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November 30, 2016

"Getting There" - All Tickets Please !

Imagine you’re in a store and you see somebody shoplifting.  You’re embarrassed to say anything or to make a scene, but inside you’re pissed-off.  You pay for your merchandise, so why should that guy get it for free?  And if he’s ripping off the store, doesn’t the merchant actually make you pay more to make up for that loss?

It’s morally wrong and it’s just not fair.

Yet this is what happens every single day on Metro-North when conductors don’t collect all riders’ tickets.

Here’s a typical scene:  your train leaves Grand Central and the conductor makes his way through the train collecting tickets.  Sometimes he leaves a colored seat check, punched to show your destination, but not always. Why?

Your train makes some intermediate stop (New Rochelle, Greenwich or Stamford) to discharge some passengers and take on new ones.  You know who the new riders are, but does the conductor?

So when the conductor comes through again saying “All Stamford tickets, please” and you see that new rider not responding, you know the railroad got ripped off and that cheater just got a free ride.

Now, if the conductor had issued a seat check he’d know who got off, who got on and who owes him a new ticket.  Simple enough, but not for Metro-North which for years has not enforced their use.  Conductors who are too busy or too lazy, don’t use seat checks and we all end up paying more.

Metro-North acknowledges this problem and admits it loses millions of dollars a year to uncollected tickets.  But they’ve crunched the numbers and say that staffing trains with more conductors to be sure all tickets are collected would cost even more.

Hey!  Here’s a concept:  make the existing conductors do their jobs instead of hiding out in their little compartments.  From Grand Central to Stamford you’ve got 45 minutes without stops to collect everyone’s ticket, give ‘em a seat check, say “thank you” and still have time for a cat-nap.  And there’s still time to ask people to keep their feet off the seats and to stop yapping in the designated Quiet Cars.

Back in the good ol’ days before the TVM’s (Ticket Vending Machines) came along, conductors collected cash fares to the tune of $50 million a year.  They had a money room at Grand Central that looked like a casino.  Now most fares are bought from the machines or on your smart-phone.  That means conductors should have a lot more time to make sure all tickets are collected.

Conductors on Metro-North make good money.  And they do a very important job keeping passengers safe, operating the doors, answering questions.  They’re the face of the railroad and most passengers give them high marks.

So what can you do if you see someone getting a free ride due to uncollected tickets?  Try this, which always work for me:

When I see a conductor miss a passenger’s ticket, I’ll wait until the conductor comes back and say something like “Excuse me conductor.  I think you missed collecting that gentleman’s ticket”, and then smile innocently at the conductor and the chagrined would-be thief.

If I see the same conductor always missing ticket collections, day after day, I report it on the Metro-North website complaints page, detailing the incident by name, date, train number, etc.  That allows the railroad to “re-train” the offending staffer.

So if you’re tired of all these fare increases, let’s stop the shoplifters.  Make sure everybody pays for their ride by having conductors collect all tickets. Please!

Republished with permission of Hearst CT Media.

November 21, 2016

"Getting There": Should we widen I-95 ?

Governor Malloy wants to widen I-95 to alleviate traffic congestion and has commissioned a $1.2 million study to support the idea.   But I found a similar study from 2004 that looked at the idea and rejected it for a number of reasons.

Trust me, it wasn’t easy to get hold of the earlier study.  I knew it existed but somehow it had disappeared from the CDOT website.  And despite numerous requests, nobody at CDOT could ever tell me what they paid for this study!

Why are the Governor and CDOT re-studying the same issue and spending valuable tax dollars to do so?  Because the first study rejected their widening idea completely and they don’t like that answer.

Here’s the background:

When I-95 was built in the 1950’s it was designed to handle up to 90,000 vehicles a day.  Today, CDOT says it handles 150,000 and congestion is almost constant from 6 am – 7 pm, especially in southwest Connecticut.  In most sections the road is three lanes wide with a “breakdown lane” on both sides.

