STONINGTON — State Sen. Heather Somers has seen enough close calls and tragedies in recent years following several wrong-way drivers on Interstate 95.
Somers, R-18th District, said this week that she believes more should be done immediately to address problems with drivers entering the wrong way between exits 90 and 93 in Stonington and North Stonington and is renewing calls for the state Department of Transportation to find better solutions to address the problem.
"There has to be more that could be done. We were told the area has proper signage, but we've recently had two instances in just three days," Somers said. "I have requested a meeting with the Deputy Commissioner (of the Department of Transportation) and the local police chief to see what other options may be available."
For Stonington police, wrong-way drivers have been a growing problem in recent years. Seven people have died as a result of wrong-way collisions since December 2018, including three in October when a 17-year-old girl from Westerly got on the wrong way at exit 93 and crashed head-on with a car driven by a Warwick resident. Police have responded to five incidents over that time, including the two recent close calls.
Stonington Police Capt. Todd Olson said that on Feb. 8, an officer stopped a man who entered the highway from an off-ramp at Exit 93 and drove south along I-95 North. Police said in that case, the man was an older gentleman, but did not appear to be suffering from any impairment or medical issue.
Just three days before, on Feb. 5, another Stonington officer was on patrol and stopped a car at the top of an off-ramp that was driving the wrong way. Olson said police determined that the man's confusion was caused by a likely medical issue and he was taken to a nearby hospital.
"Our officers have done a tremendous job," Olson said. "It's a dangerous call for these officers to handle. We will provide state officials with any information requested and certainly support anything that would help reduce these type of calls."
Olson referred further questions to Somers, town officials and the state DOT.
Somers, who helped organize a meeting with staff from the state Department of Transportation following the fatal October crash, said the state needs to re-evaluate the situation after the recent close calls and rethink their position on whether more could be done.
The October meeting led to an evaluation of highway signage and lanes in Stonington and North Stonington and some minor tweaking, but the agency determined that proper signage already existed, noting that staff planned to further address concerns, with scheduled roadwork planned for a few years in the future.
DOT staff told several media outlets following the recent incidents that the agency recently replaced and upgraded warning signage at all of the state‘s 700 ramps. Spokesman Kevin Nursick said, “every ramp has no less than six redundant, highly visible, retro-reflective, warning signs.”
North Stonington First Selectman Michael Urgo said that while he trusts the state DOT officials to do what they believe is in the best interest of everyone, he would encourage a continued dialogue and would be interested in meeting with officials to address the latest incidents.
Somers, though, believes a little tweaking would go a long way for travelers to the area trying to navigate a busy and sometimes confusing set of roads. She suggested a few additional options, such as exploring whether signs marked with flashing lights, which she believes could draw attention and stop cars before these drivers end up on the highway, would be effective.
She said in some cases, she also believes signs can be misleading and said a friend recently complained that sign locations indicated a turn for I-95 just before the Exit 92 off-ramp rather than the highway entrance.
"I just feel like saying, 'nothing more can be done' ... that isn't true," Somers said. "I don't want to see our police officers in danger and I don't want to lose any more lives."