Transportation Committee Co-Chair Talks Highway Safety and Shore Line East Funding

State Sen. Christine Cohen, D-Guilford.


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HARTFORD — Transportation Committee Co-Chair State Sen. Christine Cohen, D-Guilford, said her committee was one of the busiest and most impactful last year, with 29 bills passed out of committee last year. 

Cohen, who is in her third two-year term as a lawmaker, said safe roads were the cornerstone of the committee’s work last year. Specifically, two bills signed into law by Gov. Ned Lamont will go a long way toward saving the lives of hundreds of Connecticut residents, she said.

Cohen said those bills – addressing wrong-way drivers and another addressing safety on roads and highways – go hand-in-hand, as highway deaths have been increasing in Connecticut over several years.

“What we did really is about taking meaningful action to reduce crashes and fatalities,” she said.

According to state data, wrong-way driving crashes tripled in 2022. That includes 13 crashes that resulted in 23 deaths, compared to four crashes in 2021 and just two in 2020.

State officials also said that 385 people died on Connecticut roadways in 2022, the deadliest year in decades. 

The bill related to wrong-way drivers requires the state Department of Transportation to expand countermeasures against the incident, such as launching a public awareness campaign and installing rapidly flashing LED lights to notify drivers they are going the incorrect way. The bill also calls on the DOT to have driver’s education programs.

“The drinking under the influence numbers, reckless driving numbers, and the number of distracted drivers have all been on the rise while, at the same time, we are encouraging more people across the state to walk and take their bikes,” Cohen told CT Examiner.

The second bill signed by Lamont implements the recommendations of the Vision Zero Council, a panel that aims to “make our roadways safer for everybody,” she added.

The council, an interagency work group, will require the DOT to issue guidelines to municipalities concerning speed cameras and red-light cameras, and how to evaluate the effectiveness of such devices.

One big disappointment last year, according to Cohen, was the failure to lower the blood alcohol content for impaired drivers and those boating from 0.08 to 0.05 percent. The measure never reached a vote in the state House or Senate.

“I’d like to see this come back for a public hearing [in 2024] and, I know, the conversation will continue.”

Cohen noted that many European countries set the BAC level at 0.05 percent; meanwhile, Utah is the only state in the U.S. where driving with that amount of alcohol content can lead to an arrest.

“I think we still have a lot of work to do,” she said. “I think some folks were hesitant and worried about what all this would mean. … We want to see folks go out and enjoy our robust restaurant network and all of the fantastic arts and venues across the state. And, if they’ve been drinking, we want them to call a rideshare or use a designated driver or use our public transportation system.”

On other issues and priorities, Cohen said a goal is to get the Shore Line East rail line fully funded. The train service, which operates along the Northeast Corridor through southern Connecticut, has seen diminished ridership especially since COVID-19, and saw a roughly $32 million decrease in funding in 2023 over the next two years.

Cohen told CT Examiner that the train service, prior to last session, was running at 60 percent pre-COVID levels and, due to cutbacks, is now running at 40 percent.

According to the DOT, there were about 690,000 passenger trips recorded on Shore Line East in 2019, but those numbers shrunk dramatically to roughly 190,000 passengers in 2022.

“Unfortunately, it’s just not a viable option for a lot of commuters in the area because they are not able to get the connectivity that they need to get where they need to go,” Cohen said. “I think folks have, unfortunately, really given up on the Shore Line East line. They are just not using the Shore Line [East] for connections into Hartford, Providence or other areas.”

Cohen also noted that Connecticut has received billions of dollars from the federal government in recent years for transportation initiatives, including electric vehicle infrastructure, bridge programs and rail funding. 

“I think you will see continued growth and a prioritization of the infrastructure improvements that residents across the state really want and need,” she said.

Cohen added that committee members have a good working relationship with the governor, who she said “has been incredibly supportive of our transportation initiatives in the past. He wants to see enhanced public transportation, believes in environmental issues, and wants to see sustainable growth within the transportation sector.”

The 36-member committee is co-chaired by State Rep. Roland Lemar, D-New Haven.

Robert Storace

Robert Storace is a veteran reporter with stints at New Britain Herald, the New Haven Register, the Connecticut Post, Hartford Business Journal and the Connecticut Law Tribune. Storace covers the State Capitol for CT Examiner. T: 203 437 5950