Under the plan announced today, the elevated part of I-84 that stretches through downtown Hartford would be lowered from its current elevation, but it won’t be replaced with a tunnel, according to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Transportation Department officials.

Ruling out the option of doing nothing, state officials and residents seem to agree that the best compromise is capping part of the highway, lowering the road itself to grade or slightly below grade, and freeing up 45 acres of land for open space or development.

Malloy said there’s no other viable alternative. The highway has to be replaced or it’s “going to fall down.”

Finding a way to create more space by adding a cap to a portion of the two-mile stretch is a bonus, especially for the city of Hartford, which needs more taxable property.

“As many as 20 acres near Sisson Avenue could be made available for housing and small businesses. Twenty to 25 acres near Asylum Hill and Bushnell Park, along with a new rail station, would be a strong catalyst for transit-oriented development,” Malloy noted.

He said reimagining the I-84 viaduct is an opportunity to undo the highway’s impact on the adjoining neighborhoods.

Christine Stuart photo
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Transportation Commissioner James Redeker (Christine Stuart photo)

Richard Armstrong, the principal engineer for the project, said they’ve talked about continuing to elevate the highway, but decided that it would not be a successful alternative. He said many people in the community would like to see the highway lowered.

That assessment, which would require the rerouting of the train tracks and part of CTfastrak, is being shared with the Federal Highway Administration.

The cost of the project has been estimated between $4 and $5 billion and construction wouldn’t start until 2021 or 2022. Armstrong said there will be shifts in the alignment of the highway and construction will not be easy since it would be almost impossible to build a highway under an existing elevated highway.

It’s still unclear whether the highway would need to be shut down during different stages of construction.

“It’s a very daunting, challenging project,” Armstrong said.

The Environmental Impact Statement, which is the next step in the process, will begin soon.

The elevated portion of I-84 through Hartford carries as many as 175,000 vehicles per day — the highest volume of any section of roadway in the state. Portions of I-84 in Hartford have a crash rate four times higher than other comparable state freeways, according to state officials. On average, there are two crashes per day, Malloy said.

While the improvements will make the highway safer, it’s not going to be cheap. Newer estimates on the current price tag of $4 billion to $5 billion will be released at the end of the month.

Malloy said it would be easier to get these projects done if the legislature had approved a constitutional lockbox for transportation funds. He blames House Republicans for not finding enough support to get it on the ballot this year.

In December 2015, the House fell short of the 114 votes it needed to meet the three-quarter threshold for a constitutional amendment. Three Democratic lawmakers voted against it and 26 Republicans voted in favor of it. About 10 Democratic lawmakers were absent the day of the vote and Malloy held out hope earlier this year that the legislature would try again, but it was never raised for a vote in either chamber.

“Republicans need to get out of the way and give people what they want, which is a lockbox; and we need to have a reasonable discussion about how we’re going to make the investments necessary to support the infrastructure that we have to protect,” Malloy said Thursday.

Malloy has made investment in transportation infrastructure a central piece of his second term.