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Larson's Vision For Highway Tunnels Under Hartford To Be Explored At Forum

U.S. Rep. John Larson began pushing two years ago for a two-tunnel solution in Hartford to replace the aging Interstate 84 viaduct and ease the bottleneck at the interchange with Interstate 91.

Now, Larson, the 1st District congressman, is taking on his skeptics and convening an educational forum that will bring officials and experts from Seattle, where a 2-mile tunnel along the waterfront in the city’s downtown is nearly complete.

The forum will be split into two panels. The first will focus on Seattle’s experience constructing a $3.3 billion tunnel to replace an aging viaduct that separated the city’s downtown area from its waterfront. Construction began in 2011, and officials say the tunnel could open in the fall.

The second panel will shift the focus to Hartford and Larson’s two-tunnel plan.

Panelists include Chuck Sheehan, former chief executive of the Metropolitan District, or MDC; Carl Bard, former MDC director of engineering and deputy commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Transportation; James P. Redeker, commissioner of the state DOT; David Fay, chief executive and president of The Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts; and Scott Jellison, chief executive of MDC.

The forum comes as the state proceeds with plans to replace the I-84 viaduct and studies options for improving the interchange with I-91 . State planners had rejected the idea of replacing the viaduct with a tunnel as too costly, at an estimated $10 billion. Instead, they opted for lowering the highway and placing it below grade.

Larson’s vision is a bold one — bury both highways in tunnels under the city and connect them with a massive underground interchange.

Larson, who is seeking re-election in November, argues the project would bring together two halves of the city split apart since the 1960s by I-84, and would re-establish the connection to the riverfront cut off for two generations by I-91.

While the vision is an attractive one, skeptics say the tunnels would be costly, with one estimate at $50 billion. The project would be federally funded.

Larson, an East Hartford Democrat, would likely carry weight in seeking funding, especially if Democrats recapture the majority in the House of Representatives in the November midterm elections.

The tunnels would not have exits so motorists would have to follow them to their end and then backtrack into the city. Last week, state transportation officials said studies showed two-thirds of traffic is traveling in or out of Hartford.

Monday’s event will take place from 9 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at the Hartford Club on Prospect Street in Hartford. The event is free and open to the public but advance registration is required because seating is limited. To register, visit: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/the-seattle-tunnel-experience-a-path-forward-for-greater-hartford-tickets-49857430918

Some of the travel expenses are being paid by panelists, while expenses of others were picked up by the Larson for Congress re-election campaign.


1:53 p.m.: This story was updated to clarify that the forum is open to the public but advance registration is required because seating is limited.

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