Nicknamed "Route 5½," Route 11 is a half-completed freeway following the busy Route 85 corridor toward New London. The missing link, continuing to I-95 in Waterford, would be about 8.5 miles long.
Funding and environmental difficulties caused the state to give up on Route 11 in the early 1990s, but tourism growth and increased area traffic have rekindled the issue: in early 2002 the state proposed a $410 million project including a four-lane parkway extension of Route 11 to a new three-level interchange at I-95, I-395 and US 1.
In August 2004, U.S. Secretary of Transportation Norman Mineta told a group of officials in Salem that Route 11 had been added to a fast-track review list -- one of about 13 projects with national high priority. This could have sped things along. It did not.
Around 2022, the state plans to renumber exits on Route 11 to a mileage-based system.
CT 11 History
A freeway proposed for Route 85
In 1953, state highway Commissioner G. Albert Hill mapped out a ten-year, $400 million expressway plan featuring 12 new roads, including Routes 2 and 85 from Hartford to New London. He recommended that the expressways, which included familiar routes such as US 7, Route 8, and US 44, be toll highways. The Roads, Rivers and Bridges Committee of the State General Assembly discussed the proposal, and most of it has come to fruition.
A few years later, more concrete plans appeared for what would become Route 11. In 1957, the state General Assembly directed the State Highway Commissioner to "complete plans and cost estimates for a modern highway between Hartford and New London." In December 1958, the plan was published: a four-lane controlled-access expressway would follow the general locations of routes 2 and 85 (The idea of calling the Route 85 section "Route 11" didn't occur until 1971).
The proposed alignment south of Colchester was quite close to where Route 11 and its dotted-line extension go today. The expressway would stay west of Route 85 for most of its length, with interchanges at Lake Hayward Road (but not Witch Meadow Road), Route 82, Route 161, the Connecticut Turnpike (now I-395), and US 1 (now I-95).
At the Turnpike, the new expressway would share an underpass with the existing Route 85 (where "an adequate two-span bridge" was already constructed). At US 1, the dual roadways would separate widely to allow direct expressway connecting ramps. A continuation into New London is implied by dashed lines on the report, but is not discussed.
In 1960, public hearings were held concerning the new Route 2 and 85 expressways in Colchester. Notably, a complete 3-way interchange was planned between the expressways, instead of the partial one existing today; however, the Route 2 west to Route 85 south ramp would be deferred until traffic conditions warranted. (When the highways were built, the Route 11 north to Route 2 east ramp was also deferred, and both remain unbuilt).
Work on Route 2 was expected to begin Summer 1962, and work on Route 85 (11) would begin some time after 1963.
Meanwhile, the Tri-State Transportation Commission hoped to prod things along by also advocating the expressway. Included in their regional report was the state plan for Route 85: a spur from I-95 to Ocean Beach in 1967, and completion from Route 2 to I-95 in 1969. (The Ocean Beach spur plan is no longer active.)
Construction begins... and ends halfway
On July 21, 1971, the DOT announced that the new Route 85 freeway would instead be called Route 11, to avoid motorist confusion and the expense of changing signs. Route 11 as it stands today opened in 1972. On October 24, 1972, the state suspended further construction on Route 11 because of lack of funds.
Still, the 1975 MTP proposed $59 million in four projects to complete the road, with work starting after 1978.
Completion deemed infeasible, tabled
In the old days, they used to draw a line on a map and start the rights of way acquisition. They don't do that anymore.
In the 1980s, plans circulated for finishing the road, including connections at I-395 and I-95, and a wider I-95 between there and Route 161 to the west. The total cost: about $350 million. In 1992, gubernatorial candidate Lowell Weicker supported completing the highway; but in 1993 the DOT, citing funding and environmental wetlands problems, classified the extension as infeasible, calling for improvements to other roads in the area instead. Route 11 was postponed indefinitely.
Completion plans dusted off
In the late 1990s, Route 11 plans were revived: as with many turnaround stories in Southeast Connecticut, the impetus is the new Indian casinos in Ledyard (1992) and Montville (1996). In the fall of 1997, ConnDOT initiated a Major Investment Study (MIS) of the area, and in January 1998 expanded the focus to include preparing an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).
In March 1999, ConnDOT published a Route 11 Environmental Impact Statement Executive Summary. There were several alternatives for the Route 85/11 corridor, including:
Spot improvements on Routes 82 and 85
Transit / demand management
Extend four-lane freeway to I-95
Extend freeway part-way to "touch down" at Route 85 north of I-395, with improvements to Route 85 from there
Build "Super 2" (2-lane controlled access route) with New Jersey barrier and climbing lanes in the Route 11 right-of-way
Widen Route 85 to four and six lanes
Since then, the state and many involved have settled on a low-profile greenway treatment, four lanes divided, leading to a high-speed interchange at I-95.
