Connecticut bills address road safety issues

| 3/22/2007

A bill moving through the Connecticut statehouse is intended to improve safety for drivers on Avon Mountain. The bill is one of several efforts put before lawmakers this year that are relevant to trucks operating in the state.

Sponsored by Sen. Jonathan Harris, D-West Hartford, the bill would authorize the cities of Avon and West Hartford to conduct a pilot program of automated speed enforcement on Route 44 over the mountain. Violators would face up to $150 fines.

The cameras snap pictures of red-light runners or speeders. A ticket is mailed to the vehicles' owners, regardless who was driving at the time.

The roots of Harris' bill can be traced back to a deadly truck crash in July 2005 that killed four people and injured 19 in the town of Avon. It happened when a dump truck slammed into other vehicles that were stopped at the bottom of the mountain's steep grade at the intersection of state Routes 44 and 10. Since then, various safety-related bills have come before lawmakers in the state.

Harris' bill - SB439 - is in the Joint Committee on Planning and Development.

Another bill in the committee would make certain truck drivers responsible for paying more tax to the state. Sponsored by Rep. DebraLee Hovey, R-Monroe, the measure - HB5287 - would allow towns to levy a tax on each truckload of rocks, dirt or other materials removed from a construction site.

Rep. Joseph Serra, D-Middletown, offered a bill that is intended to aid businesses in the state that do truck repairs. The measure - HB5031 - would exempt the sales tax on parts and labor for repairs to trucks and motor vehicles weighing more than 26,000 pounds.

Serra wrote that the exemption potentially would "stop major fleets from going out of state for repairs, thus keeping the Connecticut repair industry competitive."

It is in the Joint Committee on Finance, Revenue and Bonding.

Other bills of interest have been killed. They failed to meet a Monday, March 19, deadline to advance from the Joint Committee on Transportation.

Among the legislative efforts that will need to wait until next year for consideration is a bill intended to limit the time of day that trucks can move hazardous materials on highways in the state. Sponsored by Sen. Bill Finch, D-Bridgeport, the bill - SB434 - would have limited hauling hazmat on affected routes to between 10 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Sen. Thomas Gaffey, D-Meriden, wanted to see all traffic slowed on certain roadways in the state. His bill - SB720 - would have reduced the speed limit from 65 mph to 60 mph on rural interstates and other limited-access roads.

A bill offered by Rep. Claire Janowski, D-Vernon, would have permitted truck drivers to use the left passing lane on Interstates 84, 95 and 91. Janowski wrote in the bill - HB5315 - that the change would "increase highway efficiency and reduce accident traffic along highways."

Another bill would have required increased penalties for motor vehicle violations where certain trucks are involved. Sponsored by Sen. Tony Guglielmo, R-Stafford, the effort - SB154 - would have authorized increased penalties to be imposed upon operators or owners for any equipment or moving violation where the vehicle involved has a gross vehicle weight rating or gross combination weight rating of at least 18,001 pounds.

Rep. John Ryan, D-Oakdale, offered legislation - HB5428 - that would have prohibited any trucks longer than 30 feet in length to travel along the Merritt Parkway.

One other bill called for truck traffic to be shifted off Connecticut roadways and onto rail. Sponsored by Rep. Thomas Drew, D-Fairfield, the bill - HB5424 - would have required a working group to be assembled to recommend actions necessary to divert trucks from highways in the state to rail.

It also called for the group to recommend a regional action plan for alternative Hudson River freight crossings.

- By Keith Goble, state legislative editor