The recent closure of I-84 in Southington to replace a bridge may have sounded like a last-resort effort causing maximum disruption on a major Connecticut thoroughfare, but it really represents a new way the state Department of Transportation is approaching its long slate of major highway projects, including potentially reconstruction of the Hartford viaduct.
"The Southington project was one of the best planned and most perfectly executed construction projects that this department has undertaken in years," said DOT spokesman Kevin Nursick.
The I-84 project used a new DOT methodology called an accelerated bridge construction where the bridge's decks were built off the roadway and then moved into place over one weekend. Rather than impacting I-84 with lane closures for two years, DOT chose the method that shut down the entire highway for three days.
"Using this accelerated bridge technique, we think we will be able to minimize the impact on travelers while finishing projects quicker," said DOT Commissioner James Redeker.
DOT will use this technique on planned road and rail bridge replacements for many future projects, Redeker said, as they finish quicker with less impact on the traveling public. Similarly structured projects already are planned for bridges in Bridgeport, Norwalk, and Stamford.
While completely shutting down a freeway, even for a weekend, may seem like a drastic step, Southington businesses and residents say they were pleased with the way the project was executed since it shortened the length of time the roadway was impacted, said Art Secondo, president of the Southington Chamber of Commerce.
DOT did a good job keeping Southington businesses informed about the project's process, when the closures were going to happen, and managing the detours once the closures took place. No chamber members complained about the project or its methodology, Secondo said.
"I honestly don't have anything but positive things to say about how the DOT did this," said Gary Brumback, Southington town manager. "The police department, fire department, and town staff supported this project, and it was wonderfully coordinated."
Ultimately, the bridge replacement finished ahead of schedule and much quicker compared to DOT's old methodology, Brumback said.
Although the Hartford viaduct will require a vastly different execution plan, the public's positive feedback from the Southington project was a confidence boost for DOT, Nursick said. Still, reconstruction of the I-84 viaduct in the Capital City will be much larger and more complex.
"The Hartford viaduct construction is a massive project, and there will be a lot more balls in the air to juggle," said Nursick.
The Hartford project will develop improvements for the condition of I-84 between Flatbush Avenue (Exit 45) and the I-91 interchange. Those highways were constructed on elevated structures that reached the end of their life and need to be replaced.
During the Hartford construction, I-84 will not be closed, but major detours will be in effect as the project takes place for much longer than just a weekend.
"There is no sugar coating the fact that this project is going to have a very large impact," said Nursick.
Because the Hartford viaduct project will involve a lot of advance, complex planning along with much-needed smooth execution, the success of the Southington project is a sign to the Hartford business community that DOT can perform efficiently, said Oz Griebel, president and CEO of the MetroHartford Alliance.
"Everyone has to be prepared for this type of major construction," said Griebel. "The goal is to get it done on time and on budget, imposing the least amount of negative impact on residents and visitors."
Nursick said an outreach program and advanced planning will take place for years prior to the actual construction.
"When you're going through the center of a city with serious constraints there is going to be an impact, and that is something we will have to manage during construction," said Nursick.
Nursick said the public's approval is essential in preparing for these large projects, as it reassures they have the support required to complete their tasks.
"There can be huge implications closing down a highway if you do not plan ahead of time in partnership with the local community," said Nursick.n