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Conn. town to install speed cameras to combat traffic deaths

The grant includes funds for an additional police officer and civilian help to analyze data from the cameras, West Hartford Police Chief Vernon Riddick said


Traffic crosses the intersection of North Main Street and Albany Avenue in West Hartford on Monday. The busy intersection is likely to be among 15 road crossings in West Hartford that will get speed enforcement cameras next year. (Aaron Flaum/Hartford Courant)

Aaron Flaum/Hartford Courant/TNS

By Don Stacom
Hartford Courant

WEST HARTFORD, Conn. — Speeders beware: West Hartford is preparing to levy fines starting sometime next year when motorists are caught on camera driving too fast through high-traffic intersections.

Getting caught would bring a fine of up to $50, with second offenses running up to $75.

The federal government recently awarded just under $700,000 to help the town’s campaign to eliminate the most serious crashes that kill pedestrians and cyclists as well as motorists and passengers. West Hartford started planning its Vision Zero safety after a jolting number of roadway deaths last fall and early winter.

“West Hartford was reeling from a series of accidents almost a year ago, when we had five fatalities from road accidents. There were some serious injuries as well. We were jarred,” Mayor Shari Cantor said Monday at a news conference to announce the federal Safe Streets For All grant. “We started Vision Zero to see no serious injuries or deaths from road accidents by 2033.”

The first phase of that work is identifying 15 particularly dangerous intersections in town and using the federal grant along with local money to install cameras and speed monitoring devices at each one.

Officials haven’t completed the list of crossings yet, but are focused partly on Route 44 and also are targeting spots where pedestrians and cyclists are at especially high risk. The goal is to stop the uptick in severe speeding, which is considered 10 mph or more above the posted limited.

“This will allow us to really change behavior on speeding. This is the really substantial speeding,” she said. “This is one of the biggest problems and largest causes of serious injuries and death. This will allow us to be safer community.”

Bishops Corner is one of the likely locations for cameras, along with at least a few other high-volume intersections along Route 44.

The town has been inviting residents and local business owners to recommend which 15 intersections should get the equipment for a roughly one-year pilot program. Federal legislation directs that the grant be used chiefly at intersections near schools and those with high crash rates, and West Hartford wants to include some spots where large numbers of residents regularly report seeing speeders.

“West Hartford has already gotten 1,800 responses from people who experience these problems crossing streets, walking, bicycling,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who helped the town secure funding. “That’s kind of a model for what we’d like to see around the state. People are often the best judges of where these safety issues are.”

West Hartford has submitted its proposal for operating speed enforcement to the state transportation department, and expects a response before the year ends, Town Manager Rick Ledwith said. After that, police officials and Community Development Director Duane Martin would draw up a detailed plan that would include the intersections targeted, and would also have a public information campaign to let people know what’s happening.

The grant includes funds for an additional police officer and civilian help to analyze data from the cameras, Police Chief Vernon Riddick said.

The town will hire a private consultant to handle day-to-day operations of the camera system. Turning over elements of traffic enforcement to corporations has proven problematic in other parts of the country, notably with a years-long corruption scandal in Illinois over its red light cameras. Critics say private companies running those red light enforcement systems have too much incentive to issue tickets because they get a share of the revenue.

But Ledwith emphasized that no tickets in West Hartford would be issued before the new traffic officer — a town employee unaffiliated with the consulting company — reviews the video footage as well as data from the speed monitors.

Wet Hartford’s grant is the biggest share of the $1.75 million that the federal transportation department awarded in Connecticut last month. Newington, Newtown, Greenwich, Winsted and the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments also received funding for road safety initiatives.

Connecticut must cut the number of pedestrian and cyclist deaths, Blumenthal said, but instead the figures have been getting worse.

“The 75 deaths last year made Connecticut’s roads the deadliest ever for pedestrians and cyclists, and that’s a trend we need to reverse. West Hartford is going to be at the tip of the spear in reversing it,” he said.

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