Grant will help towns with traffic enforcement
By: LISA BACKUS, Herald staff
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AVON - The state Department of Transportation has secured a $168,400 federal grant to help towns affected by the through-truck ban on Avon Mountain deal with extra traffic enforcement on their roads.
The money will be available to Farmington, Avon, West Hartford, Simsbury, Bloomfield and the Connecticut State Police for overtime and other costs incurred while providing extra enforcement on the roads in those towns, state officials said.
"The governor requested that we pursue a means to acquire funding to those towns to enhance traffic safety in those areas," said DOT spokesperson Kevin Nursick. "We sought funds from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, who agreed to help us out."
The State Traffic Commission agreed to close the stretch of Route 44 that runs over Avon Mountain to through truck traffic after a second serious truck crash occurred at the intersection of Route 10 and Nod Road in September.
A July 2005 crash killed four people, including the truck driver, whose vehicle flew into the intersection, colliding with oncoming traffic. During September's accident, an out-of-control 18-wheel flatbed truck managed to avoid traffic but wound up sailing through the air and crashing into a nearby furniture store.
The ban will remain in effect until at least Dec. 31, while the DOT and the state Department of Motor Vehicles come up with long-term plans to deal with the steep roadway and vehicle safety over the mountain.
The ban requires "through trucks" - vehicles that don't have a drop-off or pickup destination on the mountain - to use roads in the surrounding towns of Farmington, West Hartford, Simsbury and Bloomfield. Officials in those towns decried the ban when it was implemented in late September.
Meanwhile the state police and DMV truck inspectors have been regularly working with police in all five towns to help with the overflow of truck traffic. "We have been having weekly truck inspections with state police and the DMV and it has been working out fine," said Farmington Police Chief James Rio. "The grant will give us money to have extra officers on the road a few times a week to help with enforcement of all vehicles, not just trucks."
The grant will allow each town and the state police to pay for the extra enforcement activities through January and then the agencies will be reimbursed up to the amount allotted by the state.
Farmington is slated to receive $17,800, Avon will get $16,700, West Hartford, $22,500, Simsbury, $22,900, Bloomfield, $24,900 and the State Police $63,600.
The grant administered by the DOT is designed to address traffic violations of all types, including speeding, tailgating, red-light violations and safety issues, but is not specific to truck inspections only, Nursick said.
"The state police have offered us extra help and the DMV has been here working with us since the 2005 crash," said Avon Chief Mark Rinaldo, whose department had officers certified as truck inspectors after the 2005 crash. "We are all working together and the DOT grant will help us with speeding and aggressive driving in high accident areas."
The DOT also has plans under way to build a runaway truck ramp on the Avon side of the mountain and will be starting to add medians and left-turn lanes in the same area in the spring of 2008, Nursick said.
Rio said his department, along with several others, are hoping to secure another grant through the state Office of Policy and Management to create three separate regional traffic enforcement units to combat safety issues in those towns.
"It would be a regional effort, with the North Central towns making up one traffic unit while towns like Newington, Wethersfield and Rocky Hill make up another and towns east of the river make up their own, but we are all seeking funding together," Rio said. "We are hoping to get money for equipment and to have some of our officers certified as truck inspectors so we can work on traffic issues on our own."