Not just the drivers

Two recent, major accidents, including a double fatality, on a notorious stretch of Interstate 95 between Exits 71 and 75 in Old Lyme and East Lyme, were not isolated incidents, but indicative of a serious problem. A Day evaluation of highway accidents statistics as part of a special series on the dangers of I-95 through our region found that between 1995 and 2013 that section of highway had the highest number of fatalities and injuries east of the Connecticut River.

Anyone who has traversed it in heavy traffic knows the stretch of highway — two lanes in both directions with a narrow shoulder and frequent exits and entrances — is a white-knuckle experience.

In a recent story, state Department of Transportation spokesman Kevin Nursick said when the numerous accidents are evaluated, driving infractions, not highway design, are found to be the cause. Following too close, failure to control the vehicle, and improper lane changes are the most common causative infractions.

Talk about stating the obvious.

Blaming drivers misses the point that this location has far more serious accidents than normal. So unless drivers reserve their poor driving for that stretch of highway, the highway itself is a contributing factor. Poor driving there leads to more serious mishaps.

Some local officials have called for decreasing the speed limit to 50 mph, with ample warning to drivers that the reduced-speed zone is approaching. Transportation engineers, however, have learned from experience that many drivers will gauge their speed by the geometry of the road, not the posted limits. An artificially low speed limit could potentially lead to more accidents as drivers going faster, at what they consider a comfortable speed, interact with those strictly obeying the limit.

What can be done in the short term is stepped up enforcement. This has happened in the past when spectacular accidents in the area attracted attention, only to later wane. Persistent and aggressive enforcement of tailgating and speeding violations would change the habits of those frequently traveling through that area.

We would also call upon our state and local elected leaders to call for a public meeting where DOT officials can answer questions and discuss long-term plans to widen the travel lanes to three and improve exit and entrance configurations. Such a meeting would give those who use the highway to commute the chance to offer their insights.

Gov. Malloy has called for widening I-95 as part of his transportation initiative. This area of highway deserves priority status.

The editorial board is composed of the publisher and four journalists of varied editing and reporting backgrounds. The board's discussions and information gained from its meetings with political, civic, and business leaders drive the institutional voice of The Day, as expressed in its editorials. The editorial department operates separately from the newsroom.

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