So, rather than widen the entire highway with a decade of massive and messy construction, why not use one of the lanes… probably the right shoulder… as a travel lane?  Wouldn’t that help reduce congestion?

No.  And here’s why…

NARROW LANES:     The right shoulder is only 10 feet wide so it could only be used by cars.  But the other three lanes are now 12 feet wide and would have to be permanently narrowed to 11 feet width, even outside of commuting-congested hours.

I feel nervous enough driving next to big-rigs and tandem trailers.  Do I want them a foot closer to me hurtling along at 70 mph?  Narrower lanes are not safe.

ACCIDENTS:          The 2004 study looked at other states that had tried using shoulders as travel lanes and found a 60% increase in traffic accidents, most of them rear-end collisions.

EMERGENCY RESCUES:    First responders hated this widening idea and said so at numerous public hearings (I was there and heard them).  They didn’t see the right shoulder as a “breakdown lane” but as an “emergency rescue lane” necessary to reach accident sites.  If that lane is filled with bumper-to-bumper commuters, people will die.

MORE TRAFFIC, NOT LESS:     The study said that allowing driving on the shoulder would actually attract 1050 additional vehicles per hour.  If you build it, they will come.

ENVIRONMENTAL COSTS:        More traffic means more noise and more air pollution.

SPEED IMPROVEMENTS:          The biggest argument for driving on the shoulder is that it would speed up traffic, right?  Wrong.  This 2004 study said that with an additional lane the average speed on I-95 would go from 27 mph to 31 mph, just a 15% improvement. Is that tiny speed increase worth all the safety and environmental costs?

So clearly, the idea of widening I-95 doesn’t make sense.  And we’ve already paid the expert consultants to study the idea and tell us so.

So why is the Malloy administration and CDOT paying for yet another study on a topic already examined and rejected?  Because they didn’t remember the other study had been done?  Or they couldn’t find it?  Or is it because this consultant will give them the answer they want to hear?

Republished with permission of Hearst CT Media.

November 10, 2016

"Getting There": The Billion Dollar Bridge

This commentary was originally published in October 2016 in our blog "GettingThereCT"

Could it really cost $1 billion to replace the 562 foot  Walk railroad bridge in South Norwalk?  Or is there a cheaper alternative that CDOT is hiding from us.

We all know the woes of this 120 year old swing bridge that sometimes refuses to close, stranding thousands of Metro-North and Amtrak riders.  But the plan to replace it (using $161 million in Federal Sandy relief money) has ballooned from $600 million to $1 billion thanks to added rail yards and such.

Many in Norwalk are opposed because of the cost, others because they will lose their land by eminent domain.  And everyone’s concerned about the years of construction and mess.  The Norwalk Hour’s ace reporter Robert Koch even discovered that the Maritime Aquarium IMAX Theater may have to be demolished!

The CDOT has considered all sorts of new bridge designs… truss, lift, bascule, counter-weight and even an elevated fly-over.  But I think I’ve found one design conspicuously missing that might be cheaper.


First, the good news.  The CDOT is doing a great job of making this project open and inclusive.  They have a website, they Tweet updates (@WalkBridgeCT), and host public meetings galore.  They even have translated all their plans into Haitian Creole.

Unlike the horrendous Stamford rail station garage project, mired for three years in secrecy and rumors of political payoffs, the Walk Bridge project is certainly more transparent than the murky waters that flow under its tracks.

But that doesn’t mean people are having any luck slowing this juggernaut down.  Until now.  Because now we find that CDOT has been hiding a simpler solution.


Why not just “close the river” and replace the old bridge with a new, fixed bridge?
That option is not even discussed in the voluminous Environmental Assessment Report. Why?  I think I’ve found the answer… or at least an excuse. 

Blame the US Coast Guard and Army Corps of Engineers.  They want to keep the mighty Norwalk River, all two miles of it, open and navigable.  But do they really have that much power?  Isn’t it possible to force those Federal agencies to, in effect, close the river to boat and barge traffic by edict or a bill put through Congress?

