Officials seek solutions for I-95 'crisis'
Two accidents this week on Interstate 95 in Old Lyme and East Lyme left local officials saying the "crisis" on that stretch of the highway needs to be dealt with sooner than the changes called for in the governor's transportation plan.
On Tuesday, the highway between Exits 70 and 71 in Old Lyme was closed for several hours following a tractor-trailer accident one day after two people died in an accident just south of Exit 72.
Both occurred on the northbound side.
From 2010 through the end of 2014, there have been 1,301 accidents on I-95 in Old Lyme and East Lyme, according to the University of Connecticut's Connecticut Crash Data Repository.
Eight of those accidents have included fatalities, and 251 have had injuries, but no fatalities.
East Lyme First Selectman Mark Nickerson said Tuesday he had met with the town's former resident state trooper, Sgt. Wilfred J. Blanchette III, and also with Old Lyme First Selectwoman Bonnie Reemsnyder in response to the high number of accidents.
"It's a crisis on I-95 between Old Lyme and East Lyme," said Nickerson.
Nickerson said he and Reemsnyder discussed plans to communicate concerns to the state Department of Transportation and call on state legislators.
Reemsnyder said she agreed that increased patrols of the area are a good idea and plans to discuss the idea with police at Troop F in Westbrook.
As part of a “transformative” $100 billion transportation overhaul for roads, bridges and public transportation, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has proposed adding a lane along sections of I-95 from New York to Rhode Island to lessen congestion.
He also announced his intention to reconfigure the I-95/I-395 interchange in East Lyme.
Nickerson said widening the highway and fixing exits are longer-term solutions, but in the meantime he urged shorter-term measures, including a more visible police presence to prevent speeding on the highway and neon signs to alert drivers that this is a high-accident area and to slow down.
"One of the things we need to do is to warn drivers that they are entering a five-mile stretch of road that is dangerous," said Nickerson.
State Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, and Rep. Devin Carney, R-Old Saybrook, said they are submitting a letter to the Office of State Traffic Administration to see whether or not the speed limit on a stretch of I-95 could be reduced.
Carney said he is asking if the speed limit could be set uniformly to 50 MPH on the problematic area between Exits 70 and 76. He is also seeking additional highway signs and increased police presence.
Formica said he hopes to begin the conversation about whether lowering the speed limit — from the Baldwin Bridge and possibly all the way up to the Gold Star Memorial Bridge — would be a solution to reduce accidents.
He is looking to see what the most appropriate speed limit would be.
He said more education about the dangers of distracted driving should also be explored.
Both legislators said the state's proposals to add lanes and fix exits on I-95 would be huge improvements but could be years away.
"We all have to work together to come up with a more immediate solution because these accidents are happening at an alarming rate," said Formica.
On Tuesday, state police said, a tractor-trailer jack-knifed around 7:20 a.m.
According to police, the accident occurred when a tractor-trailer traveling north in the right lane struck another that was disabled and parked on the narrow right shoulder between Exits 70 and 71.
Both vehicles sustained heavy damage as a result.
Philip Trifiletti of Roebling, N.J., was driving a United Parcel Service vehicle, registered in Indiana, that hit the other tractor-trailer, police said.
Old Lyme emergency crews transported Trifiletti to The William W. Backus Hospital with serious injuries, police said.
Kwame Boahen, 47, of West Haven, the driver of the disabled, Bridgeport-based Enviro Express Inc. truck, was taken to Lawrence + Memorial Hospital, where he was treated for suspected minor injuries, according to police.
According to a statement from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, about 75 gallons of fuel spilled during the accident.
The fuel seeped into a catch basin network, and DEEP hired a contractor to pump the fuel from the catch basin.
Congestion from the accident, which police still are investigating, didn't clear until shortly after 1 p.m., according to the state Department of Transportation.
Marie L. Graves, 69, of Providence, and Katerina Barrett, 28, of Greenville, S.C., died in Monday's accident. The accident, which state police said involved two cars and a tractor-trailer, shut down the highway for several hours.
Both Nickerson and Reemsnyder said their primary concern is the safety of the people traveling on I-95.
"It is heartbreaking to see people lose their lives," said Reemsnyder. "It is just happening too often."
But they said the accidents also have an impact on the towns.
Reemsnyder said the accidents typically back up traffic on Routes 1 and 156 and require significant response from the town's first responders.
She said not only is this an expense that the state does not reimburse, but she is also concerned about the first responders' own safety.
Nickerson said responding to accidents on the highway is part of the town's public safety plan and the first responders do an excellent job, but the accidents can be taxing on the town's emergency services.
Reemsnyder said she's not sure what is causing the accidents, whether it's curves in the road, having the highway go from four lanes to two lanes by the bridge, or even recent construction.
She said she is eager to see if the ongoing construction between Exits 70 and 72 to put in median dividers and other improvements will ultimately enhance safety.
Between 1995 and 2013, East Lyme from Exit 71 (Four Mile River Road) to the split with I-395 had the highest number of fatalities and injuries in the state east of the Connecticut River: 745, or about a quarter of the crashes that injured or killed.
Nickerson said he thinks the stretch of highway may have higher accidents for a combination of reasons, including people speeding to make up for time lost in more congested parts of the highway, the system of exits, and the layout of the highway.
Nickerson said it's time for action.
"The numbers speak for themselves," he said. "Let's get something done."