spaces of the Old Saybrook railroad station were full as well as the 45 parking spaces at the Westbrook station.
Peace believes creating another 200 parking space lot in Old Saybrook would also be filled by those seeking refuge from I-95.
When comparing the number of riders for 2004 with 2005, the DOT reported a five percent increase for Shoreline East and a 3.2 percent increase for Metro North.
Amtrak released a statement in 2005 reporting its third consecutive year of record ridership and said the New Haven station was the fifteenth busiest railroad station in the nation for 2005.
“The DOT is reluctant to look at the railroad as an alternative, but the best thing for the state to do is improve rail service,” Peace said.
The DOT contends a $1.3 billion transportation improvement plan in 2005 included the design and purchase of 342 passenger cars for the New Haven Line, new rail maintenance facilities, and new transit buses.
Peace encourages stations to provide skywalks so riders could park on either side.
Last year, Shoreline East reopened train stations in Branford, Guilford, and Clinton offering level platform access for easier boarding, enclosed waiting areas, and more free parking, according to the DOT.
Construction has started on the Madison station while the DOT expects construction to start on the Westbrook station sometime this year.
“It is an unreasonably high price to go between Old Saybrook and New York,” Peace said.
Rates for Amtrak service roundtrip from Old Saybrook to New York ranges from $58 to $103.
Shoreline East riders traveling to New York pay $5.75 one-way to New Haven, and must de-board for either Metro North or Amtrak service.
Metro North sells advanced tickets at $18.50 and $14 one-way from New Haven to New York while Amtrak fares range from $29 and $58.
A trip using Shoreline East and Metro North would range from $39.50 to $59.50 while one using Shoreline East and Amtrak costs between $69.50 and $127.50.
All three services provide discounts for monthly commuters but Shoreline East “only runs Monday through Friday, is directional, and provides no service in the middle of the day,” Peace said.
“People need to have options,” Peace said, “There should be one vendor offering train service on the hour every hour.”
Amtrak services are likely to improve because fiscal year 2005 was the third consecutive year of record ridership.
Shore Line East has a new Friday only special train operating during the summer allows riders to depart Old Saybrook at 3:05 p.m. non-stop to New Haven to get a connecting train leaving New Haven at 3:52 p.m.