Couldn’t the few companies still on the river… a concrete company, an idle asphalt plant and a small marina… be bought-out with money saved by building a cheaper fixed bridge that doesn’t raise or lower?

And most telling of all… why isn’t this alternative even discussed in the crucial Environmental Impact Study (still open to public comment, now extended until November). Why?


At the recent Metro-North fare increase hearings I cornered CDOT Commissioner Jim Redeker and asked him.  (Spoiler alert:  critics of the bridge plan won’t like his answers.)

The Commissioner says that CDOT did ask the USG and ACE about a fixed bridge that would close the river and were told “no way”… though critics say such concessions have precedents.

More telling, Commissioner Redeker says whether fixed bridge or movable, construction will still disrupt the neighbors just as much and for just as long.  And, says the Commissioner, the cost savings for going to a smaller, simpler fixed bridge would only be 10 – 12%.  Really?  Hard to believe.

But I know Commissioner Redeker and trust his word… though many Norwalkers and environmental activists do not.  There is only one way to resolve this debate, get the bridge fixed and keep the trains rolling and that’s face-to-face talks.

‘Til then, it’s all just rumor, speculation and misinformation feeding on itself. And the old bridge just keeps getting older.

Republished with permission of Hearst CT Media.

"Getting There": CDOT Fare Hearings are just political theater

This commentary was originally posted in September 2016 in our "GettingThereCT" blog:

The CDOT is holding the last in a series of public hearings on proposed 5% fare hikes this week (Wednesday 9/14 in Stamford and Thursday 9/15 in New Haven).  This will be your last chance to be heard if you support or oppose the plan.

Not that these hearings will really matter. It’s pretty much a done deal and the way past hearings have been conducted mean they won’t make much difference.  I think of them as so much “political theater”:  lots of drama with a sad outcome.

If you chose to attend, here’s what to expect:  

The CDOT will make a brief presentation on the need for the fare hikes, then members of the public will be allowed to speak in the order that they signed up.  Each will be given about three minutes.

People will rant and rave about how expensive our trains and buses are, about how service has again been deteriorating.  They’ll threaten to abandon mass transit and start driving again.  They’ll call this the final straw and promise to move out of state.

The CDOT folks will listen and take notes.  But after all is said and done, the fares will go up.  Their only alternative is to save money by cutting service, and nobody wants that.

I’d expect a lot of State Representatives and Senators to also speak in opposition to the proposals. It is an election year, after all.  But that’s kind of ironic, as their budget votes made this hike necessary.  This is their fare hike, not Governor Malloy’s.

The legislature left a $192 million hole in the state’s budget and said to Governor Malloy “you fix it”.  And he did, with budget cuts and layoffs in many departments.  Now it’s the CDOT’s turn to share the pain.  Or commuters’.

Fares on Metro-North are the highest for any commuter railroad in the US because theirs is a captive audience.  People going to jobs in New York City from their leafy suburban homes really have no alternative to taking the train.

Yet, those fares only cover 69% of the costs of each ride.  On Shore Line East the fares cover only 7% and on CT Transit buses 21%.  The balance is made up by state (taxpayers’) subsidy.  By comparison, fares on the Long Island Railroad cover only 51% of operating costs, meaning that NY state is offering a much higher subsidy for LIRR riders than CT does.

Why?  Because NY State, like most others in the nation, wants to keep fares low to encourage people to use mass transit.  While lawmakers in Hartford pay lip-service to the same theory, their actions (and votes) prove otherwise.

And yet, every time there is a fare hike, ridership goes up.  Go figure.  Even in a time of cheap gasoline prices, Metro-North has seen an almost 2% ridership increase in the past year. That means trains are, once again, crowded.  

But wait.  Didn’t we just order new rail cars increasing the size of our fleet?  Yes, but we didn’t increase it enough.  The M8 cars we ordered (at $2.5 million apiece) were insufficient to handle the increase in passengers.  We should have ordered more.

Now is the time for CDOT to order more railcars, either M8’s or to start designing the M10’s.  It takes about five years from such a decision ‘til new cars are delivered, so now is the time to say “go”.  We know ridership will increase, so what is being done to plan for the future?

