Processing Your Payment

Please do not leave this page until complete. This can take a few moments.

April 19, 2021 Editor’s Take

Bordonaro: Biz community should back Hartford 400 plan to re-imagine the city

Image | CT MIrror A new plan for realigning Hartford’s highways includes removing the current I91-I84 interchange and replacing it with two others, at the northern and southern ends of the city, along with creating a new River Road along the Connecticut River.

If there was ever a time the city of Hartford needed a big vision to chase it would be now.

And that’s precisely what a new plan to remake the city’s highway system offers. The 15-year, $17-billion plan is big and part of a regional planning effort called Hartford 400, backed by the iQuilt project in Hartford.

Greg Bordonaro

It essentially would remove significant stretches of highway — including the I-84/I-91 and “mixmaster” interchanges — that carve up the city and separate downtown and its neighborhoods, freeing up more than 150 acres of land for potential redevelopment in Hartford and East Hartford.

It would also reconnect the city to the Connecticut River, creating untold opportunities for new waterfront development, which would be a game changer for Hartford.

Instead of the Connecticut Convention Center and Science Center fronting highways, the venues would have views of a new city green and the river.

The plan, which was developed by Hartford native and prominent urban planner Doug Suisman, also includes new bridges, capping I-91 through downtown Hartford and some tunneling, although less than what Congressman John Larson proposed a few years ago.

Efforts are currently underway to build business community support, and the city’s large corporates like what they see so far, according to MetroHartford Alliance CEO David Griggs.

“I think there is growing support from the business community,” Griggs recently told me. “The business community understands that for them to attract talent they need a vibrant city.

“Reconnecting the city to the waterfront is vital,” he added. “That kind of amenity is so important to the development and redevelopment of the community.”

Hartford 400 could be a transformative project for the city, and the business community should get behind it.

Yes, the price tag is big, but the vision will only go forward with significant funding from the federal government.

Spurring the momentum, of course, is a Biden administration that has already laid out a bold $2 trillion-plus infrastructure plan.

If it gets approval from Congress, the Hartford region and state must be ready to act quickly. While I’m concerned about the amount of federal funds being spent, Connecticut sends way more money to Washington then it gets back.

It’s time for the state to get a better return on its investment and funding for the Hartford 400 plan would pay dividends not just for the city but the entire region and state.

With Democrats in control of the U.S. House and Senate, and New England-based lawmakers in key committee leadership positions — including Rep. Rosa DeLauro chairing the Appropriations Committee — some view this as a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the city to essentially remake itself.

So what’s it going to take to make this a reality, besides Congress passing an infrastructure spending bill?

“What we most need is a unified voice,” Suisman told me in a recent interview. “We have to go into this as a unified voice that brings in community groups, nonprofits, environmentalists, elected officials and of course the business community. When you go to Congress and show that you’ve come together around a vision then the money flows. The appropriators love to see that. What they don’t love is when they see squabbling.”

Consensus needed

I realize a project of this scope and magnitude is no sure bet. The logistics can also be complicated, although Suisman said nothing in his plan does anything extraordinary in terms of the construction and engineering involved.

We don’t have to look far to see the headaches that result from a complicated construction project. The Big Dig in Boston was made famous for its delays and cost overruns.

Heck, the city of Hartford stumbled trying to build a minor-league baseball stadium.

And in terms of creating that unified voice? We haven’t been great at that either.

Trying to keep track of the various plans that have been pitched to realign the city’s highway system and better connect its neighborhoods has been a dizzying, and frankly confusing experience.

In my opinion the process lost some credibility in 2019 when after years of planning and public outreach state transportation officials decided to put on ice a plan to replace the aging Hartford viaduct, which is past its useful life, to further study the issue.

Part of the reason that happened was because Larson, at the 11th hour, proposed an ambitious plan to replace highways with underground tunnels. His vision, of course, was expensive with no real plan to pay for it.

But his calls for planners to think more broadly about the project — making it not just about easing congestion but restitching the fragmented city — may have been fortuitous.

Suisman’s vision actually combines elements of both of those previous plans.

Hartford has made some significant strides in recent years of creating a more vibrant city. And there are plenty of new interesting developments in the pipeline that will make Hartford a more attractive place to live, work and play.

But Hartford 400 is potentially transformational and could reshape the city’s future. If a federal infrastructure spending bill passes, Connecticut should make this plan a top priority.

Sign up for Enews


Order a PDF