Editor's Note: This appeared in the Opinion Section of today's Hartford Courant. Is this stretch part of your everyday commute? Have you gotten into an accident or have a suggestion to cut back on the danger to drivers? Let us know in the comment section below.
If you've taken Route 17 and merged onto Route 9 north in Middletown, and done so without hitting a car, count yourself careful or lucky. This, as The Courant recently reported, has been the most accident-prone site in the state in recent years.
In the period from 2003 through 2008, the on-ramp was the scene of 655 accidents, about one every three days. According to the state Department of Transportation's website, 99 percent of the accidents are rear-enders, and 23 percent resulted in injuries, mostly minor.
So, why hasn't the DOT fixed it? The answer is financial triage. The design of the Route 17/Route 9 ramp forces a driver to enter speeding traffic from a dead stop, with no merge lane, looking over his or her shoulder for an opening. All too often, a driver will move partway along the ramp and then stop, to be hit by the next driver, who is looking backward and assumes the first driver is way ahead. Everybody, including the DOT, agrees that the design is terrible. It's not unlike some of the ramps on the Merritt Parkway, built for an era when a Hudson or Studebaker passed every few minutes, not for modern traffic volume and speed.
But the DOT doesn't have the money to fix this problem. The department has $1.76 billion in short-term capital projects for which it has no funding, and billions more in unfunded long-term projects. The Route 17 ramp hasn't made it to the top of the project list because, although it has a lot of accidents, they result in few serious injuries, a DOT spokesman said. That is playing with fire. With this volume of crashes, it's just a matter of time until someone is seriously injured or killed.
The DOT has tweaked the ramp design, to no effect. It would be good if there were a way to slow the traffic approaching the ramp from the south, but reducing the speed limit doesn't seem to have actually reduced speeds. Acquiring land to build a merge ramp would be expensive and time-consuming. There are few transit alternatives available.
There ought to be a 21st-century fix to this problem, but until we find it, slow down and be careful out there.