But in the short term, fare hikes on our railroads and buses are pretty much a done deal.

Republished with permission of Hearst CT Media.

"Getting There" Politicians & Promises

This commentary was published in October 2016 in our blog "GettingThereCT"

I don’t trust politicians.  They tend to over-promise and sometimes just plain lie, telling you what you want to hear and then doing the opposite.

I’m not talking about Clinton and Trump.  I mean right here in Connecticut where our State Representatives and State Senators are all up for election next month.  They’re all talking about “fixing transportation”, but I don’t trust them.

Case in point:  the upcoming fare hike which, amazingly, will take effect after the election.  Metro-North fares will jump 6% and CTtransit bus fares by 17%.  Nice timing, eh?  If they needed the money so bad, why not raise the fares before we go to the polls?

As I’ve been explaining for months, that fare hike was not created by the Governor, the CDOT or Metro-North, but necessitated by the majority Democrats’ budget passed last spring in the legislature.  They didn’t fully fund mass transit and left the Governor to raise the fares.

But what really galls me is to hear those same budget-writers come out in their campaigns and say they opposed the fare hike.  They created it, and now oppose it?  I think that’s called hypocrisy.

Or do you remember when Dannel Malloy was running for Governor in 2010 and he promised he would never, ever raid the Special Transportation Fund to balance the budget?  I do, and I admired him for that pledge.  So imagine how I felt when he did what every predecessor, Republican or Democrat, had done… turn the Special Transportation Fund into a petty cash box, raidable at will to fix his budget.  Was that a lie, a broken promise or a necessity?

Governor Malloy redeemed himself in his second term when he embraced transportation as his keynote agenda.  He didn’t just embrace it, he mated with it and produced an amorphous, amoeba-like off-spring:  a 30-year, $100 billion “plan” to rebuild transportation state-wide.

Well, it really wasn’t a “plan” as much as a laundry list, maybe a wish-list, with something for everyone… trains, planes, roads, rails, you name it.  It wasn’t just  ambitious, it was unaffordable.  So he did what any good politician would do who had an unfunded dream:  he appointed a task force to figure out how to pay for it.

He wanted the credit for this amazing, Robert Moses-like plan.  But he didn’t want his fingerprints on the stone tablets detailing how to pay for it.  I understand that.  “Love my vision but don’t blame me for the painful taxes required to build it.”

His task force came up with a lot of great funding ideas, all of them practical, none of them popular.  But what did legislators in both parties do?  They rejected them all, out of hand.
Even the Governor’s BFF Senator Bob Duff, the Senate Majority leader, said the Task Force’s idea of a vehicle miles tax was dead on arrival and would never be considered. And you can imagine the glee of Republicans in attacking the idea, a concept which nobody ever had a chance to explain let alone study before it was snuffed out.

To a man (and woman) every candidate will say they support transportation, but they will reject all of the necessary means of paying for it.   Victory has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan.

So be an informed voter.  Ask for specifics, not generalities.  Ask exactly how your candidates will pay for their plans.  And compare those promises against past votes on things like the CDOT budget.

PS:  Lest you should think I have ambitions for higher office, I can reassure you I don’t want any job in Hartford.  The only thing I’m running for is the train.

Republished with permission of Hearst CT Media.

September 12, 2016

"Talking Transportation" becomes "Getting There"

After ten years, "Talking Transportation" is closing up shop.

But a new, weekly commentary on the same topics is now appearing in the Hearst CT newspapers!

We're calling it "Getting There", which says it all.  We'll be writing about trains, trucks, aviation and shipping.  This time we'll have an even bigger readership.

Look for "Getting There" each Monday in The Greenwich Time, Stamford Advocate, Norwalk Hour, Danbury News-Times and CT Post.  It will also appear in Hearst's six weekly newspapers.

A new blog-site "GettingThereCT" is coming where we will archive these commentaries.

