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    Saturday, July 20, 2024

    Somers seeks details on ‘wrong-way driving technology’ in Stonington and beyond

    While Stonington is set to receive new technology that could prevent wrong-way driving deaths, state Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, is lobbying to install the technology elsewhere in southeastern Connecticut.

    The announcement of $20 million in state funding to prevent wrong-way driving deaths prompted questions from Somers as to what projects may be planned for the region.

    At the moment, only one of 16 locations in Connecticut identified for the technology is available in southeastern Connecticut, but the state Department of Transportation (DOT) said it’s possible the program is expanded.

    The money will go toward putting cameras on wrong-way signs throughout the state that would be set off if a driver is driving the wrong way.

    A letter from Somers to state DOT Commissioner Joseph Giulietti on July 29 referenced “multiple tragic wrong-way accidents” in North Stonington and Stonington.

    “I write with regard to the $20 million in funding for ‘wrong way driving technology’ which was approved on July 29 by the State Bonding Commission,” Somers wrote in her letter. “I am aware of the wrong-way installation sign project in Stonington (I-95 South, Exit 90 at Route 27/Greenmanville Rd.) Can you please send me any timeline details and goals you have for that particular construction project?”

    Southeastern Connecticut has had a number of wrong-way accidents. Over a 14-month period that began in 2019, seven people died in Stonington as the result of wrong-way drivers on Interstate 95. Others have died in wrong-way crashes in North Stonington, Haddam and other local locations. State officials have said 80% of such accidents in the state involved drivers who were impaired by alcohol or other substances, according to data from the state DOT and University of Connecticut.

    “As you roll out this new, potentially life-saving technology across the state, I hope you will consider additional southeastern Connecticut locations in your future planning,” Somers continued. “We all want to prevent future tragedies from happening in my region and across the state.”

    In the first seven months of 2022, Connecticut had a record 11 wrong-way driving accidents that killed 20 people. The 20 deaths represent a dramatic increase from four fatal wrong-way accidents in 2021 and three in 2020, according to UCONN’s Connecticut Transportation Institute. One fatal accident this year occurred just days before the governor’s announcement of the $20 million program, when two people died in a wrong-way crash on Route 8 in Bridgeport.

    According to the state DOT, the expansion of the wrong-way driving pilot program to 16 locations around the state is currently out to bid. The cameras will be at different I-84, I-91, Route 8, Route 15, I-384, Route 40, Route 72 and I-95 locations in Hartford, East Hartford, New Haven, Rocky Hill, Derby, Hamden, Manchester, North Haven, Plainville, Southbury and the I-95 South Exit 90 at Route 27 in Stonington.

    “This will also have technology to alert Connecticut State Police. Each location may have different costs depending on the infrastructure at the ramp location. All 16 locations will be built in 2023,” state DOT Communications Director Josh Morgan wrote in an email. “The additional $20 million will be used to build on and expand the flashing wrong way lights and wrong way countermeasure programs across the state. CT DOT will rely on the ranked priority location list … on future locations. We’ll also continue to look at the most-recent data to help make a decision on expansion of wrong way driving technology.”

    The state DOT examined areas where the on and off-ramps are on the same side of the road. Criteria for priority locations includes crash history, presence of bars or restaurants near the highway, multiple ramps that meet at the same location, a lack of lighting and if there are raised medians or guiderails separating the ramps, Morgan said.

    Construction on the 16 locations will begin and end next year. The “ranked priority list” is the different places the state DOT considered — 236 in all — before deciding on the 16 locations to receive the initial funding.

    “We look at crash data and proximity to bars and restaurants to determine where this technology could be most effective,” Morgan wrote in an email.

    Gov. Ned Lamont has attributed the increase to the COVID-19 pandemic, saying unsafe driving has been on the rise in the years after the initial quarantine period in 2020. The more than 43,000 people killed across the country on its roads in 2021 is the highest mark in 16 years, according to American Automobile Association statistics.

    s.spinella@theday.com

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