Regional transportation safety plan in the works
Norwich — The state Department of Transportation is taking a closer look at the transportation safety needs of each region in the state, with the goal of reducing fatal and serious injury motor vehicle crashes.
"We want to drive down the number of fatal and serious injury crashes in Connecticut on all public roads," Joseph P. Ouellette, state safety engineer for DOT, said by phone Wednesday.
To help figure out where the "hot spots" and areas for potential improvement are, so it can take steps to address them, the state is creating transportation safety plans for the regions covered by the state's nine Councils of Governments, he said.
The state already has a Strategic Highway Safety Plan, updated every five years, that highlights highway safety needs on all public roads in Connecticut, with sections on driver behavior, traffic enforcement and engineering, among other topics, Ouellette said. While creating the 2017 update, the state heard the message that Connecticut is very diverse and, depending on the area, has different transportation needs.
The state decided to work with a consultant to create "mini" strategic plans for the state's nine regions, at a time when the federal government also is promoting such plans, Ouellette said. Similar to the state plan, the regional plans have the goal of reducing fatal and injury crashes but are more localized, he said. The regional plans will serve as companion documents to the federally mandated, statewide plan.
The regional plans, which cost roughly between $150,000 and $200,000 per plan, are funded 90 percent by federal Highway Safety Improvement Program funds, with a 10 percent state match, he said.
During a presentation Wednesday, VN Engineers Inc., a consultant for DOT, updated the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments on the plan to create a transportation safety plan for this region.
Bridget Boucaud, community outreach coordinator of VN Engineers, said her firm has collected data from the region, will look at the region's existing transportation plans and studies, and also will ensure the regional plan is in line with the state's safety plan.
VN Engineers will meet with public officials and visit each municipality in the region, she said. The firm asks that a police officer is present during each visit because police are familiar with the crash data and are adept at giving input that helps the consultants understand each municipality.
The plan will include a regional overview, as well as a municipal report section, since each municipality within the region is so varied, Boucaud said.
The report is a way for the region to prioritize projects and then seek funding, she said. VN Engineers will analyze crash data, and the plan will recommend improvements at 50 prioritized locations, based on the severity and frequency of crashes, according to the presentation.
Ouellette said the state's ultimate goal is to get to zero fatal and serious injury crashes.
According to the UConn Crash Repository, there were 299 fatal crashes in 2016 in Connecticut; 268 in 2017; and 285 in 2018. There were 1,491 suspected serious injury crashes in 2016 in Connecticut; 1,403 in 2017; and 1,120 in 2018.
The plan, which will identify transportation safety issues and strategies to help mitigate those issues, will help inform officials at the state, regional and local levels, Ouellette said.
Potential strategies could include enforcement campaigns, or campaigns to increase more robust seat belt use or reduce distracted driving or aggressive driving, or infrastructure improvements such as a redesigned intersection, or alternate traffic controls at a location or locations in town, Ouellette said.
If the solutions are infrastructure-related, a local public works department could address the job in some cases, or it could be a more involved project that requires applying for state funding, he pointed out.
In a statement, Kate Rattan, planner III with the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments, said the plan will analyze recent crash statistics to provide a prioritized list of safety improvements.
She pointed out that every town and region operates with a finite amount of funding to accomplish all of their varied goals, so this plan will enable the region to prioritize projects based on available funds that will help save lives and avoid injury.
Rattan said the regional transportation safety plan will be a companion to the SCCOG Metropolitan Transportation Plan, and needs identified within the safety plan will be incorporated into subsequent metropolitan transportation plans and will inform the design of ongoing projects.
"This Regional Transportation Safety Plan will also be a resource for local municipalities; the prioritized project list will include both state routes and local roads," she added. Data-driven "prioritization of local road improvements will enable local municipalities to successfully apply for discretionary funding, support bonded improvements and systematically improve safety within their communities.”
Day Staff Writer Carlos Virgen contributed to this report.
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