FAIRFIELD COUNTY, Conn. – Even Ronald McDonald needs a facelift every half century or so.
He’s getting one at the aging McDonald’s service plazas along Interstate 95 in Fairfield County. The work should transform the fast-food outlets from their outdated 1950s appearance to a more sleek and spacious 21st-century look - with all the amenities that go with it.
The smaller service plazas along the Merritt Parkway in Fairfield County, among a total of 23 across the state, are also being renovated.
Among those about to close for reconstruction is the Darien Service Plaza, between Exits 11 and 12 on northbound I-95. It's the first one for motorists entering Connecticut from New York. While that restaurant is among the top revenue-producing McDonald’s in the world, customers say they are looking forward to a long-overdue upgrade.
“It’s about time. I’ve been stopping here for 12 years on my way home to Westport from my job in New York, and it’s pretty depressing here,” said Dee Blumstein, a fashion designer who works in Manhattan.
“This place has deteriorated so badly in recent years, sometimes I just keep driving even if I’m hungry, tired or need gas,” Blumstein said. “Today I had to stop because I just needed a cup of coffee to make it any farther.”
Yuseff Aladino, 11, who sat nearby with his grandparents and cousins at a long table eating a chicken sandwich, said he was surprised to see large cracks in the table and along the floor.
“We’re from Philadelphia on our way to visit relatives for New Year’s in Connecticut,” said Yuseff, a Russian immigrant who was the only member of his family who spoke English. “My grandfather just told me (in Russian) that even in Russia he’s been to better looking McDonald’s than this one.”
But that’s about to change, say officials in the state Department of Transportation. Project Service LLC, a Milford-based company, has entered into a 35-year public-private partnership with the state to renovate and operate the service areas.
Several of the Fairfield County plazas that are part of the five-year project are about to be completed, while others are just getting under way — including in Darien, New Canaan, Greenwich and Fairfield.
The renovations will cost about $178 million, but the state estimates the upgraded facilities will bring in about $500 million in revenue.
“The I-95 service plazas were built in the 1950s, the ones along the Merritt Parkway go back even 20 years earlier and there hasn’t been any significant renovation in decades, if at all,” said Paul Landino, president and CEO of Project Service LLC.
“Our commitment is to have fresh food, convenience, improved aesthetics and environmental standards that will benefit travelers going through Connecticut for many years,” said Landino. “That’s why we are renovating and reconstructing every service plaza in Connecticut.”
Judd Everhart, a spokesman for the DOT, said improvements include adding more food choices such as Subway and Dunkin’ Donuts, larger convenience stores, expanded ExxonMobil fuel pumps and more parking.
McDonald’s, which will remain at eight of the 10 service plazas on I-95, will also have expanded space. Some of the plazas, including both the northbound and southbound Darien service areas, will close next month for about a year while the renovations take place, Everhart said.
“Virtually all of the existing service plazas that have not yet been renovated are unattractive, tired looking and in need of a total makeover,” he said.
Plazas in Greenwich along the Merritt Parkway will close shortly and are scheduled for completion next October, while the two Fairfield Merritt Parkway stops will also close in January and reopen in about a year, Everhart said. The Fairfield I-95 service plazas will shut down for reconstruction from March 2013 to March 2014.
Upgrades at the New Canaan plazas on the Merritt Parkway will also begin in January 2013.
“These service plazas are the gateway into Connecticut and we want to make sure that everyone from tourists and truck-drivers, to the motorists who live and work here have the most up-to-date facilities we can provide,” Everhart said.