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$20M to halt wrong-way drivers in CT up for a Friday vote

Item No. 3 on the State Bond Commission agenda at the Capitol in Hartford Friday didn’t immediately jump off the page.

At $20 million, it was just a small piece of some $482 million in Department of Transportation projects that Gov. Ned Lamont asked his fellow commissioners to approve, part of an $800 million-plus Christmas-in-July list of goodies in housing, policing, economic development, parks, urban cleanup and more for a state that’s flush with cash.

But this request — “for the purchase and installation of advanced wrong-way driving technology” — stood out for its urgency and the speed with which the normally plodding state bonding apparatus moved to get it on the list. It passed the 10-person bond commission unanimously.

The action came too late for Monica Wilson, a Westport mother of three young boys who died in a wrong-way crash Sunday evening in Bridgeport, one day before her 42nd birthday.


As my colleague Lisa Backus has documented, Connecticut in 2022 faces a highway horror show of drivers, most of them drunk or high, blowing past those bright red, “wrong way” signs on exit ramps. Often they kill innocent victims such as Monica Wilson, or themselves, in head-on collisions.

So far this year we’ve seen 20 deaths in 11 fatal wrong-way crashes on Connecticut highways, including three lives lost last weekend in two crashes. Those 20 are more than the total of the previous three years combined.

Why it’s happening in greater numbers, no one seems to know. But, said Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, a commission member and champion of the outlay, “We do have the technology to maybe not eliminate, but I think reduce the numbers.”

The basic idea is to install very bright, flashing red LED lights on exit ramps that kick on when a 360-degree camera system detects a motorist driving the wrong way. Early in 2020 the state DOT outfitted Exit 8 of I-84 in Danbury with such a system and it seems to be working — with about 30 activations, DOT said. That’s a huge number if it was all wrong-way drivers.

Following are the 16 locations where the state Department of Transportation plans to install flashing lights activated by camera-systems that detect wrong-way drivers. Exit 8 of I-84 in Danbury already has the system.

New Haven: I-91 Exit 2 at Hamilton Street

Rocky Hill: I-91 North Exit 23 at Route 411 (West St.)

Derby: Route 8 North Exit 15 at Route 34 (Main St.)

Hamden: Route 15 South Exit 60 at Route 10 (Dixwell Ave.)

Manchester: I-84 East Exit 63 at Route 30 (Deming St.)

Manchester: I-384 East Exit 3 at Route 83 (South Main St.)

New Haven – I-91 South Exit 8 at Route 17 (Middletown Ave.)

North Haven: I-91 North Exit 12 at U.S. Route 5 (Washington Ave.)

North Haven: Route 40 East Exit 1 at Dixwell Avenue

Plainville: Route 72 West Exit 2 at Route 372 (New Britain Ave.)

Rocky Hill: I-91 North Exit 24 at Route 99 (Silas Deane Hwy)

Southbury: I-84 East Exit 16 at Route 188 (Strongtown Road)

Stonington: I-95 South Exit 90 at Route 27 (Greenmanville Road)

Hartford: I-84 Exit 46 at Sisson Avenue

Hartford: I-91 and Route 15 ramps at Brainard Road and Murphy Road

East Hartford: I-84 West Exit 58B at Roberts Street


Then in late 2021, the state DOT went out to bid for 15 more as a pilot project after studying 236 highway entrances and exits — looking at everything from how closely they’re spaced apart to the number of nearby bars and restaurants.

That still wasn’t good enough for Fonfara. As the 2022 carnage unfurled, he pushed for more — first, a 16th pilot location in his district in the South Meadows of Hartford, at a dangerous highway entrance onto I-91 and Route 15.

That location will automatically alert state police if it activates, giving some hope of stopping a crash before it happens, though the odds are still lousy.

Fonfara pushed for more still, and the governor’s office and DOT took action with the added $20 million for anti-wrong-way upgrades that are not yet specified.

Fonfara is co-chairman of the powerful finance committee in the General Assembly, so the cause had a well placed champion. And on Friday, he pointed out that Rep. Bobby Gibson, who was in the room, had lost a close friend in a wrong-way tragedy.

This was lightning speed compared with the usual process of landing a project on the State Bond Commission agenda for final approval, which includes all manner of reviews, subcommittee actions and often, delays. It’s reminder that, yes, the state government can move fast as we saw in some, but not all, Covid-19 responses.

“The crisis is now,” Max Reiss, Lamont’s spokesman, said Thursday, before the vote.

One friend asked me: Why can’t the state just install those one-way spikes on exit ramps, like we see at rental car lots? DOT spokesman Josh Morgan explained that hose devices are not effective at higher speeds, could impede first responders, are not approved by the Feds for highway ramps and don’t necessarily stop wrong-way drivers fast enough to avert crashes.

Upgrades in the new push could include raising medians, adding guardrails and other changes to make intersections clearer even for impaired people, as well as installing the camera-lights systems, which have shown promising results in Rhode Island and elsewhere.

The commission did not, but might have, observed a moment of silence for Monica Corrine Wilson when it reached Item No. 3 at 10:45 a.m. Friday. She was to be be remembered in a service later Friday in her hometown of Norwalk, perhaps making her, for a day at least, the human face of this project.

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