Mass-transit spending rises

Gov. M. Jodi Rell announced Monday that she expects $26.5 million in bonds to be approved by the State Bond Commission for increasing mass-transit options and improvements for state highways.

The funding, which includes $12.5 million for improvements to Interstate 95 and $1.25 million for a study for the Hartford-Springfield-New Haven commuter rail line, is part of a transportation package passed in February by the General Assembly, the second such package approved during Rell’s administration.

State Department of Transportation spokesman Chris Cooper said Rell’s plan is crucial for reducing car dependency and congestion.

“Particularly important is the idea of multi-modal travel,” Cooper said. “When we do things like the Hartford-Springfield, we want some of the stations to be accessible by bus and train. That way people can utilize mass transportation [with] a lot more flexibility.”

The remaining money will go towards funding improvements for state routes 22, 82 and 83. Also included under the funding proposal are expanded parking at Branford’s rail station and the purchase of 23 new buses to increase service in inner city and rural areas, Rell spokesman Judd Everhart said. Although Rell’s proposal passed in February focuses on mass transit, only about $7 million of the funding expected to be passed this week is being allocated to bus or rail lines. Everhart said the projects currently on the table are just a small percentage of what Rell eventually hopes to pass.

“We could always do more, but these have to be paced and funded accordingly,” Everhart said.

Rell, who allocated $1.3 billion for transportation improvements in her initial package last year, has been criticized for failing to spend enough money on transportation. The Connecticut Transportation Safety Board estimated in 2003 that approximately $5.5 billion will be necessary to bring Connecticut’s transportation system up to speed. But Rell spokesman Adam Liegeot ’94 said Rell is doing more for the state’s transportation than any other governor in recent history.

“Governor Rell has really been relentless in moving the state forward in making unprecedented investments in transportation whether it be rail, highway, bus,” Liegeot said. “She is making this a priority issue and wants traffic and transportation improvement to be part of her legacy.”

Still, New Haven City Plan Director Karen Gilvarg said Monday’s announcement was not without precedent.

“This is nothing new,” Gilvarg said. “Most of the things in her plan were transportation needs that had been identified by the Transportation Safety Board and other organizations.”

Gilvarg said that while the transportation improvements are long overdue, a gas tax or increased tolls should be used to fund the projects instead of state bond money.

“It’s unfortunate to see so much bonding go into these improvements,” Gilvarg said. “If they used a different source of revenue, more bond funding would be available for other state needs.”

The State Bond Commission will meet on Friday to decide whether or not to approve the bonding. The commission will also rule on $2.5 million for capital improvements to New Haven’s Neighborhood Music School and $1.2 million for repairs to New Haven’s state courthouse.

Interstate 95, above, will be improved with new state funding that will also benefit commuter rail lines. Gov. M. Jodi Rell has made improvements to transportation a key policy goal, though some say her proposals are inadequate.
Michael Blank
Interstate 95, above, will be improved with new state funding that will also benefit commuter rail lines. Gov. M. Jodi Rell has made improvements to transportation a key policy goal, though some say her proposals are inadequate.

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