The Town of West Hartford has received a federal ‘Safe Streets and Roads for All’ grant of nearly $700,000 which will be used to launch a pilot speed enforcement camera program.
By Ronni Newton
The Town of West Hartford will become one of the first – if not the first – municipality in the state to pilot a speed enforcement program utilizing cameras, with most of the funding coming from a federal grant that has been obtained through the Safe Streets and Road for All (SS4A) Grant Program.
“The town applied for a speed management pilot program grant, and that’s what we’re receiving,” Community Development Director Duane Martin told We-Ha.com. The program is part of the town’s multi-faceted effort to improve road safety.
Connecticut’s federal delegation announced last week that statewide, $1.749 million in funding has been awarded through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law to support six traffic safety projects, most of them for the creation of action plans. West Hartford’s grant of $669,007 is the largest of all of the awards in Connecticut, and the only one that is earmarked for the Speed Management Pilot Program.
The town received the official notification last week, Martin said, but there are several steps remaining before the pilot can begin, the first being approval by the Town Council. The provisions of the grant require that the town provide a 20% match – and the Town Council must approve the allocation of its $167,252 share of the overall $836,252 pilot program cost.
Town Manager Rick Ledwith said with the approval of the Town Council, the town’s share will be paid for through the Capital Improvement Program (CIP).
Martin expects the agreement to be finalized with plans for implementation before the end of the year, and according to Ledwith, the pilot will likely begin in early 2024.
In the application, the town applied for funds to “hire a vendor to provide the town with a camera enforcement program,” Martin said. The provisions of the grant will allow cameras at up to 15 locations – and many of those will require at least two cameras to observe traffic in both directions. The grant will also fund the operating system that the town will have use of.
OSTA – Office of the State Traffic Administration – will be providing guidance to the town before the end of the year regarding determination of appropriate locations for the camera installation. “We must demonstrate need based on data,” Martin said, and provide that information to the state in advance.
The cameras can be placed on town roads, as well as state highways that run through West Hartford, such as New Britain Avenue or Albany Avenue – but not on I-84.
Also included in the grant is funding for the additional personnel who will be needed to monitor the program. The police department will train an employee – likely a sworn officer – to review the video and determine whether or not someone is actually speeding at the level where they will be assessed a fine – which will be sent to the individual or business to which the vehicle is registered. Guidance will be forthcoming from the state regarding how fast above the speed limit a driver must be going to receive a ticket, and Martin said it will likely be at least 10 mph above the posted speed.
An additional staff person will also be needed in either the engineering or planning department, Martin said, and those funds are also included in the grant award.
Revenue received by the town through the program is intended to ultimately make the speed enforcement program self-sustaining, said Martin.
West Hartford currently has several types of cameras installed throughout town, including driver feedback cameras that indicate a motorist’s speed – and some also provide smiley faces or messages such as “slow down” or “too fast.” The town also has video cameras that trigger traffic signal operation, and there are license plate readers in certain locations around town that the police use for various purposes such as locating stolen vehicles.
This program is completely separate and the cameras will be different and located in areas where drivers tend to speed, where they can have the most benefit, and also to ensure equity so that one part of town is not being targeted. “I’m interested in installing cameras where we have had fatalities or severe crashes,” Martin said, many of those areas which have already been identified by the Vision Zero Task Force on the “High Injury Network” (HIN).
Vision Zero is the reason the town applied for the grant, and the town’s progress on the Vision Zero Action Plan has put West Hartford ahead of virtually every other municipality in the state. “We were already putting together the draft plan for Vision Zero,” he said, when the opportunity arose to apply for the SS4A grant, which dovetails well with that work.
The Vision Zero Action Plan itself, by design, does not get as granular as to recommend locations for the speed enforcement cameras, but rather produces the HIN and makes it possible for the town to then dive deeper into the data. The Vision Zero task force will provide an update later this month, and a draft plan in December that the Town Council’s Community Planning and Economic Development Committee will review in January.
Martin said he is attending a webinar next week hosted by UConn, that will include representatives from OSTA, and which will help provide further guidance to use in the decision process for the implementation of the Speed Management Program.
“The grant is an 18-month trial, and there is a requirement that we report back,” said Martin.
“These cameras will be effective,” he said, although he did note that over a period of time the safety benefit may not be as great because people will change their behavior when driving in those areas. The program requires signage to indicate that video enforcement is being used.
There has also been discussion in West Hartford about installing red light-running cameras, but that is separate from the scope of the Speed Management Program. “We know it’s an issue. We see it in West Hartford daily,” Martin said, and it seems to be more prevalent than ever.
Red light enforcement cameras must be at intersections, Martin said, whereas the speed enforcement cameras are generally not at intersections but rather in areas such as Albany Avenue where drivers feel it’s “comfortable to speed.” Both require review of video by police before tickets are issued.
“We’re going to be looking at that as well,” Ledwith said of red light cameras. He also said he expects the Vision Zero Task Force to request serious consideration of a ban on right turn on red in town.
Martin said West Hartford is “ahead of the game with other municipalities,” noting that Stamford is working on a Vision Zero Action Plan and other cities such as Hartford and New Haven have indicated an interest in a speed enforcement program. The towns of Greenwich, Newington, Newtown, and Winchester, as well as the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments were the others that received SS4A grants, all to be used for various types of plan development.
There are so many municipalities interested in implementing Vision Zero plans in Connecticut, Martin said, that he’s been told there aren’t enough consultants available to help with the projects.
The SS4A program supports the U.S. Department of Transportation’s goal of reducing traffic fatalities, which have risen to the highest level in decades – with more than 9,000 people dying in traffic crashes in the first three months of 2023 according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).
“More people are dying on Connecticut’s roadways than ever before, and this $1.7 million in federal funding will help towns plan and make serious safety improvements to prevent these senseless tragedies from occurring,” Sen. Richard Blumenthal said in a statement about the grants awarded in Connecticut. “These critical projects target traffic and roadway issues at the local level so that Connecticut motorists, pedestrians, and cyclists can feel safer on the roads.”
“Every year during my walk across the state, I’m reminded of how many roads in Connecticut are unsafe for pedestrians. It’s unacceptable that pedestrian fatalities in our state are at a 40-year high when we know how to prevent these deaths. This $1.75 million from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law will help towns across the state develop actionable plans to make their streets safer for pedestrians, bikers, and drivers,” added Sen. Chris Murphy in a statement.
The Road to Zero resolution, introduced by Blumenthal in June 2023, will address traffic fatalities and improve roadway safety for drivers, passengers, pedestrians, bicyclists, and others on the road. “By improving data collection and promoting access to safe, reliable transportation, the Road to Zero resolution aims to end roadway fatalities by 2050,” according to a statement from Blumenthal’s office, which also stated that “traffic fatalities are the leading cause of death for Americans under 54, killing over 100 people every day.”
“I’m really hoping this is a good pilot,” Martin said. The police can’t be everywhere, he said. “We hope to address the issues with good tools, to save lives.”
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