August 29, 2016

Bikes on the Train

Days before the CDOT opens public hearings on proposed 5% fare increase on Metro-North, Governor Malloy held a media event to promote good news about “improved service” on our highest-fares-in-the-nation railroad.

What?  A return of the bar cars?  More seats on crowded trains?  No, nothing that monumental:  just a new e-ticketing app and word that bike racks have been installed on our trains.

Now the new MTA eTix smart-phone app is a big deal, but not anything that CDOT or our Governor had a hand in.  It was designed and built by the MTA, parent of Metro-North.  So far it’s functioning well.

But the other piece of news was more concerning.  The Governor said that “as a result of listening to our customers” 190 new bike racks (hooks, actually) have been installed on the new M8 rail-cars.  Great!

But in the next breath he said “now this is not for prime commutation periods”, i.e. no bikes at rush hour.  Not so great.

The reason is that trains are too crowded at peak times.  The seats are full and there’s often standing room only.  Trying to bring a bike onto such a train wouldn’t be possible, partly because these new bike-hooks sit over the handicapped passenger area meant for wheelchairs.  If there’s no wheelchair, a fold-down seat can be used, and on crowded trains, always is.

I’ve written for years about restricting bikes on trains until every ticketed passenger has a seat, a utopian dream we have yet to fulfill.  But for off-peak riders, where there is less crowding, bring your bike and hang it up.  (Folding bikes are always allowed if they can be stored in the luggage rack).

I also remain skeptical of any pent-up demand for bikes on Metro-North.  Sure, lots of commuters bike to their train station.  Others may even take advantage of the Citi Bike service on arrival in Manhattan.  But how many people really want to take their bike on the train into Grand Central?

Connecticut’s buses have offered bike racks for almost a decade and are widely used.  But that’s for shorter trips where the first / last mile of commuting by bike makes sense.
So, let’s see how popular these new bike racks (hooks) on Metro-North prove to be.  Maybe I’m wrong.  It won’t be the first time.

On a personal note:  this is my last “Talking Transportation” column.  After a ten year run, I’m taking my commentary to new channels.

I’d like to thank all of you for your feedback over the years, especially your words of encouragement.  I’ll see you on the train.

August 01, 2016

Don't Blame Malloy for the Latest Fare Hikes

Sure, it was sleazy of Governor Malloy and the CDOT to release news of a proposed 5% fare hike on Metro-North on a Friday afternoon in July, hoping nobody would notice.  But the
more I dig into the proposal, the more I realize the Governor and CDOT are not to blame.

It’s the Connecticut legislature that’s really responsible for this fare hike.

Lawmakers this session left the Governor with a $192 million budget shortfall and every other branch of government has taken budget cuts and layoffs as a result.  Now it’s transportation’s turn to feel the pinch.

Pol’s on both sides of the aisle tell me Malloy could have saved millions by facing down the state employees’ unions and their rich benefits package.  Could’ve, maybe should’ve… but didn’t.

So now we’re looking at a 5% hike in train fares on Metro-North and Shore Line East and a 16% boost in bus fares starting in December.  Plus closing ticket windows, reduced maintenance and fuel savings.  And that’s just on the transit side.

Highway work will also be cut, hiring postponed and less salt purchased for the winter.  Service areas will be closed overnight and the volunteers who work in the Visitor Centers will be fired. Welcome to Connecticut!

So when you calculate the impact of all these cuts on your commute, by road or rail, call your State Rep and Senator and ask “why”?

Why are they allowing the Special Transportation Fund to run dry due to the dwindling revenues from the gas tax?

Ask Senate Majority leader Bob Duff (D-Norwalk) and the usually pro-transportation Senator
Senator Bob Duff
Toni Boucher (R-Wilton) why they have opposed alternative funding mechanisms like the VMT (Vehicle Miles Tax), calling it “
dead on arrival” before it was even explained, let alone studied.

Ask your elected officials what their plan is to pay for our existing transportation network, let alone expand it by the $100 billion Malloy has suggested.  They won’t have an answer.

