NEW HAVEN -- Emergency workers say traffic congestion caused by a major construction project on Interstate 95 in New Haven could be putting lives at risk.
Paramedics, fire officials, and dispatchers in New Haven and other shoreline towns say ambulances and other emergency vehicles too often are stuck in traffic jams caused by the project, which includes a new Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge over the Quinnipiac River.
That makes it difficult to reach patients during medical emergencies and rush them to area hospitals, officials said.
The $1.4 billion highway improvement project began three years ago. It is scheduled to be completed in 2014, prompting worries among emergency workers about years of traffic jams ahead. Ambulance drivers often have no choice but to use I-95 despite the congestion to reach shoreline communities and the area's medical centers.
''You can go lights and sirens all out," said John Battista, Clinton's emergency medical services deputy chief. ''When you have cars with nowhere else to go to, you can't push them out of the way."
John Gustafson, executive director of the Central Medical Emergency Dispatch Center in New Haven, which provides emergency dispatch service for 19 communities in Greater New Haven, fears the delays will get worse as the state inches toward the bridge replacement.
''There is no doubt in my mind this problem isn't going to get any better," he said.
Gustafson said the agency will be especially concerned if a permanent detour is created when that bridge roadwork starts. If that occurs, he said, ambulance travel times will increase not only along the shoreline, but also for communities along Interstate 91 because highway traffic would likely spill over to the side roads.
During rush hour, emergency medical officials said, dispatchers often view the state Department of Transportation website cameras for rush-hour gridlock to alert ambulance drivers.
Eric Berthel, a spokesman for American Medical Response, said the service deploys ambulances based on a computer program that analyzes what areas have a high volume of emergency calls throughout the day and week.
Ambulance providers also said they hope to rely on the new Shoreline Medical Center in Guilford, which is administered by Yale-New Haven Hospital.