Project Examining I-84 Through Hartford in Second Phase

Posted on Friday, January 22 2010 by Heather Brandon

Public workshop on I-84 through Hartford. Photo © H Brandon

Public workshop on I-84 through Hartford. Photo © H Brandon

Last month, the I-84 Viaduct Hub of Hartford steering committee met with representatives from CRCOG and Goody Clancy to hear a wrap-up of the first phase of the consultant’s study of the highway through the city.

Phase two has been launched, estimated to be complete by the end of February, with a second public input meeting tentatively planned for some time next month.

The Hub of Hartford is defined as “a lively and walkable, mixed-use, mixed-income urban place, a regional crossroads centered on Union Station, where business, government, community and recreational uses integrate seamlessly in a historic context supplement by compatible new development. …Cyclists, walkers and transit riders [will] share the road comfortably with automobiles.”

Boston-based Goody Clancy was hired by the city of Hartford and CRCOG to conduct the study assessing possibilities for the viaduct, an elevated portion of I-84 snaking through and disrupting the street grid at the center of the city. According to Ken Krayeske’s report about the initial public workshop on November 19, the city is funding the study with $100,000, while CRCOG is channeling $200,000 in federal funds.

I-84 ramps cross overhead along Capitol Avenue in Hartford. Photo © H Brandon

A scope of work (PDF) from Goody Clancy outlines phase one of the study. It includes data gathering and evaluation, a reconnaissance of the study area, a series of interviews (PDF) with key stakeholders (a list of interviewees thus far is available at the bottom of this post), and the drafting of an “economic framework memorandum” (PDF) touching on several wide-ranging subjects. The memo reflects a review of past planning studies and an assessment of many constraints on the possible redesign of this stretch of I-84 through the city.

What are some alternatives to I-84 through Hartford? A tunnel, “decking over,” a depressed alignment, a boulevard, or maybe something else. Goody Clancy committed to reviewing these options and assessing pros and cons of each. Phase one included two Hub of Hartford steering committee meetings with the consultant, preparation of a newsletter (PDF), and the November public workshop.

viaductmap

Portion of the I-84 viaduct under study, centering on Aetna's headquarters. Click here to download the layered map PDF

The consultant’s aim during the first phase was to generate “key factors” to be considered in weighing alternatives to the highway. A draft preliminary list of criteria “may be used to evaluate potential options,” arranged in three categories: market access, real estate development, and community development:

Preliminary Thoughts On I-84 Viaduct Alternatives
Economic/Community Development Evaluation Criteria

MARKET ACCESS CRITERIA

• Maintains or enhances inter-regional east/west vehicular flow, particularly trucks.
• Maintains or enhance intra-regional east/west vehicular flow to support commuters.
• Provides convenient access to St. Francis Hospital, Aetna and the Hartford employees.
• Enhances the functionality and effectiveness of alternative transit systems like the busways, commuter rail and the downtown circulator.

REAL ESTATE DEVELOPMENT CRITERIA

• Supports the evolution of Union Station as a regional multi-modal transportation center.
• Increases and enhances the development opportunities within walking distance of Union Station in order to fully capitalize on transit-oriented development potential.
• Creates development parcels suitable for residential and commercial development.

COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT CRITERIA

• Establishes vehicular, pedestrian and bike connections that create a quality environment, reduce vehicle dependency and foster economic activity.
• Reduces I-84’s impact as a barrier between nearby neighborhoods (Asylum Hill, Clay Arsenal, Frog Hollow) and Downtown and fosters community development in these neighborhoods.

Hub of Hartford steering committee meeting. Photo H Brandon

Hub of Hartford steering committee meeting. Photo © H Brandon

During a Hub of Hartford meeting on December 14—minutes (PDF) are available—there was some discussion of the interviews with stakeholders as well as the draft evaluation criteria.

The steering committee meetings, which are open to the public, have generally been at 8:30 am on Wednesdays. The next one is planned to occur at the CRCOG offices at 241 Main Street in Hartford, on the fourth floor, at 8:30 am, Wednesday, January 27. The conference room for the meeting is too small to accommodate many attendees besides the existing committee and a few guests. The previous meeting took place in a larger conference room at Union Station.

Goody Clancy representatives have been responsive to suggestions and are continuing to add to the draft documents throughout the public input process, including ideas shared at public workshops as well as during the steering committee meetings.

They are generally skilled at hearing people out and not outright throwing wet blankets on ideas. Their task is to try to distill the many divergent suggestions, best practices and pieces of data into a handful of viable alternatives to the highway when it undergoes some form of reconstruction by the state department of transportation (as it must, since it has reached a certain age). It is a formidable job, but then again what will truly happen next it is in the hands of ConnDOT once this study is completed. Will their public input process be nearly as comprehensive and feel-good?