Why?  Because they are running for re-election this November.  And none of them has the guts to tell you the truth:  we will all have to pay more to drive or commute by rail… as you’ll find out after the election when they approve new taxes.

What can we do in the meantime (aside from holding them accountable during the campaign)?  There will be public hearings in September on the fare hikes and we should all turn out.

It will be political theater, but cathartic.  Commuters will rant and the folks from CDOT will listen and then do what they proposed.  Aside from cutting train service, a fare hike is about the only option.

And, of course as upstate lawmakers constantly remind us, those of us living on the “gold coast” are all millionaires, and we can afford it, right?

July 16, 2016

America's Mass-Transit Mecca

What’s the most mass-transit intensive city in the US?  By the numbers, New York City.  But for a glimpse of the real future of mass-transit,  the winner is clearly Portland Oregon!

Portland has only 632,000 residents but 2.3 million in its metro area.  Yet it has, per capita, what I think is the largest, most extensive and best integrated systems of light rail, streetcars and bike lanes in the nation.

LIGHT RAIL:       It was 1986 when Portland opened its first light-rail line.  Today the system covers 60 miles (including the airport, 12 miles from downtown).  In 2001 a downtown streetcar system was added.  It proved so successful that Portland now manufactures streetcars for other American cities.

Like the city’s extensive bike-rack equipped bus network, all of Portland’s mass transit operates on the honor system:  you buy tickets before boarding and only show them if a inspector boards, looking for proof of payment.

To encourage ridership, fares are ridiculously cheap.  For $2.50 you can roam the system for 2 ½ hours.  An unlimited day pass is $5 or $26 a month (about the cost of a round-trip to NYC on Metro-North).  “Honored Citizens” (seniors, Medicare or disabled) get a monthly pass for $7.50!

DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT DRIVING:      To further encourage use of the ubiquitous mass transit, driving in downtown is difficult and expensive.  The main transit corridors have one lane for streetcars, one lane for bikes and just one lane for cars.  Parking is really expensive, both by meter on the streets and in lots.  And yes, the freeways crawl just like in LA.

TECHNOLOGY:      The bus and rail system offers free apps for trip-planning which use GPS to tell you exactly how long you’ll wait for the next trolley, directions by line to your destination and expected travel time.  And yes, you can buy and show your ticket using your smartphone.

BIKES ARE KING:       The city’s unofficial motto is “Keep Portland Weird”, and the residents work hard to do so.  Outside of Europe or Asia I have never seen so many people on two-wheels traversing a community.

There are so many dedicated bike lanes that when a new bridge was built crossing the Willamette River, the bridge was built for everything except cars and trucks:  a mass transit-only bridge!

When a new Medical Center was planned on a downtown hill, designers realized it would be foolish to waste land on parking, so they built an aerial tram from unused industrial land on the waterfront.  Hospital employees and patients alike take light rail or bike to the base station (where a free 400 
space bike-lot is usually full) and are skyward in minutes.

So if you are ever disillusioned by the sorry state of mass-transit in our area, take heart.  The future is now in Portland!

June 05, 2016

Big Brother Comes Along for the Ride

“Here in my car, I feel safest of all
I can lock all my doors. It’s the only way to live, in cars.”
-       Cars”, Gary Numan  1979

