Traffic deaths in CT are rising. Some towns are looking for financial help to solve the problem

The $1 trillion federal infrastructure package signed into law this year provides billions of dollars for local governments to prevent roadway deaths and serious injuries with a focus on pedestrian and cyclist fatalities. At least a dozen towns in Connecticut and several councils of governments applied for the first round of Safe Street grants including Bloomfield, Bristol, Canton, Farmington, Hartford, Litchfield, New Haven, Norwalk, Stamford, Suffield, Wallingford, and Waterbury.

October through January tend to be the deadliest months for pedestrians due to there being less daylight. In November alone, 11 pedestrians were killed in Connecticut, bringing the total fatalities for the year to 59. In early December, two Stamford residents struck and killed by a car in early December became the 61st and 62nd traffic-related pedestrian deaths. As of Dec. 21, a total of 68 pedestrians were killed in traffic-related incidents.

In 2020, Connecticut had 61 pedestrian deaths – more than any year in a decade – despite there being fewer people on the road in 2020 with pandemic-imposed restrictions on travel.

The uptick in pedestrian deaths in recent years is also a trend that’s been observed nationally. Last year, 42,915 people were killed in roadway crashes in the U.S. – the highest number since 2005.

The rise in traffic fatalities comes at a time of historic federal investment in infrastructure including road safety for all users.

Connecticut will receive $5.38 billion in funding under the federal Infrastructure Investments and Jobs Act over the next five years, with nearly $1.07 billion already received by the state Department of Transportation during the 2022 fiscal year. On top of that, there’s billions of dollars available to local governments via competitive grants.

“It’s an unprecedented opportunity,” said Guilford First Selectman Matt Hoey, who chairs the South Central Regional Council of Governments.

Hoey, an avid cyclist who was injured in a bike accident this summer while trying to get out of the way of a SUV, said the council is working with its members to apply for the next round of Safe Street grants, which is expected to open in the spring.

Local officials have been advised to apply for projects regionally given the level of interest and competition that is expected to come from states across the country where county governments are the norm.

Kate Rozen, a cycling advocate from Woodbridge who has been keeping track of which towns have applied for the Safe Streets funding, said the grants should support projects that address the higher rate of accidents in urban areas.

“What we’re seeing in the data is that traffic violence in Connecticut is happening disproportionately in our urban areas,” Rozen said. “My hope is that with future iterations of this grant, because it’s intended to be a five-year program, that we match our funding requests with the places that are seeing the most pedestrian and bicyclist deaths.”

Rozen said the funding could be used for traffic slowing projects, creating separated and protected bicycle lanes, and updated crosswalk signals that give pedestrians several seconds to start crossing before vehicles are given a green light. Generally speaking, local and tribal governments can spend the money to develop or execute a safety action plan.

The Capitol Region Council of Governments has assisted Farmington, Bloomfield, Canton, Hartford, and Suffield on an application that Farmington submitted on behalf of all five towns that targets areas that have been problematic for traffic-related crashes. The towns are requesting about $18 million in federal funds.

Hartford, for example, wants to make safety improvements to Albany and Wethersfield Avenues including curb extensions, updated crosswalk signage, new handicap ramps and pedestrian push bottoms that are compliant with the American Disabilities Act.

“How do we make sure that our streets are safe, not only for people traveling in vehicles, but pedestrians, bicyclists, people using other forms of multi-modal transportation – scooters, are increasingly popular here in Hartford,” said Matt Hart, executive director of CRCOG.

The challenge for local governments can be coming up with the 20 percent local match that is usually required with these kinds of grants programs. For any good-sized project, your 20 percent match is over $100,000,” Hart said. “It depends on the municipality; they’re generally going to have to issue municipal bonds to cover their share of the project.”

Robert Goodrich, co-founder of Waterbury-based Radical Advocates for Cross-Cultural Education, which has been involved in advocating on climate change and transportation issues, said officials should look to projects that impact the communities most underserved and disadvantaged.

“Municipal leadership has to be willing to look outside of their normal decision-making paradigms, and the influencers, to escape the old pattern of spending,” Goodrich said.

He cited the Naugatuck River Greenway as example. Waterbury recently received federal funding for the construction of Phase II of the city’s section of the trail but it goes through “one of the most highly polluted census tracts in the entire state.”

“So even when they decide to use large amounts of federal funding to improve access to biking or walking from the outskirts of Waterbury into downtown, they’ve decided to put it in highly polluted areas,” he said.

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