In Slow Motion
I-95 long ago surpassed its design capacity, and while there are plans to alleviate congestion and delays, the thruway remains the state’s longest parking lot.
Scott Weiner knows about clogs. As general manager of southern Connecticut operations for Roto-Rooter, the Riverside executive helps clear hundreds of them every week. But there’s one kind of blockage his company has trouble with, the kind you find every day on Interstate-95 in and out of Greenwich.
“You never know what time of day you’re going to get hit with a traffic jam,” he says. “It can take one to two hours to get from the shop in Stratford to Greenwich. Even getting off at Exit 6 or 7 is a challenge for us, because the traffic overflow goes into the Post Road, and because, being in emergency services, we can’t always be there as quickly as we’d like.”
Weiner has been in his present position for five years, long enough to see the traffic problems of I-95 mount, while his company continues to use the thruway to reach Greenwich and Stamford customers who comprise nearly half of his office’s revenue. In 2005, Roto-Rooter set up a high-tech dispatch system utilizing computer software and traffic reports for calculating optimal routes. Because circumstances change quickly on and around I-95, the system has had limited success. “There are a lot of surprises out there,” he notes.
Peter Sutton agrees as he watches from his ringside seat.
As executive director of the Bruce Museum, his office overlooks the Connecticut Turnpike near Exit 3, where he can see traffic backups as commuters coming into town queue up to the traffic-light-controlled exit every morning, trusting fate or caprice they won’t be rear-ended by a passing truck. “It was always dangerous, but now it’s a mob scene,” he says.
Guest speakers have arrived late at the Bruce on account of the thruway, while Sutton’s commute home to Westchester County frequently takes three times longer than it should.
A slow-moving I-95 is not only frustrating, it’s also a handicap as the museum expands its patron roster with exhibits that garner national attention.
“Most of our visitors come from a radius of thirty miles, and that is limited by the snarled difficulty of the roads,” he says. “While we are very glad to be close to I-95, it’s a problem, too. We have an expression at the Bruce: ‘We’re easy to find and hard to leave.’ ”
You could say the same for all of Greenwich: The checkpoint for New England is rapidly becoming the chokepoint, as its main thoroughfare swells with ever-increasing traffic volumes.
“Everyone agrees that it has become noticeably worse, particularly in the morning and afternoon rush hours,” Greenwich First Selectman Jim Lash says.
When it opened in January 1958, the Connecticut Turnpike was designed to accommodate 50,000 vehicles daily, 70,000 at most. According to the state Department of Transportation, charged with maintaining and monitoring road conditions along the highway, the average daily number of vehicles passing in both directions along the Greenwich-Stamford border rose from 129,600 in 1996 to 146,400 last year. The Greenwich Chamber of Commerce estimates I-95 now operates at 212 percent of its design capacity.
State Senator Bill Nickerson of Greenwich calls the situation “unsustainable,” a detriment to the town’s quality of life, economy, even its air and water. “It is a very serious problem, and I’m pleased that in the last two to three years, more effective action is being taken to address this than has been taken in some time,” he says. “The legislature and the governor understand this better now than ever before.”
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