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February 14, 2006

Transportation Spending and CT Jobs

Oh happy day! Hartford finally seems ready to spend billions, investing in our transportation system and the state’s economic future.

Last year, Governor Rell pushed the legislature to long overdue action, allocating $1.3 billion for new rail cars on Metro-North. This year she wants to spend another $600 million on mass transit in the I-91 corridor, including commuter rail from New Haven to Springfield and a busway from New Britain to Hartford.

Not to be outdone, the Democrats are going the Governor one better. House Speaker Jim Amann says its time the state spent $6.2 billion to fund all of the recommendations of the Transportation Strategy Board.

That’s amazingly good news. But where were our lawmakers when the TSB issued its recommendations three years ago? Why have the Democrats finally embraced this issue, which they ignored for decades? Answer… because unlike her predecessor, John Rowland, who said the TSB plan was d.o.a., Governor Rell embraced it and started moving it toward implementation. Thank heavens for party politics in an election year!

But both the Governor and the legislature are missing an important opportunity right now to improve another issue facing our state… jobs and the economy.
We are about to spend $1 billion on new rail cars for Metro-North, but as it stands, none of that money will benefit our state’s economy.

The Metro-North Commuter Council has reviewed the specifications for the new M8 cars as drawn up by the consulting firm LTK (under a no-bid contract to Metro-North). While the specs look great from an engineering viewpoint, it is clear they were drawn up with little involvement or influence from Connecticut DOT, as they favor Metro-North and New York state, not us.

The M8 project will mean jobs… for New York State, but not Connecticut. Though our taxpayers will pay two-thirds of the cost of the new cars, no provision has been made in the contract to see a dime of those funds earmarked for Connecticut.
The three qualified bidders on the M8 project… Bombardier, Kawasaki and Siemens… all have plants in NY State, but not in Connecticut. But shouldn’t Connecticut firms like United Technologies get a piece of the action, and support local jobs in the process?

The minority and women-owned business “set asides” in the M8 contract will total $50 million apiece. But read the spec’s drawn up for Metro-North, and you’ll only see mention of that spending in New York state, not Connecticut.

Metro-North is a vendor to CDOT. They’re hired to run “our” trains and are paid well for doing so. They do that job well. But we are turning over to our vendor the responsibility for the design and construction of a billion dollars worth of rail cars that we’re paying two-thirds of the cost for.

How could CDOT miss the chance to see our taxpayers’ money be spent for jobs and construction in our state? That’s a good question… and one which I hope those in legislative oversight will ask of CDOT staff.

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JIM CAMERON has been a commuter out of Darien for 15 years. He is Vice Chairman of the CT Metro-North / Shore Line East Rail Commuter Council, and a member of the Coastal Corridor TIA and the Darien RTM. You can reach him at jim@camcomm.com or www.trainweb.org/ct . For a full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, see www.talkingtransportation.blogspot.com

2 comments:

Wolcottboy said...

This throwing money at the situation is more than wrong. First, there's ALREADY a rail iine going north from New Haven to Springfield. Its called Amtrak. And its expensive. More expensive, in fact than plane service.

Can you put lighter rail on that line? Sure you can, with the same stops that exist now and more cars. But is this really how Connecticut will become a pioneer to the future? Are the towns and cities along this cooridor going to keep their SUVs at home and get on the rail?

Not likely. Once you are in your car, you need a really good reason to get out of it. Unless you live in Westport, where busses pick up residents and bring them to the train station, residents along the Central Connecticut Line are must more spread about their towns than the concentrated Fairfield County towns. And you have quite a few options in highways right now, at least south of Hartford.

I would propose something different. How about a very light rail line- almost a monorail - like the Metro in DC - or perhaps a never-before-seen type of project. For instance, I can certainly imagine a light rail - perhaps even a trolley like the ones of the past century- going up and down Rt. 10 from New Haven, past Quinnipiac College and through the center of Cheshire, with stops near the indsutrial parks, up through Southington along the business cooridor and perhaps going through Farmington and West Hartford. That would be a perfect route along an already busy, road that parallels other highways.
There's a man in Colorado who has developed a MagLev system. It would be a personalized vehicle that sits one or two people. It would be designed to respond to a call button, like an elevator to wherever you are. Once inside, you would enter your destination, and through computers, it finds the fastest way and brings you right there. Of course, this system would be very expensive, perhaps almost mirroring today's road network -thuogh less so. It could be planned more efficiently to promote some short-distance walking in established neighborhoods and commercial centers.

I think Connecticut should consider such a system in a couple major cities, like New Haven and perhaps Hartford. In both cities, you would start the lines at the colleges and connect the downtown areas, tourist attractions, waterfronts, parking lots, and other high traffic areas. This alone would lessen downtown traffic, promote exercise and re-vitalize downtown areas with a technological and energized kick.

Jim Cameron said...

If you're interested in the "People Mover" concept, it's been in use for decades in, of all places, Morgantown WV.

See http://faculty.washington.edu/~jbs/itrans/morg.htm