June 7, 2007
By ADAM BULGER, Hartford Advocate Staff Writer
I’d bet almost everyone reading this has driven over the Aetna Viaduct hundreds of times. It’s an elevated stretch of Interstate 84 that runs over Hartford for about 3/5 of a mile, dividing the north and south ends of Hartford. Hartford-based transportation expert Toni Gold called the 41-year-old viaduct the “most dysfunctional, disruptive piece of highway in Connecticut” in a March editorial for the Hartford Courant .
A 2006 study conducted by the engineering firm Hardesty & Hanover commissioned by the state’s Department of Transportation rated several sections of the structure poor and fair. In response to the report, the DOT announced a $100 million rehabilitation of the viaduct.
A group of Hartford community groups have joined together under the banner of the Aetna Viaduct Alternatives Committee. They’ve asked the DOT to use the chance to not only make repairs, but to incorporate a public process in its planning for the long term. In late April the group sent a position paper on the viaduct to the DOT and other government officials. “We saw this as an opportunity because the DOT is thinking about working on the highway and there’s obviously money budgeted for it,” said Committee representative Joseph Barber.
The DOT said that while significant repairs were needed, they’d be receptive to other options.
“The Connecticut Department of Transportation understands that there are better ways to move Hartford-area traffic,” DOT Director of Communications Judd Everhart said in an e-mail. “Indeed, Governor Rell’s commitment to responsible growth is centered on a belief that the state must create mass transit systems that support and encourage sound, ‘context sensitive’ land use.”
In an e-mail, Everhart listed alternatives, but stressed the need for repairs. “Whether the choice is ultimately to build a tunnel, a circumferential route, improve the existing alignment, or some other option, the existing viaduct will have to be rehabilitated” he wrote.
Barber said his group doesn’t object to needed repair work. They want the DOT to be open to other possibilities for the stretch of road. And why not? Other cities have had successful road reform projects.
“In Milwaukee we eliminated a 28-mile stretch of freeway and the traffic was distributed much better,” former Mayor of Milwaukee John Norquist said. Norquist became the CEO of the Congress for the New Urbanism, a non-profit city-planning organization, after leaving office in 2004. A critic of elevated highway systems, Norquist said the highways in Hartford had a pronounced negative impact.
“[The highways] disrupted the complexity of the city. Just about everything they did has reduced the value of Hartford,” Norquist said. Barber said the group isn’t proposing a specific solution; they’re trying to create a partnership wherein a workable solution can be found. “It’s hard to get your head around what to do with a piece of highway,” Barber said. “That’s why I think that we need a process where people with expertise and good ideas and people who think out of the box and people who know what the problems are can learn from each other.”