Norwalk stretch of I-95 most dangerous
State police: 'Busy, congested area"
Posted: 02/15/2009 07:58:15 AM EST
Traveling on Interstate 95 in Connecticut means taking your life in your hands on a regular basis, but if you're driving on the highway through Norwalk, your chances of being involved in an accident climb markedly. A Connecticut Post analysis of highway data from 2002 through 2007 furnished by the state Department of Transportation reveals that 4,342 accidents occurred on the 3.5-mile stretch of I-95 through Norwalk, a number that is 29 percent higher than New Haven, which posted the second largest number of accidents along the highway (3,350) during the six-year period. In 2007, the latest year for which complete statistics are available, 735 accidents occurred on the Norwalk portion of I-95. That number represents 10.3 percent of all I-95 accidents in the state, from New York to Rhode Island, for the year. New Haven had the second-largest number of crashes, 582, in 2007, followed by Stamford (579), Greenwich (576) and Milford (564).
In each of the years dating to 2002, Norwalk experienced the most accidents along I-95 in Connecticut. In 2002, the high-water year of the period, 883 accidents, or 11.5 percent, took place in Norwalk. What is it about Norwalk that makes it so dangerous? Norwalk is a hot spot because of a high volume of traffic, said Lt. J. Paul Vance, state police spokesman. "It is a melting pot, for all of the major cities," Vance said. "It is just a busy, congested area. The (Norwalk) area has curvatures and inclines; there is no straight shot, which really doesn't help in bad weather. In the Norwalk area, any area really, but especially Norwalk, we try to clear (things) out quickly after accidents." Jill Kelly, co-founder of the Connecticut Citizen Transportation lobby, was surprised to hear Norwalk was the top accident location on I-95 and offered her own theory. "When I drive the area where Route 7 merges into I-95, I really have to be aware of traffic," said Kelly. "It's very tight there and a little confusing, and maybe just not wide enough, with people merging on from Route 7 and others trying at about the same point to get off Exit 14 on the southbound side."
Other high-accident stretches of the highway include Bridgeport, Milford, Fairfield, Darien and Stamford. In the same 2002-2007 period, 3,319 accidents occurred in Bridgeport and 2,783 in Milford. West Haven resident Jill St. Germain, who travels I-95 five to six days a week to her job as a cashier at the Milford rest stop gift shop, said she thinks the highway around her workplace is among the worst in the state. She said customers -- "state residents and transients" -- constantly complain about it. "Always on a Sunday night," Germain said. "It doesn't matter what time of year, it always gets backed up." Joe Brown, taking a coffee break at the rest stop during a trip between Springfield, Mass., and New York City, said: "The first Connecticut exits (coming from New York) are kind of crowded. I try not to travel at rush hour." Linda Gahagan drives between her Maine home and New York every two to three months. "As soon as I hit 95 (coming back from New York), it's bumper to bumper," she said. Known as one of the most heavily traveled highways in the nation, I-95 was built in the 1950s and stretches 112 miles through Connecticut. From 2002 to 2007, 41,801 accidents occurred on the state's portion of the highway. In 2005, I-95 carried in excess of 100,000 more vehicles per day than any other highway in Connecticut, according to the DOT. In 2007, I-95 was traveled by 1.15 million vehicles daily.
What's the solution?
Mike Riley, president of the Motor Transportation Association of Connecticut, a trucking trade group, said the highway wasn't built to handle today's volume of traffic. "Trucks and people driving to work are all on that road at the same time," said Riley, whose group works with about 1,000 trucking lines that have routes in the state. Ryan Lynch, Connecticut coordinator for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, attributes the number of accidents to overall congestion of the highway. Lynch's group, which advocates transportation reform in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey, believes congestion pricing could cut down on traffic. "We're not talking about toll plazas; they're certainly outdated," he said. "We'd like to see a high-speed tolling system that would take pictures of vehicles' plates and debit the drivers' credit card an amount based on time of day. That could encourage drivers to use the road more at off-peak hours." Connecticut State Police Troop G, which is responsible for patrolling from the New York line to Branford, reported 6,056 highway accidents through the first 10 months of 2008 that involved 914 injuries and 12 fatalities. Troop F, covering Branford east to East Lyme, reported 1,487 accidents, seven involving fatalities, and 235 total injuries. Troop E, which is responsible for East Lyme to the Rhode Island border, handled 2,417 accidents, seven of which involved fatalities, and a total of 321 injuries. "Every single day, we have (troopers) out there," Vance said. "I can put 100 people out there, but it would only add to the congestion." To help the flow of traffic, it is important to identify areas of concern where the state DOT can put up signs to warn travelers, he said. "People think we give out tickets because it's a joyous thing," Vance said. "As far as tickets for cell phones and distractions, we can't get everybody all of the time. What is more important, a cell phone or the Corvette speeding down the road dangerously?" Kevin Nursick, communications officer for the state DOT, said the agency analyzes highway data looking for any patterns that might indicate a problem area. "The bottom line is we look at it, and if we see something, we look at that further and engage an informal review of the roadway to determine if something is happening to contribute to those accidents and what we can do to fix the problem," Nursick said. Most accidents are the result of human error, he said. Gov. M. Jodi Rell echoed that sentiment. "The do's and don'ts of driving on our state's roadways cannot be taken lightly," Rell said in response to learning of this review of I-95 statistics. "The consequences of irresponsible driving and not obeying the rules of the road can have significant and life-altering consequences. Enforcement, education and engineering cannot, by themselves, prevent crashes. The ultimate responsibility lies in the hands of the person behind the wheel." Rell said she would "continue to empower my agencies to work with local, state and federal stakeholders in their ongoing efforts to keep our roads as safe as possible."