January 25, 2005

“Governor Rell Seeks A Scapegoat”

Last week’s big Transportation Rally in Hartford was a huge success. There were over 200 concerned citizens from across the state who bussed and car-pooled up to the Capitol to tell lawmakers they must make transportation a top priority in the coming session.

In addition, there were dozens of State Representatives and Senators… drawn like moths to the flame of the assembled TV cameras, there to pledge their allegiance to getting Metro-North long overdue new equipment.

But it was Governor Jody Rell, who was not there, who stole the show with a statement read by one of her staffers. She teased the crowd with promises of big surprises to come in her forthcoming budget… “a substantial new commitment to alleviating congestion on our highways (and) improving rail and bus operations.”

Good for her. But the devil’s always in the details and her budget doesn’t come out until February 9th.

Another Rell initiative that got a lot attention was her call for a vote for Connecticut on the MTA Board and her directive to have top CDOT officials present at all Metro-North meetings. As she put it… “Over the years rail service has suffered because Connecticut does not have an equal voice before the MTA.”

Well… yes, and no.

CDOT has had a seat, but not a vote, on the MTA for years. Rail officials from CDOT spend a lot of their time, perhaps too much, attending meetings at Metro-North in New York City. (At least that gets them riding the trains so they can see firsthand how bad the conditions are). And it is true that Connecticut is Metro-North’s biggest customer, deriving 65% of its income from running the trains in our state for CDOT. Governor Rell is right. Connecticut does deserve a seat and a vote on the MTA board.

But it is patently false for her to say that our current plight on Metro-North is due to the lack of a vote on the MTA Board. Our biggest problems today are of our own making, not MTA’s. To blame them for our woes is just wrong.

It was CDOT that raised the fares 20% in the last two years, not the MTA.

It was CDOT (and especially Governor Rowland’s) neglect of infrastructure that has us scrambling for used rail cars while our Westchester friends enjoy new equipment. That neglect had nothing to do with MTA.

It was poor planning and the NIMBY attitude of Connecticut towns that leaves us with five year waiting lists for inadequate parking at the train stations, not MTA.

Governor Rell has done a number of good things since she took office, many of them in transportation. But she must be honest with commuters, or their cynicism with grow. Commuters aren’t stupid. They know that last winter we had days when 140 of our 343 cars were out of service, so when she says “help in on the way” in the form of 26 used rail cars from Virginia… only eight of which are now in service… what are we to think?

Blaming the MTA for our current crisis is a contention not supported by the facts. We, meaning all of us in Connecticut, created this mess. And we’re going to have to fix it. If she’s got any guts, the Governor’s budget will propose higher gas taxes, tolls on I-95 and the Merritt and other user fees. There’s one way out of this crisis… money. Enough rhetoric… it’s time for action.

JIM CAMERON has been a Darien resident for 13 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


Stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic the other day on I-95 I grumbled to myself “Where is all this traffic coming from?”   And then I remembere...