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November 27, 2019

"Getting There" - 2020 Hindsight

As we review the details of Governor Lamont’s CT2030 transportation plan, I have a strange sense of déjà vu.  Haven’t we been through all this before?

Journey back with me to 1999 when the famous Gallis Report warned that southwestern Connecticut’s transportation woes were strangling the entire state.  If something wasn’t done, they warned, we would become “an economic cul de sac” in the burgeoning northeast.

The solution?  Yet another study, this one undertaken by Wilbur Smith Associates for SWRPA, the SouthWest Regional Planning Agency (now part of WestCOG). The report specifically looked at “congestion mitigation”, i.e. doing something about our traffic problems.

The $903,000 report was submitted in February 2003 and was titled “Vision 2020”.  You see the pattern… Vision 2020 morphs into CT2030?

Rereading the report I am struck with its many good ideas, a few of which actually came to pass:

Land Use Review:   The idea of T.O.D. (transit oriented development) has been embraced throughout the state with towns and cities planning for dense (hopefully car-free) developments near transit hubs.

More Rail Station Parking:   Also some progress, though many towns still have a 6+ year wait for annual permits.  And 20 years ago who’d have even imagined apps like Boxcar or Uber?

More Bike & Pedestrian Options:    We now have more sidewalks and bike paths as well as bike racks on buses and Metro-North.

But other “low hanging fruit” ideas still haven’t happened, like…

·       FlexTime, Staggered Work Hours and Vanpools to lighten the rush hour.  Next time you’re stuck in traffic look around:  it’s almost all SOV’s (single occupancy vehicles).

·       A “Smart Card” universally accepted for payment on all public transit.  And free transfers from buses to trains.

·       A “Weigh In Motion” system to monitor trucks without long queues at seldom-open weigh stations.

But never addressed were the big (expensive) ideas like:

·       Ramp metering, like they have in California, to stop cars from piling onto I-95 at will adding to the crush.

·       Closing some interchanges to make I-95 a truly interstate highway, not a local shortcut.
·       Adding a “zipper lane” to I-95 heading west in the AM and east in the PM… with tolls!
·       Running BRT (bus rapid transit) along the Route One corridor

·       Double tracking the Danbury branch of Metro-North.

·       Start a “feeder barge” system to bring shipping containers from NJ to New England by water, not truck.

·       Resume rail freight service by adding a rail bridge across the Hudson River.
·       Widen I-84 and Route 7 to four lanes.

·       Study the idea of high speed ferry service along the coast.

Haven’t we heard all this before?  How many of these ideas are posed again Lamont’s CT2030?  A Lot of them.

We are not lacking in ideas, just political will.  For decades the legislature has been unwilling to commit resources to our transportation infrastructure and economic future, instead wasting millions on more and more studies of the same problems.

All of these big ideas take money… big money.  But the “No Tolls CT” folks have tapped into residents’ cynicism that anything in terms of new revenue will be misspent.  And they’ve so intimidated lawmakers with threats of “Vote for Tolls, Lose at the polls” that even the bravest members can’t muster the courage to do the right thing.

Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media


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