DANBURY — State engineers are looking for local help to develop a $715 million plan to rebuild Interstate 84 between Exit 3 and Exit 8 in Danbury over the next decade.
Engineers from the state Department of Transportation have hosted workshops with dozens of towns, businesses, groups and councils across the area over the past year, but they’re missing one core group — neighborhoods.
Now the team is forming a project advisory committee of at least two dozen local officials and neighborhood leaders to help guide the design of the highway expansion and improvements with their local experience, officials announced Tuesday at a luncheon for members of the Greater Danbury Chamber of Commerce.
“We don’t live in Danbury,” said Dave Sousa, a senior planner and consultant working with DOT on the project. “We have the data, but you all have the experiences. So it’s really important that we talk in these settings and get the feedback ... (The committee) is a really interesting way to engage people through representatives of people who live here.”
The committee will be formed this fall and will meet on a regular basis with engineers and consultants working on the project to provide feedback and help keep the entire project on track as it moves through a series of design phases through essentially the mid-2020s, DOT Project Manager Andy Fesenmeyer said.
The massive expansion plan was first announced in early 2015 as part of Gov. Dannel Malloy’s ambitious 30-year, $100-billion plan to upgrade and modernize transportation infrastructure across the state. Malloy announced the plan at the time overlooking the interstate in Danbury and on Monday announced the I-84 construction project in Waterbury would be opening this month, a year ahead of schedule.
So far the Danbury project team has collected data and will spend at least the next two years working on potential proposals for the stretch of highway and securing necessary federal environmental permits — possibly setting actual construction all the way back to about 2030, according to the latest timeline.
“Our timeline is still mid to late-20s and the reason we put it like that is we don’t even know what we’re building right now, so it’s hard to guess when we might build that,” Fesenmeyer said. “So the timeline is fairly long because, to work through the public, it’s an intensive alternative analysis to make sure we get the right project.”
This 6.5-mile stretch of the highway was originally designed in the late 1950s to handle about 15,000 cars per day — a far cry from the 80,000 to 110,000 vehicles that drive it daily now.
Atop the project’s priority list will be reconfiguring the interchanges where I-84 and Route 7 meet, which require lane changes and left exits that cause congestion and dangerous situations, DOT officials said.
But the final expansion might not mean simply adding an extra lane in each direction, Fesenmeyer said.
As much as 40 percent of traffic on the highway between Exit 3 and Exit 8 is local traffic simply avoiding the city’s zig-zagging street network and stoplights, he said. It could be possible to add a local-traffic-only lane along the highway to ease congestion for through-traffic on the main interstate lanes without overburdening the existing city street setup, he suggested.
That will be for the advisory committee of neighbors to help decide and balance, though, which underscores the necessity for involvement early and often in the lengthy design process, state and local officials agreed.
“I think the community engagement process is going to be really paramount to the whole thing,” City Councilman Vinny DiGilio said. “The city of Danbury and its residents went through a lot on Route 6. We were kind of held hostage to things happening there out of our control for a long, long time and there’s going to be a lot of those type of things during this process.
“That 30 to 40 percent (of local traffic) is here 100 percent of the time,” he continued. “The improvements and the end result are going to be excellent. The means, the work to get there, is going to be where the real special sauce happens.”
DOT officials will be at this week’s Downtown Chow-Down during lunch on Thursday at Kennedy Park and plan to host more public community meetings in the fall.