Gov. Dannel P. Malloy will back plans to begin a long-awaited project to widen Interstate 95 at a heavily congested pass between exits 14 and 15 in Norwalk by the end of this year, officials said.

"The area has been neglected for decades and always been a tough area to get through, which hinders commerce and job growth," state Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk said. "Employers are not going to come to an area where there are constant bottlenecks."

Later this year, the state Department of Transportation will bid out the $93 million project with the goal to begin work next spring, DOT spokesman Kevin Nursick said.

Nursick said about $85 million for the project is expected to be included on the agenda of the State Bond Commission.

The project includes construction of speed change lanes in both directions as well as replacement of three overpass bridges, at Cedar Street, and Fairfield and Taylor avenues, to widen the road.

The work is to finish in 2016, Nursick said. It also will include reconfiguring traffic lanes where exit ramps meet Route 1 and add sidewalks on both sides of Route 1 stretching northward to Clinton Avenue.

"When you consider widening Interstate 95 to add capacity is not a feasible option, these speed change lanes are the best value in terms of breaking up traffic," Nursick said. "When we talk about Interstate 95, it is about strategic investments to improve traffic flow."

Duff, vice chairman of the state Legislature's Transportation Committee, wrote Malloy last week, calling on him to keep a promise to find funding for the long-deferred work.

Last fall, Malloy appeared with Duff and then-state Sen. Donald DeFronzo at the interchange and called the exit 14 and 15 area the worst I-95 bottleneck, deeming the speed change lane project critical.

Malloy spokeswoman Colleen Flanagan on Monday said the governor views easing congestion on the Norwalk stretch of I-95 as a top goal even amid a push to rein all forms of state spending.

"As a former Fairfield County mayor, Gov. Malloy uniquely understands the problems associated with this section of I-95," Flanagan said. "He remains committed to this project, while understanding the fiscal reality with which we are also dealing."

The Southwestern Regional Planning Agency, which conducts transportation planning for the region's municipalities, has kept widening of the Norwalk section of I-95 at the top of its list of priorities for roughly a decade, endorsing the work to both cut down traffic and improve safety, said Sue Prosi, SWRPA's senior regional transportation coordinator.

In 2009, SWRPA's Travel Time Monitoring Program, a survey that used cars equipped with geographical positioning systems, found evening rush-hour commuters traveled an average of 15 mph between exits 16 and 15 on I-95 approaching the Route 7 connector from the north.

The replacement of the overpasses will also improve safety by raising vertical clearances for larger trucks, Prosi said.

"This is a key component of this project to link the Route 7 expressway into I-95 southbound and I-95 northbound to Route 7," Prosi said. "... Anything you can do to increase vertical clearance and improve design standards will help safety overall."

Similar projects over the past decade at exits 8 and 9 in Stamford, exits 12 and 13 in Darien, and other interchanges have been praised for bringing quicker commutes and a better business climate.

The economic benefits of a widened I-95 in Norwalk will justify the hefty investment, state. Rep. Christopher Perone, D-Norwalk said.

"We're trying to alleviate some of the pressure on that area and the project has been put off repeatedly in the past," Perone said. "The other solutions that would help alleviate traffic, like decking Interstate 95 or widening the road even further, are not very practical and having these lanes will probably cut down most commutes."

Staff Writer Martin B. Cassidy can be reached at martin.cassidy@scni.com or at 203-964-2264.