State creating new transportation policy

The Connecticut Transportation Strategy Board met at the Omni New Haven Hotel Thursday to begin compiling a 10-year transportation policy for the state.

The 15-member board includes the commissioners of several state agencies, prominent businessmen and regional representatives.

The state’s administration of public transportation, likely the focus of the board’s strategy, is unique.

“Connecticut is the only state in which public transportation is a major part of the department of transportation,” said Harry Harris, chief of the Bureau of Public Transportation. Municipalities fund most public transportation systems in the United States.

The board discussed rail, air and highway travel in preparation for the final compilation.



On the rails

Trains offer one of the best opportunities to reduce highway traffic, which can pass 130,000 automobiles on Interstate 95 some days.

Rising Metro-North Railroad ridership and Shore Line East deficits have spurred studies on additional rail options.

Metro-North’s New Haven line is the single largest rail line in the United States, carrying 110,000 people each day. By comparison, Shore Line East handles 1,200 passengers daily.

To improve Metro-North’s accessibility, the board is considering a proposal to terminate some trains at New York’s Penn Station, instead of Grand Central Terminal.

As an alternative, Amtrak could offer commuter trains from New Haven to Penn Station — where its through-trains already stop — eliminating the need for the Metro-North link.

Another possibility calls for extending Shore Line East service west beyond New Haven to Greenwich, reducing the strain on the Metro-North trains. Shore Line East service currently runs only during rush hour on business days between New Haven and New London to the east.

Legal and contractual complications with the Metropolitan Transportation Authority and Amtrak and Metro-North labor unions could make the additional services challenging.

“I am fairly confident that the MTA and Metro-North would argue that we should pay 100 percent of the cost,” Harris said. “That is an issue that is unclear within the contract.”

Expanding service may be difficult, however. Projections suggest that funding for Connecticut’s public transportation will fall $2 billion short of the necessary $3.2 billion needed just to maintain the status quo over the next 10 years, Harris said.



In the air

The future of Tweed-New Haven Airport, lying in one of the most underserved markets in the country, will most likely enter into any plan the board develops.

A 1999 study revealed that Tweed-New Haven Airport infuses the region with over $19.4 million annually, despite low usage by corporate jets.

As of Sept. 30, 84,399 passengers had used the airport so far this year, already an increase over 2000′s total.

Ongoing research projects include developing a long-term strategy and an environmental impact study of the airport.

Improvements to Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks include ongoing terminal construction, planned runway rebuilding and a proposed rail link.

Through Sept. 20, 5,367,212 passengers have flown to Bradley this year.

“We even think after the events of Sept. 11 that we are going to meet or exceed last year’s totals,” Aviation Administrator Kenneth Robert said.



On the road

The board examined many transportation proposals aimed at reducing traffic on the highways.

“We’re a long way past the mode where people think we can build our way out of congestion,” said James Byrnes, chief of the Bureau of Engineering and Highway Operations.

Local modernization projects include the $700 million, 10-year reconstruction of I-95 from Long Wharf to Branford, which is nearing the final design stage, and work should begin in 2002.

“The highway structure of Connecticut is very much a product of the ’50s and ’60s,” Byrnes said. “We’re trying to bring it up to date where we can.”

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