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February 04, 2008

“The Critelli Commission”

The Governor’s “blue ribbon” commission studying the reform of the Department of Transportation, headed by (Darien resident and) Pitney Bowes Chairman Michael Critelli, has finally issued its draft report.

While much of the report addresses the dysfunctional organization of this immense agency, I am personally pleased that the Commission also picked up on some suggestions for improving rail service. Among them…

  • Expanding parking at all rail stations, but leaving the towns to price and administer the issuance of permits.
  • Revisit the Metro-North contract for the operation of our trains with an eye toward greater parity between the railroad and CDOT.
  • Focus on the maintenance and repair of our railroad bridges, 206 of the 325 of which are rated as being in less than satisfactory condition.
  • Better coordinate bus and rail schedules to offer riders of both an inter-modal transit experience.
  • Evaluate an independent Transportation Authority (like the MTA or NJ Transit) which could serve the interests of mass transit apart from the highway interests which dominate our current CDOT. (Connecticut is the only state in the union that runs mass transit out of its DOT).
  • Speed up construction of commuter rail on the New Haven to Springfield corridor.
  • Expand service on the Danbury, Waterbury and Shore Line East branch lines.
  • Finally do something to offer a rail freight alternative in Connecticut.

But, beyond rail, the Critelli Commission also suggested some ideas to make CDOT more “user friendly”, following the lead of other states.

  • Have a website where consumers can actually find information. For example, when construction projects are scheduled and, if they are running late, why and when they’ll be completed.
  • Offer a 511 dial-in service for all traffic and transit updates. Using such a service a traveler could ask “If I leave Stamford right now, how long would it take under current conditions to get to New Haven?”, and be told travel time by road and rail.
  • Finally, the Critelli Commission deserves commendation for embracing an often forgotten transportation alternative… pedestrians and bikers. Think of how many additional auto parking spaces could be found at stations if bike paths and bike lockers were available at stations for local commuters… or even sidewalks to walk safely to mass transit.

The Critelli Commission report is now added to that ever-growing pile of studies and reports on what ails our state’s transportation systems. Nay-sayers will claim this study, like scores before it, will add up to nothing. But I’m an eternal optimist and feel otherwise.

If the current national search for a new Commissioner of the DOT turns up someone with organizational skills and vision, the Critelli Commission’s recommendations could become a roadmap to our future.

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