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September 29, 2014

Foley vs Malloy on Transportation



Regular readers of this column know that I’ve never been shy about criticizing Governor Malloy for his transportation policies.  But after hearing him and his Republican opponent, Tom Foley, discuss transportation in a recent forum, I am enthusiastically endorsing Malloy for re-election.
In my view, Tom Foley is clueless.  He doesn’t understand the issues, has no new ideas and often refuses to address specifics.  If he is our next governor, mass transit in Connecticut is in serious trouble.
Since early in the campaign Foley has said we spend too much on mass transit, often to the detriment of our roads.  He also says it is not the state’s job to “purposefully push people out of their cars and onto mass transit”.
Huh?   Does Foley think that state troopers are blocking commuter access to I-95 and forcing them onto Metro-North?  This is crazy-talk.
Both Foley and Malloy agree that traffic congestion is bad. But Foley offers no solutions, aside from saying we need more highways.
Malloy acknowledges the traffic mess but says that spending more on mass transit will give drivers alternatives, encouraging (not forcing) them off the highways.
As for Metro-North, one wonders if Foley has ever stepped out of his BMW sedan and ridden the train.  Foley says that the train from New Haven to Grand Central takes 20 minutes longer to make that run today than it did a century ago.  True, but that’s not because the trains aren’t capable of higher speeds.  They’re under speed limits by the FRA after the May 2013 Bridgeport derailment.
One issue where the candidates did show surprising agreement was highway tolls.  Both Foley and Malloy acknowledged toll revenue may be needed for projects like widening I-84 and I-95 (east of Madison). 
In campaigning, Mr. Foley’s constant mantra is that he’s a former CEO and knows how to get things done.  But running state government is not like running a business.  The Governor only proposes but the legislature disposes.  Foley’s only government experience was in two political patronage diplomatic appointments to Iraq and Ireland.  Like fellow Greenwich multi-millionaire and perennial GOP candidate Linda McMahon, Foley has never been elected to anything.  In June 2009 he said he would run for Senate against Chris Dodd, then chose a race for Governor.
Though he has been running for office for five years, he’s never bothered to learn about the issues, speaking in vague generalities and often refusing to answer questions. When he is pinned down, Foley’s answer is often “I don’t know.
When his campaign did take a position, on urban development, it turns out the Foley plan was plagiarized.
You may or may not like Dan Malloy, but at least you know where he stands.  He has an encyclopedic command of facts and figures and is clearly a hands-on leader.  Yes, he comes off as arrogant and a bit of a bully sometimes, but it’s clear that, unlike Mr Foley, he cares about these issues and has a vision.
In the long run, the citizens of Connecticut will get the kind of governor they deserve.  If they study the issues and really listen to the candidates, especially on this crucial issue of transportation, I hope that Dan Malloy will get re-elected.

September 18, 2014

TransformCT - Crowdsourcing our Future

Who is designing our state’s transportation future?  Urban planners? Academic visionaries? Highly trained engineering and planning professionals at CDOT?  No, unfortunately the state is leaving those decisions to you and me via a website, www.TransformCT.org
The idea is to give everyone in Connecticut a chance to voice their opinions about what roads and rails should be built, then debate and “vote” on others’ proposals. The top vote-getters will help determine what gets built.  Some call it “crowd-sourcing” though I prefer to think of it as a popularity contest for amateurs.              

(True confession:  45 years ago I wanted to be a civil engineer and help design “the train of the future”.  I attended Lehigh University but quickly discovered that I wasn’t cut out to be a Civil Engineer.  Instead, I got into broadcasting and journalism.
And while I have opinions about transport in the future, I’m smart enough to know I am not an engineer.  I can dream about things that just won’t happen.  As my daughter used to say, “We all want things, Daddy”.  But wants, needs and practicalities are all very different.)
In 2000 our legislature created a Transportation Strategy Board with subcommittees statewide (on one of which I was elected to serve).  The TSB’s mandate… to develop a 20-year vision for CT’s transportation future.  And that they did, calling for many improvements including the long-overdue order of new rail cars for Metro-North.
But the Transportation Strategy Board is now gone, wiped out of existence by Governor Malloy.  Why?  Because its priorities did not match his.
Instead of a statewide citizen / expert panel, now our Governor wants you to vote (and pay for) your transportation dreams.
So far TransformCT has attracted 13,500 visits and 2000 different ideas.  Check the website and you’ll find such revolutionary concepts as… “spend the gasoline tax on transportation”, “make our streets walkable”, provide “a quicker commute on Metro-North” and “bike lanes everywhere”. 
But buried further down the list are some real gems:  “build a subway from Bridgeport to Waterbury”, “add an upper level over (double-deck) our highways”, “high speed rail Hartford to NYC in one hour” (vs 3.5 hr today) and “hovercraft along the coast”.
But what also showed up in many “suggestions” was one key word describing what I think is the raison d’etre of this entire silly endeavor:  “tolls”.
There isn’t a politician in this state with the guts to support for the single best solution to our transportation money needs… tolling motorists.  But mark my words:  that is what TransformCT is all about… building a citizen-wish-list of transportation projects and then telling us, “you asked for it… but now you have to pay for it… with tolls.”  The CDOT is already priming the pump for the inevitable, bringing in out-of-state experts to sell us on the value of tolls.
In an e-mail to me the CDOT said “It is the job of the DOT to execute the will of our stakeholders.”  Really?  (Tell that to the 750 daily parkers at Stamford station who will lose their spaces to a secret deal with a developer putting up a high rise… with zero public input.)
I would much rather leave the planning for our transportation future to the professional planners, engineers and experts who know what they are doing.  But if our pols would rather let you dream big, realize it comes with a price tag.

Be careful what you wish for.