I-95 problems: Be part of the solution

In an interview with The Day during his tenure as superintendent of the U.S. Coast Guard Academy, which ran from 2007 to 2010, Rear Adm. Scott Burhoe said that as an example to others and as a ranking officer in a branch of the service that enforces federal law, he always drove the 55 mph speed limit on Interstate 95 between New London and East Lyme.

He noted ruefully that he was always the one everybody else passed.

Nothing has changed. A driver keeping it under 60 is a clog in the flowing stream of traffic surging between the Rhode Island border and the Connecticut River.

As the commissioner of the state Department of Transportation, James Redeker, told local leaders at a meeting of the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments earlier this month, signs don’t make much of a difference.

What does, then? How about drivers taking responsibility? How about increased enforcement of the posted limits by the Connecticut State Police? How about targeting those who text and drive, and drivers with a cell phone up to their ears?

This is, quite literally, a matter of life and death.

Redeker, who has shown leadership and determination to carry out Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s $100 billion, 30-year transportation plan, was candid with the mayors, first selectmen and town managers who bombarded him with questions born of frustration over the highway problems that affect drivers, secondary roads, and local businesses all summer long.

The officials are concerned because another summer vacation season is underway with no improvement in the prognosis for accidents and highway closures, with the added factor of construction projects.

Readers of The Day and viewers of theday.com know from the newspaper's 2015 award-winning special report, I-95: Deadly, Overcrowded, that one of the worst stretches of I-95 for accidents and fatalities is between Exit 71 in Old Lyme and the split of Interstates 95 and 395 in East Lyme. A serious accident that needs hours of cleanup and investigation can back up so much traffic that local roads, including Route 1, also come to a standstill. Emergency responders often have difficulty getting to the scene.

Commissioner Redeker reminded the COG audience that a $65 million plan to design improvements in the region survived the recent legislative cost-cutting and among other goals will aim to improve the interchange of I-95 with I-395, site of one of the worst fatal crashes in recent years. It is slated for 2018-2020 and afterward. Plans also call for widening the highway, border to border.

But what do you do in the meantime?

Interstate 95 was built in the 1950s to carry 50,000 vehicles on its 112-mile Connecticut stretch. It now carries 150,000 in certain places. One of the peak times, unsurprisingly, is summer weekends, and one of the peak areas, at 100,000 vehicles, is the Gold Star Bridge between New London and Groton.

The more vehicles, the more drivers need to stay alert, obey the laws, and avoid distractions.

The Day's 2015 report found that the four factors that caused the most accidents were all driver-related: following too closely, making an improper lane change; losing control of the vehicle; and speeding too fast for conditions.

To get a driver's license in this or any state where the travelers may be coming from, the driver had to pass a test that quizzes on these basic safety practices. This is information we all know.

And if, knowing it, drivers ignore it, law enforcement should be there to intervene. Yes, it's painful to slow down to 50 in the I-395 interchange area, but nowhere near as painful as a crash or the guilt of injuring someone, or worse.

It's good that the state is finally beginning its 30-year plan. But let's not wait 30 years.

 

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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