Santa, Can We Make Eastern Connecticut’s Highways Safer?

Eastern Connecticut’s highways seem to become increasingly dangerous during the holiday season as stressed out motorists take out their rage through aggressive driving.

The Hartford Courant released a list of Connecticut’s 10 most dangerous state roads.

Number one on the list was Route 9 in Middletown which has an on-ramp from Route 17 forcing drivers to stop, turn 180 degrees to look, and accelerate quickly onto oncoming traffic.

A three-mile portion of the highway has a 45 MPH speed limit including its two signalized intersections with Route 66. There were about 245 accidents from 2002 to 2004.

The DOT claims funds are not available to upgrade it to a full expressway, expected to cost $75 million.

However, the current configuration, according to the Courant, leads to an accident occurring approximately once every three days.

In southeastern Connecticut, the DOT performed work on Interstate 95 in East Lyme, close to where a November 2007 fatal accident killed three people.

Work included the installation of a new concrete barrier to replace the guardrails, new “reduce speed” yellow signs with flashers, repainted pavement lines, and a reduced speed limit which now goes as far south as the Rocky Neck Connector in East Lyme. Between Rocky Neck and Cross Road, there have been 663 accidents from 2002 to 2004.

The reduced speed of 50 MPH was implemented due to limited visibility because of hilly terrain, short on-ramps onto the highway including one from Route 1, the left exit for Interstate 395, and a narrower roadway than other sections of the busy interstate.

A proposal to finish Route 11 is expected to fix the I-95/I-395 interchange but it won’t happen anytime soon.

I have driven through the reduced speed zones on Route 9 and I-95 and it is quite obvious to me and others that many drivers ignore the warnings.

One of my friends asked me if the more than 275 statewide highway cameras (including more than 50 east of the Connecticut River) can catch those who treat the highways like the Indy 500.

Not yet, I told him. According to Snopes, the Department of Transportation uses the cameras tomonitor traffic flow, not for law enforcement.

However, the system could be upgraded to ticket unsafe drivers.

While the prospect of automated traffic enforcement raises legitimate concerns by many, Kevin Richardson believes that combining penalties with positive reinforcement leads to safer highway driving.

His proposal was implemented in Stockholm.

Traffic cameras record each vehicle and inform the driver if they are law abiding or are going above the speed limit. Speeders receive a ticket in the mail while those obeying the law are entered into a lottery to win money collected from the tickets.

The experiment led to an average speed decrease of 22 percent even though violators did not receive a citation.

Automated traffic enforcement has decreased the average speed of vehicles and the accident rate in Maryland.

Lawmakers should give drivers a nice holiday gift this year by beginning to implement this technology at Route 9 in Middletown and I-95 in East Lyme. Perhaps that can be a precursor to upgrading Route 9 and finishing Route 11.

Time will tell whether those wishes will come true.

In the meantime, please drive safely.

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