State investing $20 million to prevent wrong-way crashes
Connecticut is on pace to set a deadly record. So far this year, 20 people have died in wrong-way crashes. Now, the state is investing millions to address the problem.
Monica Wilson, of Norwalk, was about to celebrate her 42nd birthday last month. Instead, she died in a violent crash on Route 8, hit by a van driving the wrong way.
"She was a beautiful person,” said Wilson’s friend, James Dupree. “She always opened her arms. She'd always say hello.
Friday, the state bond commission approved $20 million on preventing wrong-way collisions.
The Connecticut Department of Transportation is already installing 16 wrong-way detection systems at high-risk exits. Those include Route 8 North at Exit 15 in Derby, I-84 East at Exit 16 in Southbury, and I-91 at Exit 2 in New Haven.
A pilot program on I-84 in Danbury has already caught 30 wrong-way drivers.
The system used 360-degree cameras detect when someone is going the wrong way -- setting off bright strobe lights to get the driver's attention. One location in Hartford will also automatically alert Connecticut State Police.
Other states are going even further. Florida uses reflective markers that display red when a driver is going the wrong way. And in several states, wrong-way drivers trigger an overhead warning sign.
The measures are working. In its first year, Rhode Island prevented 47 wrong-way drivers. San Antonio saw a 38% drop. Nevada reported an 80% reduction.
"We're exchanging ideas [with other states],” said Deputy Transportation Commissioner Mark Rolfe. “We're looking for best practices."
Rolfe said most wrong-way crashes are drunk drivers. DOT is increasing funding for checkpoints, but state police are still short hundreds of troopers.
"Over the last year, we've got the state police -- they're beginning to, you know -- they're making the stops,” said Gov. Ned Lamont. “We're patrolling, especially on Memorial Day and July 4."
Lamont and state lawmakers have funded additional trooper classes to boost staffing levels, but it takes months to get new staff on the highways.
All that comes too late for Monica Wilson.
"You're taking innocent people's lives,” said Dupree. “You're taking mothers from kids."
Kids who will never see their mother again.