The "widen Route 85" option is unpopular because many local streets and driveways, residential and business, intersect Route 85.
New Route 11 popular in area
Counter to typical local opposition to new highways, area residents were pushing for Route 11 as well: they held a press conference in Salem on August 3, 1998, as well as sending a long list of signatures to the Army Corps of Engineers (COE) and the EPA. The COE and EPA favor improvements to routes 82 and 85; residents largely prefer a Route 11 expressway.
In March 2001, U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons, R-2nd District, wrote to new EPA chief Christine (aka Christie) Todd Whitman asking for help in moving forward with Route 11. He cited the unsafe conditions on Route 85, the regional EPA recommendation for widening Route 85, and the Army Corps of Engineers statement that widening Route 85 was not feasible. New Jersey residents will recognize the EPA chief's name: she was their governor. (Anyone joking about New Jersey's environment is urged to first explore beyond the NYC suburbs and the NJ Turnpike.)
In May 2001, Connecticut Gov. Rowland asked the COE to disregard EPA concerns and continue with the approval process.
Compromise reached in late 2001
On September 19, 2001, the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments, a planning group incorporating several regional towns, endorsed a compromise between two plans favored by the COE. The DOT 1998 plan, which passed through an ecologically sensitive forest in Waterford, was rejected by the COE; the two plans veered west of there, passing through East Lyme instead.
The westernmost plan, favored by the EPA, would pass within 500 feet of some East Lyme homes. The easternmost plan passes within 4000 feet of Route 161, penning in some neighborhoods. The proposed compromise doubles the western distance to 1000 feet by moving the highway slightly eastward. The Route 11 extension would follow a narrow 100-foot right of way and include a greenway: much more like a parkway than like the wide profile of existing Route 11.
The state expected in 2002 to seek a permit to build the highway. Many more public hearings, an environmental impact review, and funding decisions are included in the many steps needed to complete Route 11.
Route 11 and September 11
Southeastern Connecticut has not only tourist attractions that draw traffic, but strategic facilities (Naval submarine base, Coast Guard Academy, Millstone nuclear power plant) that unfortunately could be terrorist targets.
Reports submitted to the state Transportation Strategy Board in November 2001 outlined the need for effective evacuation routes in the area. The Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments planning organization said [in the words of the Hartford Courant] "the need to have unimpeded traffic flow is crucial, and a matter of life and death."
In mid-2002, state and regional officials brought up the idea of using federal Homeland Security funding for Route 11, given its key role as an evacuation route. This didn't pan out.
In October 2002, the Full Corridor Plan for the Southeast Corridor Transportation Investment Area recommended: "Complete Route 11 and associated greenway to connect with I-95, thus directly connecting the southeastern Connecticut region with the Hartford Capitol Region and Bradley Airport and providing a direct evacuation route out of the region in the event of an emergency."
Early 2002 presentations unveil planned interchange
On March 12, 2002, at East Lyme High School, ConnDOT unveiled its newest plan for Route 11, including the interchange at I-95. The $410 million plan follows the western compromise alignment drawn up in late 2001, and would displace about 10 houses.
Proposed Route 11/I-95/I-395 Interchange
The proposed interchange for Route 11, I-95 and I-395 in Waterford. Access to US 1 is thrown in for I-95 and I-395. Note that the 95/395 interchange will still be incomplete, and no access is provided between Route 11 and I-395. However, I-95 and Route 11 will have high-speed access in all directions.
Route 11's proposed alignment has always included a touchdown at I-95 near the I-395 split at the Waterford - East Lyme border. In February 2002, ConnDOT revealed its proposed design for the interchange at a meeting of the Route 11 Advisory Board. The 3-level interchange would be about 70 feet high at its apex and handle movements between I-95, I-395, Route 11, and US 1. Its cost would be about $150 million -- over half that of the rest of Route 11.
The proposal elicited a "lukewarm reception" at the time, with a state representative worrying that the highway plan is being sabotaged, and a US Army COE official talking about wetlands.
Route 11 submitted for federal "fast track" list
In September 2002, George W. Bush signed an executive order directing state and local governments to place high-priority transportation projects on "project streamlining," a fast track aided by a new federal task force. This agency is intended to work with various other parties involved in a highway project (DOT, COE, EPA) to comply with the law, complete paperwork, and smooth the way.
