WASHINGTON — For some of the region’s fastest-growing cities, the highway that runs through the middle of the country is the most challenging place to drive to get around.
That is partly because of a shortage of drivers and a lingering mistrust in the safety of the system, which the Federal Highway Administration says is under-resourced and under-staffed.
It has taken several months to repair the damage caused by a series of accidents in the last year that left dozens of people dead and nearly 300 others seriously injured.
While some drivers, such as David Gombert, say the system is broken, many drivers, like the owner of the local strip club, said they are tired of waiting for the feds to fix things.
“We need to get on with fixing our system,” said John Linn, the owner and operator of the Gombratts, a strip club in downtown Chatham.
“If the system can be fixed, we should be able to get through the night.”
The problems have been building up for months.
In August, a truck driver, John Jorgensen, was killed in a crash while driving in the mountains in southern New Hampshire.
The next month, another driver, Anthony Jorgenson, was injured in a similar accident while driving on the highway.
A third driver, Andrew Gombrecht, died in the same crash.
The four were among more than 400 people killed in highway crashes in New Hampshire and Vermont last year.
In August, another truck driver was killed while driving through a snowstorm in New Jersey.
Two weeks later, a passenger in a car in a different accident died after the driver tried to swerve out of the way of a crash on Interstate 94 in Delaware County.
In February, a motorist on a snowy morning was killed when he hit another vehicle on Interstate 95.
And last month, a man in a minivan on Interstate 395 in New York was killed after being struck by another vehicle.
All of the accidents have left many people worried about safety and driving.
Some are frustrated that the federal government has been slow to respond, and are worried that if it does not fix the problems, accidents could get worse.
“I’m really concerned about the system being able to provide the safety we need,” said Jim Pomeranz, president of the North Central Connecticut Association of Governments, which represents local governments.
Pomeranz said he has received hundreds of letters and phone calls from people in New England, and that his group is calling on the administration to fix the system sooner rather than later.
“The administration has got to do a better job of communicating the message to the community that it has a system in place to keep us safe,” Pomerantz said.
The government has responded to those concerns in recent weeks, and on Tuesday, the Federal Transit Administration and the federal highway authority announced a pilot program that will provide incentives for local governments to improve safety in their areas.
Under the pilot program, eligible cities will receive $2 million in federal grant money to improve their roads, bridges, and transit systems, and to create or expand a safe lane program.
The money will be used to upgrade existing infrastructure and add new lanes to make it safer.
The FTA will also invest $1 million in an initiative that will be funded through the Highway Trust Fund, which pays for some highway infrastructure upgrades.
Perez said the agency is committed to making sure that the Federal Safety Program is able to help solve the safety problem.
“There are a lot of folks who are frustrated with the system and they have to have a safety system that is able, in my view, to address the problems,” Perez said.