You may feel that your car is your last private refuge in this busy world.  But there’s someone along for the ride:  Big Brother.  And you’d be surprised what he knows about you, thanks to modern technology.
CELL PHONES:   Your cell phone is constantly transmitting its location, and services like Google Dashboard’s location history can show exactly where you were at any date in time.  Don’t want to be tracked?  Turn off your cellphone.
E-ZPASS:   Even when you are nowhere near a toll booth, E-ZPass detectors can monitor your location.   Want to stay anonymous? Keep your E-ZPass wrapped in aluminum foil in your glove box.
HIGHWAY CAMERAS:    The extensive network of traffic cameras on our interstates and parkways is used mostly to monitor accidents.  But State Police can also watch individual vehicles. The cameras are even available to the public online.  But state law specifically forbids using these cameras to write speeding tickets.
LICENSE PLATE READERS:    This is the newest and most powerful tracking tech, as I saw in a ride-along a few years ago with my local PD.  These cameras mounted on police cars can scan up to 1800 license plates a minute as cars drive by at speed.
As the plate number is recognized, it is transmitted to a national crime computer and compared against a list of wanted vehicles and scofflaws.  
Officer reviews LPR alert in his car
If it gets a “hit” a dashboard screen in the cop car flashes a red signal and beeps, detailing the plate number and infraction.  In just one hour driving through my town we made stops for outstanding warrants, lack of insurance and stolen plates.  (Some towns also use LPR’s for parking enforcement in train station parking lots, forgoing the need for hang-tags or stickers.)
While this may lead to very efficient law enforcement, LPR’s also have a potentially darker side:  the data about plate number, location and time can be stored forever.
Faced with a string of unsolved burglaries, Darien police used their LPR to track every car entering the targeted neighborhood and looked for patterns of out-of-town cars driving through at the time of the burglaries and made an arrest.
But the ACLU is concerned about how long cops can store this data and how it should be used.  They laud the CT State Police policy of only storing data for 90 days.
In the early days of LPRs in 2012 an ACLU staffer filed an FOI request for his car’s plate number and found it had been tracked four times by 10 police departments in a database that had 3 million scan records.

So enjoy your car.  But realize that none of us has any privacy.

May 22, 2016

Our Infrastructure: Dangling by a Thread

The recent fire under the Park Avenue viaduct in Harlem, which disrupted commutes of a quarter million Metro-North riders got me thinking:  our aging, crumbling and vulnerable transportation infrastructure is close to collapse, and the effects of such failure could be catastrophic.   Consider this track-record:
JUNE 1983:  Inadequate inspections and repairs cause the collapse of the Mianus River
Bridge on I-95 in Greenwich. Three people were killed and three others injured.   For almost five months, 80,000 daily vehicles had to detour through city streets.
MARCH 2004:         An oil tanker crashes on I-95 in Bridgeport and the ensuing fire is hot enough to melt steel supports on the Howard Avenue overpass.  Traffic was disrupted for a week.
SEPTEMBER 2013:    Con-Ed plans to replace a crucial electric feeder cable for Metro-North in the Bronx.  The railroad decides to forgo the $1 million cost of a temporary back-up cable and the main cable fails, disrupting train service for weeks, both on Metro-North and Amtrak.
JUNE 2014:    Twice in one week the Walk Bridge in South Norwalk (built in 1896) won’t close, cutting all rail service between New York and Boston.  Cost of replacement will be more than $450 million.
MAY 2016:  Illegally stored chemicals and propane tanks at a gardening center under the Park Ave viaduct catch fire.  The flames’ heat melts steel girders, cutting all train service out
of GCT and stranding thousands.  Limited train service in the following days leads to subway-like crowding and lengthy delays.
Mind you, this list does not include fatal accidents and disruptions caused by human error, like the Metro-North crash at Spuyten Duyvil that killed four.
Our lives, our jobs and our economy rely on safe, dependable transportation.  But when the roads we drive and the rails we ride are museum pieces or go uninspected and unrepaired, we are dangling by a thread.
A single fire, whether caused by accident or act of terrorism, can bring down our infrastructure in an instant, cutting us off from work for days and costing our economy billions.
What can be done?  Safety inspections by engineers and Fire Departments looking to prevent disaster are obvious.  Better enforcement of speed limits and safety are as well.  But prevention of accidents cannot make up for decades of neglect in reinvestment in our roads, rails and bridges.
The American Society of Civil Engineers’ annual infrastructure report card gives the US a D+.  They estimate we will need to spend $3.6 trillion to get things back into good shape… less than the cost of the last 15 years of US fighting in the Middle East and Afghanistan.
As the old auto-repair ad used to say, “You can pay me now or you can pay me later”.  But sooner or later, we will have to pay.