That month, Gov. Rowland submitted two projects to Transportation
Secretary Norman Y. Mineta: the US 6 expressway from Bolton to Columbia, and finishing Route 11. To justify Route 11's inclusion, he said it "will provide a needed link between the capitol area and the growing urbanized areas along the coast." Route 11 would also separate local and thru traffic, improve access to the Naval base, and facilitate evacuation.
In June 2003 Mineta said the project wouldbe considered for fast-track, but did not guarantee selection.
This looks like more good news if you favor finishing the highway, but roadblocks can still pop up. The COE has not yet approved the road, and the EPA can still veto an approval by the COE; it has seldom done this, but the EPA has publicly stated it opposes new roads in general.
Continuing action in 2003
On Jan. 6, 2003, U.S. Rep. Simmons sponsored a bill to ensure federal authorization for Route 11 and provide $8 million for a greenway. This would "clear the way for completion of Route 11." Reps. Christopher Shays and Nancy Johnson co-sponsored the bill.
In February, Rep. Simmons announced that $1 million had been procured for acquiring greenway land. The EPA still favors improving Route 85 instead, but the greenway, built on both sides of Route 11, would exceed EPA mitigation standards.
"Today we can say the greenway is real," said Salem First Selectman Peter Sielman, who is chairman of the Route 11 Greenway Authority Commission.
In mid-April 2003, Rep. Simmons announced that all parties involved, including the EPA, had agreed to develop an environmental mitigation plan for for Route 11 by May 1, clearing a large hurdle toward starting construction.
In June 2003, the EPA announced it needed to observe wildlife habitats through the spring of 2004 before it could assess the highway's impact; this could delay Route 11 another year.
In September 2003, the United States Senate Appropriations Committee set aside $3 million for Route 11 in the year 2004 transportation spending bill. This is said to help because it shows the EPA and the FHWA that Congress believes the project has merit. The $3 million could be used for planning and engineering before the EPA finishes its own study. Connecticut senators Christopher Dodd and Joe Lieberman pushed for the funding.
In October 2003, a staffer for Rep. Simmons announced that approval had been given to allow the EIS to go forward.
Right-of-way acquisition starts
In July 2004, ConnDOT officials started negotiations for a four-acre tract of land in Salem, near the present end of Route 11. It's a small part of the 8.5-mile corridor, but at the time it looked like a significant first step.
Route 11 accepted for fast-track list
In August 2004, U. S. Secretary of Transportation met with local and state officials, announcing that Route 11 had been placed on a fast-track review list. It's in esteemed company, among only about 13 other project nationwide. This federal attention should have helped move the project along, and pass all environmental reviews in about two years. It did not.
CT 11 More...
The interchange at Route 2 in Colchester is only partial (no 11N to 2E or 2W to 11S ramps). Non-direct traffic uses Route 354 for access. Early 1960s plans included a complete interchange here.
Exit numbers and mile markers count upward from the non-existent junction at I-95.
CT 11 Quotes
"In eastern Connecticut, I'm committedto the completion of Route 11 and the construction of a new and safer Route 6."
Gov. Rowland, State of the State address, Feb. 4, 1998
"It's easier to drive Iraq out of Kuwait than it is to finish Route 11."
Rep. Rob Simmons (R-Conn.), a former Army colonel
"[Route 85 is] a road built in the 1800s and has 13 stoplights."
Jane Dauphinais, district director for Rep. Simmons why a completed Route 11 would be a better evacuation route
"Overall, there are very few opponents for this project."
Edgar T. Hurle, Connecticut State Director of Environmental Planning, in late 2002
CT 11 Kurumi Suggests
Complete the highway as proposed by the state.
CT 11 Sources
"Road plan urged for Connecticut." New York Times, March 31, 1953.
Alfred Kaehrle Associates, for the Connecticut State Highway Department. "Report on a Modern Highway Between New London and Hartford." December 1958.
Transcript of public hearing : relocation of Routes Conn. 2 & 85 -- Colchester ; Central School, June 2, 1960.
"State Starts Process Of Extending Route 11: Negotiations Under Way For First Land Purchase." The Day [New London, Conn.], July 22, 2004.
"Route 11 put on fast track." Norwich [Conn.] Bulletin, Aug. 18, 2004.
"Replacement of Highway Signs and Sign Supports on Limited Access Portions of Routes 2, 3, 11, and 17, Including Revisions to Mileage-Based Exit Numbering." Press release, ConnDOT, dated Aug. 21, 2020.
Thanks to William F. Yurasko for many of these sources.