City and state officials have pledged to work together to improve safety on a nearby state highway after an accident on Saturday morning left two dead and three more seriously injured, adding to a recent string of deadly accidents on that stretch of road.
In light of the recent accidents, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. and Gov. M. Jodi Rell announced that they will be cooperating to implement several short- and longer-term measures meant to prevent future fatalities on Route 10, Ella Grasso Boulevard.
“This area of New Haven has been the site of three fatal accidents in the last two weeks,” Rell said in a press release. “Since January, I am told there have been seven fatalities altogether. This is not only tragic, it is absolutely intolerable.”
Rell said she has instructed Department of Transportation Commissioner Stephen Korta and Public Safety Commissioner Leonard Boyle to dispatch teams to New Haven today to evaluate the strip of highway and prepare a report that will recommend improvements, possibly including traffic engineering upgrades, stepped-up traffic enforcements, and road design changes.
In the meantime, DeStefano said, the New Haven Police Department instituted several measures this past weekend intended to make the highway safer. The police set up laser enforcement between 8 p.m. and 4 a.m. to curb excessive speed, intensified enforcement of sobriety and seat belt checkpoints from midnight to 3 a.m., and stationed squad cars with flashing lights along the road in order to force motorists to slow down, he said.
“Police have tried a variety of speed enforcement measures, but it is clear that we need to do more,” DeStefano said. “It is incumbent on the city and the state to exhaust all avenues for improving the roadway.”
NHPD officials were not available for comment Sunday evening, but New Haven Director of Traffic and Parking Paul Wessel said he is not sure why there has been such a spate of accidents on the boulevard in recent months.
“We’re still trying to understand that,” Wessel said. “There’s been no change in the number of cars on the road, no change in the road itself. The preliminary information from the police is that the common thread through all these accidents was high rates of speed, and so we’re trying to understand what that means and how we prevent it.”
Ward 23 Alderman Yusuf Shah, whose ward contains part of the boulevard, said safety on Ella Grasso has been an issue for several years. While taking a walking tour of his ward last summer, Shah said, he had to ask for a police escort to cross the street.
“These recent deaths are unfortunate,” he said. “But the state has known about it, our representatives have known about it, the city has known about it. There has not been any coactive movement. We’ve been asking for a resolution to this issue for a while.”
Shah said he thinks a reassessment of the boulevard’s layout, increased state police presence, and additional lights and signs meant to slow down traffic would help with safety in the area.
A team that includes Wessel, NHPD Chief Francisco Ortiz and NHPD Cpt. Stephen Verrelli has been begun to review data from the accidents and to study the organization of traffic signals and other controls along the boulevard, DeStefano said.
The mayor also voiced his support for legislation in the State General Assembly that would set up traffic camera technology to photograph motorists driving at unsafe speeds along numerous state highways.
In the same four-month time span a year ago, there were no fatalities along the entire length of the boulevard.