HARTFORD, Conn. — A bridge and highway building project on a busy stretch of a key interstate in Connecticut is in its final stages, cheering commuters who have navigated construction zones and endured bottlenecks for more than a decade.
Thirteen years into the $2 billion, 16-year reconstruction of the Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge and Interstate 95 project, construction is under budget by about $212 million and ahead of schedule by a couple of months, the state Department of Transportation said.
Officials have been rearranging traffic at the New Haven bridge as crews wrap up construction in phases. A five-lane northbound bridge opened last summer and the previous southbound bridge was torn down and southbound traffic shifted to the old northbound span.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, transportation officials and others recently marked the shift of southbound traffic to the new northbound bridge as its predecessor is torn down. A southbound bridge, also five lanes, will be finished by 2016.
"The end is in sight and the fact they're down to the hard parts — work in the travel lanes — we're down to the crunch time," said Susan Godshall, who crosses the bridge twice a day between home and work in New Haven and again occasionally for work assignments.
Highway veterans like her are used to the mess, she said.
"For one-time users it might be confusing, and those complaints are legitimate because they're not used to the flow," Godshall said. "For people like me, it's no big deal."
The bridge, which opened to traffic in 1958, carries 140,000 cars, buses and trucks daily, more than three times the 40,000 a day for which it was designed. The crossroad links I-95, the major East Coast highway from Maine to Florida, and Interstate 91 that extends nearly 300 miles from New Haven on Long Island Sound to the Vermont-Canada border.
The southern Connecticut stretch of I-95 also links New York and Boston.
In addition to the bridge, which is known locally as the Q Bridge because it crosses the Quinnipiac River, the project includes a new Shore Line East commuter rail station in New Haven intended to cut highway traffic. And the interchange between I-95 and the north-south I-91 and a state highway are being rebuilt.
Lanes also are being added along a 7-mile stretch of I-95 between New Haven and Branford.
"I'm delighted to see it rise and there's more to come in such a short period of time relative to how long we've been patiently waiting," said Floyd Lapp, executive director of the Southwestern Regional Planning Agency. "We've heard talk of this project for so very long."
Thirteen years for what he called a "mega piece of infrastructure" is typical, Lapp said. "It's not all that bad, sad as it seems," he said.
Transportation problems have long been a political issue in Connecticut, a small state crisscrossed by three interstates — I-91, I-95 and Interstate 84 — and the Merritt Parkway, a 75-year-old highway that links Connecticut to suburban New York City. Planners, economic development officials and elected officeholders have drafted plans and budgets to reduce bottlenecks and jams that grind traffic to a halt and threaten business and job creation.
A few engineering challenges confronted builders of the Q Bridge, said Brian Mercure, assistant district engineer of the state Department of Transportation. The new bridge is being built with more girder depth to minimize how low the bridge hangs to provide greater clearance for boat traffic on the Quinnipiac River.
In addition, bridge tower height is 75 feet, shorter than that of a cable-stayed bridge, to avoid any impact on flights into and out of nearby Tweed New Haven Regional Airport.
Shoulders are designed to be 14 feet wide to accommodate vehicle breakdowns with no impact on traffic, Mercure said.
Stephen Dudley, senior transportation planner at the South Central Regional Council of Governments, said the project will provide a better connection between the two major highways and add lanes on the bridge to keep traffic flowing and reduce congestion.
"It's going to be important to keep our transportation network functional and increase and maintain our economic advantage as a region," he said. "Every step gets us closer."