Fairfield County, the gold coast of Connecticut, brings to mind wealth and influence.
It also has the dubious distinction of being home to more heavy truck accidents along Interstate 95 than any other part of the state, according to an analysis by The Advocate of Stamford. That stretch of road has right factors for danger — it’s old, it’s crowded and busy with construction.
“I-95 is well beyond a serviceable age, and there are too many exit and entrance ramps,” said Michael Riley, president of the Connecticut Motor Transport Association, a truck lobbying group.
Heavy trucks have been involved in some of the deadliest and costliest wrecks on the road. Two years ago, a fiery crash near a Bridgeport exit destroyed part of the highway,
More than three years ago, a sport utility vehicle carrying nine passengers slammed into the back of a tractor trailer in the northbound lanes in Fairfield. Four of the passengers were killed. The semi had crashed minutes earlier after sliding on black ice and crossing over the median barrier in a construction zone.
In its report, the Advocate found that from 2002 to 2004, truck accidents accounted for 18.1 percent of all motor vehicle accidents on I-95 in Fairfield County. Truck traffic accounted for 10 percent of the highway’s volume during that period, giving that stretch of I-95 the highest accident-to-volume ratio in Connecticut.
The second-highest accident-to-volume ratio was on I-91 between New Haven and Middletown. About 11.4 percent of all accidents there involved trucks, which accounted for 7 percent of all traffic.
“I-95 has and always will be bad because of the volume and design of the highway,” said Keith Herzig, who runs a trucking company and leads the state’s Share the Road safety program. “You have a lot of vehicles traveling at highway speeds . . . and volume is increasing.”
The remedy is not just stepped up enforcement on truckers, but on all aggressive drivers, said Joseph McGee, vice president of public policy for the Business Council of Fairfield County.
“We can’t just be anti-trucker because a lot of people have poor driving habits,” McGee said.
State police have recently added nine inspectors to its roving truck squadrons, and Troop G, which patrols most of I-95 in Fairfield County, is one of the largest in the state, state police spokesman Sgt. J. Paul Vance said.
“We could put 100 more troopers on the highway but we can only get one violator at a time,” Vance said. “When we’re making the arrest, we’re focused just on one violator. Meanwhile, other cars are speeding by.”
In fact, a study released earlier this year by the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration said passenger vehicle drivers make more deadly mistakes than truckers.
The state toughened laws governing trucks last year after a dump truck owned by American Crushing & Recycling of Bloomfield lost control coming down a steep grade on Route 44 in Avon and slammed into cars and a bus, killing four people, including the truck driver.
The legislation created a new Class D felony for the owner of a commercial vehicle who knowingly operates without insurance.
Some agencies believe alternative modes of transportation are the best strategy.
More than 90 percent of the state’s freight is carried by trucks, DOT officials said. Moving that cargo by rail or barge, the truck accident rate may decrease, said Franklin Bloomer, co-chairman of the Coastal Corridor Transportation Investment Area, an advisory group to the Transportation Strategy Board.
“The infrastructure is there,” Bloomer said. “But it is underutilized.”
To relieve traffic congestion, the state soon will extend entrance and exit lanes on I-95 in lower Fairfield County, DOT spokesman Chris Cooper said.
“Over the last couple of years, there has been a slow and belated recognition that the transportation system in southwestern Connecticut has the most problems,” said state Sen. William Nickerson, R-Greenwich. “This attention is better late than never.”
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