Open house reconsidering I-84 through Hartford. Photo © H Brandon

Open house reconsidering I-84 through Hartford. Photo © H Brandon

The public meeting last fall—proposed as a “half-day workshop”—was held at the Lyceum on Broad Street in Frog Hollow. It was preceded by a two-hour “open house” in the afternoon (pictured above), during which Goody Clancy representatives were available for informal conversations. Anyone could browse through to examine large maps and photos of the study area. The consultants encouraged some doodling and brainstorming using the maps.

After a break, the open house was followed by a facilitated public meeting in the evening (pictured below). This began with a slideshow presentation (PDF) and some general discussion, followed by three simultaneous small group sessions on focused topics: community/urban design, economic development, and transportation.

A summary (PDF) of the event by Goody Clancy demonstrates to a degree the challenges in a project like this: ideas are wide-ranging, sometimes impractical, often expensive, and persistent even when they have been dismissed repeatedly, such as uncovering the buried Park River through the city. But this is what public input processes are all about, and such persisting ideas are duly noted.

David Spillane speaks at a November 19 public workshop. Photo © H Brandon

David Spillane of Goody Clancy speaks at a November 19 public workshop. Photo © H Brandon

Perhaps the current state of the study is best captured in the notes at the end of the consultant’s interview summary: “This is challenging! Not sure what could work. Hard to envision/communicate what a feasible improvement would look like. Need to solve multiple problems at the same time—transportation, design, community, economic. Availability of resources to make necessary changes. Competing priorities within state for transportation funds; needs exceed funds.”

One is tempted to ask, so what is the point? Spending money on planning is one of our very favorite things to do. Whether we can follow through sometimes seems like a distant notion. The nature of this project as complicated and technical only exacerbates the situation: we need the attention of the public, business and property owners, and our elected officials on this critical matter.

Now that we are in phase two, what does it include?

Most noticeably, it will entail another “half day” public workshop, preceded by a second newsletter that is said to summarize the first workshop and provide an overview of alternatives to the I-84 viaduct.

Doodling on a map of I-84 through Hartford. Photo © H Brandon

Doodles on a map of I-84 through Hartford. Photo © H Brandon

Phase two will also include the following:

1) A qualitative assessment of each alternative to the I-84 viaduct from three perspectives:

Economic development

  • type and quality of land uses
  • land use characteristics compared to development potential

Real estate

  • amount of developable land
  • scale of potential development
  • degree to which land uses may be connected

Financial considerations

  • feasibility given likely price points and costs

2) Refined evaluation criteria.

3) Matrix assessment for each of the baseline and four preliminary alternatives based on the evaluation criteria, just to foster dialogue, not to make any final decision. It will weigh issues including transportation, structural concerns, construction costs, economic potential, land use, and design.

The fancy language can appear to be a barrier but it doesn’t have to make participating any more difficult. Ultimately, experts are attempting to guide the process so as to help laypeople of any stripe to jump in and share their opinions and ideas. The public is very much invited to do that, even if outreach has not been thorough. Granted, it is a busy time in the city when it comes to public engagement and overall visioning processes.

* * *

List of interviewees as of December 14, 2009 (additional interviews were pending)

Bob Painter – HUB Committee Chair
David Panagore, Roger O’Brien, Kevin Burnham, Mark McGovern, and Stephanie Kruel – City of Hartford
Jeff Parker, Tom Harley and Julie Georges – CTDOT
David Nardone, Robert Turner and Eloise Powell – FHWA
Paul Stacey and Maryann Nusom Haverstock – CTDEP
Tom Maziarz – CRCOG
Tomas Nenortas – Hartford Preservation Alliance, SoDo NRZ
Julio Concepcion and Oz Greibel – Metro Hartford Alliance
Bob Benzinger – The Hartford
Toni Gold – West End Civic Association
Hans Keck – Hartford Courant
Jackie McKinney – Asylum Hill NRZ, ArtSpace Residents’ Association
Mike Marshall – Aetna
Vicki Shotland – Union Station, Greater Hartford Transit District
Michael Zaleski – Hartford Business Improvement District
Mary Rickel Pelletier – Park River Watershed

One Response to “Project Examining I-84 Through Hartford in Second Phase”

  1. Brian

    Interesting topic. Tunnels in other cities always seem to cost more and take longer than planned, though the big upside is that local foot/bike traffic becomes more viable. Looking forward to seeing what happens with this!

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