Once upon a time, back in 1966, I was a senator representing Norwich and eight other surrounding towns. Because I fought my way into the Senate, John Bailey gave me just about anything I wanted without legislation.
John Bailey was the Democratic chairman who ran the state of Connecticut. In those days in politics, there was a discipline, and, in my years, the Senate was in perfect balance … that is, almost perfect balance. There were 19 Democrats and 17 Republicans — a total of 36 senators. So, if one Democrat voted the wrong way, there was an 18-to-18 tie. The lieutenant governor would have to break the tie.
There were times that I voted against my party for the benefit of the people in my district, but very often, talking to commissioners, you could get pretty much what you wanted on a handshake. I worked hard to get the commissioners to become friends. In fact, during my two terms, almost every state commissioner had dinner at the Stanley home, with one exception — the commissioner of Motor Vehicles, Commissioner Tynan of Middletown — who always avoided me because I fought the party and won.
In those days, the Commissioner of Transportation, Roads and Bridges — the Department of Transportation as they call it now — was Howard Ives. He lived in North Stonington. We liked each other, and we often had breakfast at Mara’s Drug Store on Franklin Square.
I told him, when we first met, that I was going to fight to have Route 2 through or around Norwich completed. His response was “Good luck!,” which was his way of saying what they are saying today about Route 11. Everybody says we are going to do it, but during these last 30 years it hasn’t been done. Of course, Route 2 is still incomplete, dating back to the early 1960s.
The officials of the Department of Transportation, I belive, are woefully inadequate. It takes them a month to do a job they should do in a few days. Their past highway design, done by those who are all retired, was nothing short of a nightmare.
Just One Problem
One Friday morning, in 1965, I sat down with Howard Ives and told him that I had a plan that would get traffic around Norwich without going down Washington Street or Broadway, and it would relieve the traffic in Norwich and make travel so much easier for the through-traffic. He said to me, “You’ve got the solution?”
I said, “Yes, sir. I hired an airplane and flew around Norwich, around and around. Then it became very clear.” I said, “If you exit Route 2, where it now enters into New London Turnpike, and cut down to the location of the Canada Bridge, crossing the water, and then follow the railroad tracks to Thames Square, then cutting over the marina, over the Laurel Hill Bridge to Fox Hill, and rejoin Route 2 where Foxwoods’ parking lot now is.”
He looked at the aerial photos I had. He smiled and said, “There is only one thing wrong with it, Bill.”
I said, “What’s that, commissioner?”
He said, “My people didn’t design it.” And you know, the wise, old commissioner was right. The plan was good, and it would have worked perfectly. But my fight came from within the Department of Transportation. I was even able to get the money — about $60 million — but no matter how I tried, I couldn’t get Route 2 through the Senate or the House.
I lived in East Great Plain and watched what DOT has done with millions and millions of dollars at Exit 80. I do think their work and planning is excellent. The intersection is better for their work, but, of course, one has to ask: Why in the world didn’t they do it right first time?
There was a fellow named Bud Shugrue, whose folks came from Norwich. After Howard Ives, Bud Shugrue, also a dear friend, became commissioner. Bud and I were very close. He often explained the politics in the Highway Department.
It was Bud Shugrue who developed the viaduct that carries traffic around Norwich, behind the railroad station, connecting Laurel Hill, Shetucket Street and Burnham Square and taking most traffic out of downtown. Bud Shugrue had common sense and still, like the senator from the 19th, he had trouble getting certain pet projects through the legislative process.
Route 2 should have been completed in 1960. Now, 49 years later, they don’t even talk about completing Route 2, and it probably never will be completed. Route 11, as badly as it is needed, will not be completed. The design of many of the cloverleafs on Interstate 395 and Route 2 are so dangerous, yet they will never be changed.
Bud Shugrue told me over lunch one day that they had done a study — not official, but a hypothetical study — around 1965 of how many lanes you would need along Interstate 95 to accomodate peak volume traffic; it would require 22 lanes in each direction. He said that would be 44 lanes total, but, he said with a shrug, “I’ll be gone by then.”
But, wild as it seems, it’s possible that to accomodate traffic in today’s world would probably take 22 lanes of traffic in each direction.
Personally, I have many friends with the DOT. Those guys who drive the snowplows in the winter, and the fellows who reconstruct our many highways are not the ones at fault. It seems the design is, but, in fairness, when they built the turnpike in the 1950s, everything in East Great Plain was farmland.
The O’Neill farm is the one I remember best, as my high school girlfriend’s grandparents lived there, and my sixth-grade teacher, Mimi O’Neill, lived there. The farm was sold, and Ames Department Store built a shopping center. In later years, they built the Sheraton Hotel, and then, even later, Jim Cronin’s Dime Bank headquarters was established on Salem Turnpike. Of course, the real traffic generators were Walmart and Big Y.
Who in the world would ever have guessed that farmland would all become high-traffic-volume retail space? But, in truth, the highway department should have know that all the cloverleafs would ultimately be centers of high-volume traffic, and they are.
From the Massachusetts line to New York, most of the cloverleafs are big traffic generators with shopping malls everywhere. It isn’t uncommon that we overlook the potential of the future.
Sold Too Soon
Some years ago, I and a fellow named Ed Gravelin, created a 50/50 partnership and built about 97 luxury apartments on land Stanleys owned in the Industrial Park. We built them in 1976 and sold them in 1986. We thought the sale was overpriced, but if we had only hung onto those apartments, the mortgage would have totally been paid off, and the rent from 97 apartments would have earned something like $100,000 per month. So, before I am too critical of the highway department, I should look in the mirror. That was one the worst mistakes of my life — selling too soon.
But, my experience, even after I was no longer a senator, was very good with the state, especially highway. I was a Democrat, still am, though it becomes harder and harder to be Democrat these days.
For many years, the highway department would answer my phone calls and, very often, do minor jobs that were needed. Today, regrettably, I don’t know anyone at the DOT, and I have become a critic — maybe unfairly — but my criticism is not of the highway department employees, but the design and administrative people.
I guess this morning I am being a crotchety old man, and for that I apologize. But, when there is an accident on 95, maybe somebody could tell me why it takes four hours to clear the highway when, at Mohegan Sun, the same accident would be cleared in 20 minutes. Private enterprise, I suppose.