After two car accidents in one week at the intersection of Rt. 7 and Catalpa Rd.–both of which occurred during either school pick up or drop off time at nearby Wilton High School–town officials acknowledge that the accident-prone area is a troubling one.

Catalpa Rd. is used as an access to the southern parking lot abutting the Board of Education administrative office, where drivers routinely drop off and pick up WHS students. It’s also used by school buses exiting and entering the campus to access Kristine Lilly Way, for both Cider Mill School and WHS.

Also complicating matters are several driveways and entrances to building parking lots on Rt. 7; cars that pull out quickly onto Rt. 7 or try to cross lanes of traffic to make left turns present added dangers. Judging how quickly cars are traveling or even what lane of the four-lane road they’re occupying can be hazardous in that short stretch of roadway.

During last night’s Board of Selectmen meeting (Monday, Sept. 19), first selectman Lynne Vanderslice said that she has been in touch with Wilton’s chief of police Robert Crosby as well as superintendent of schools Dr. Kevin Smith about the recent spate of accidents. Especially concerning is the rise in accidents at the intersection now that school is back in session.

The challenge, however, is that Rt. 7/Danbury Rd. is a state highway. The CT Department of Transportation (DOT) has almost total oversight of traffic regulations and patterns on the road, including whether or not new stoplights, crosswalks, speed limits or driving patterns can be adjusted or installed.

Vanderslice acknowledged that several people had contacted her office with concerns about the intersection after each of the two recent accidents there. She said that Wilton’s Police Department is actively working on gathering data, to help the town decide what actions to take. Such a study is required as part of any request the town might make to the state, and that Chief Crosby is in contact with state transportation officials to determine what they may allow Wilton to do independently–but that it’s ultimately up to the state DOT.

“The first step in anything is that you have to do the study. The study, we had already set that up after the first accident. I also talked to Dr. Smith. There are two places where, some people are dropping off by the Board of Education and some are dropping off by the Clune Center. The area between the high school and the administrative building is closed to traffic.  It’s particularly bad at pickup because of the buses lined up so people like to come out Catalpa because of the buses. Kevin and [WHS principal] Bob O’Donnell are going to take a look at it too,” Vanderslice said of drop off and pickup procedures, adding, “It’s certainly made everybody concerned.”

The first recent accident occurred on Monday, Sept. 12 at 3 p.m.–during peak traffic at school pickup time–when a driver failed to obey the stop sign at Catalpa Rd. to make a turn onto Rt. 7, striking a car traveling southbound on Danbury Rd.. The most recent accident happened yesterday, Monday, Sept. 19, at approximately 8:30 a.m., reportedly involving vehicles turning from Rt. 7 to Catalpa Rd. (an official police report had not been issued as of press time). Thankfully, no serious injuries were reported.

Vanderslice mentioned the law limiting new, 16-year-old drivers from having other teenaged passengers. “Now with the new law that you can’t have someone in your car, you can’t have a sibling, or carpool, there’s a lot more cars on the road. You see how one thing that seems like a good idea creates a ripple effect.”

Second selectman Michael Kaelin pointed out that the stretch of Rt. 7 from School Rd. to Allen’s Meadow actually has two speed limits–a 25 mph limit in effect during school hours, and another at 40 mph at other times. He criticized the different signage.

“I have a simple request, and I’ll go to whatever agency needed to change this. We need one speed limit from School Rd. to past the High School. It’s totally confusing. The different signs, it looks like a bureaucratic mess. The rationale is we have a different speed limit during school. The reason you drop the speed limit after school hours is because kids are using the playgrounds and fields. Having the Y and the school there, there are people crossing seven days a week. It’s a simple thing they can do to improve, make it a school zone, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.”

The photo above is a file photo of a January accident that occurred at the same intersection.