The Connecticut Public Interest Research Group, Tri-State Transportation Campaign, and state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, are urging Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and lawmakers to shelve plans to widen I-95.

The widening of I-95 between New Haven and New York is part of Malloy’s $100 billion, 30-year transportation vision. The project is expected to cost between $9 billion and $30 billion depending on how many lanes are added.

“The problem with road widening is simple: it does not address congestion,” Evan Preston, executive director of ConnPIRG, said Tuesday at a Legislative Office Building press conference.

Preston said investing in road widening is one of the “least effective ways” to improve transportation.

“The driving boom is over,” he said. “If we’re going to attract talent to the state, if we’re going to keep young people in the state after they graduate from college, we need to be providing people options that allow people to not depend on their cars.”

Steinberg, who chairs the transportation bonding subcommittee, said he’s a proponent of Malloy’s vision, but he just doesn’t agree widening I-95 will improve congestion.

“Our emphasis should be on mass transit,” Steinberg said.

He said tolls are controversial and congestion tolling may help lower congestion, “but it doesn’t solve the problem.”

He said the problem with the Transportation Finance Panel’s report, released last week, is that it doesn’t prioritize the projects. The report simply details how it would pay for the projects.

Widening I-95 is “clearly a misplaced priority,” Steinberg added.

He agreed with Preston that the state’s emphasis should be on mass transit and maintaining the roads and bridges that already exist. Most of the $100 billion the governor has proposed spending will go toward maintenance of the existing system.

Preston and the report his organization released Tuesday, which identifies a dozen highway expansion projects his organization deems “wasteful,” used even harsher language calling the widening of I-95 a “boondoggle.”

Christine Stuart photo
Evan Preston of ConnPIRG and Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport (Christine Stuart photo)

Preston said investing in mass transit is the only “truly viable option” to address the needs of the I-95 corridor.

Steinberg said funding and the scarce Department of Transportation engineering resources should be focused on the most urgent tasks.

Joseph Cutrufo, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign’s Connecticut Policy Director, said study after study has shown highway widening just invites more traffic onto the roadway. He said there seems to be some congestion relief in the short-term with highway widening, but not the long-term.

“You have to address demand,” Cutrufo said.

He said the Millennial generation is choosing cities where there are transportation options.

“Companies want to be in downtown locations where there are transportation options,” Cutrufo said, referring to General Electric’s recent decision to relocate its headquarters to Boston.

He said the only way to get to GE’s Fairfield, Conn. campus is by car.

“If we’re going to be invest in driving in this state, then we’re going to be pushing companies away,” Cutrufo said.

The governor has proposed adding a lane in each direction of I-95 and rehabilitating the pavement and bridges for about 50 miles “through some of the most expensive real estate areas within the state,” according to the finance panel’s report. The report goes onto say that the economic benefits of widening I-95 far exceed the $9 billion cost.

An analysis by the Department of Transportation shows that widening the highway will yield over $11.4 billion in business sales and output over a 25- to 30-year period after construction. In the short-term, it will yield another $13.9 billion in business sales during construction.

A spokesman for Malloy referred reporters to a study that showed the annual congestion on I-95 totaled 7.4 million hours and the total long-term economic output as a result of widening would reach $11.4 billion.

“We are familiar with and agree with studies that show that increased highway capacity projects often attract more cars, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it,” Judd Everhart, a spokesman for the Department of Transportation, said Friday.  “Congestion pricing/tolls is part of the equation. Connecticut needs a balanced approach to transportation in all modes — rail, bus, highway, and even bike/ped enhancements.”