New Haven residents sick of highway traffic may soon have a more convenient way to get to Hartford.
Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s mass transit initiative, which will come before the General Assembly Feb. 8, proposes adding commuter rail service eight times daily on the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield line and a buslink to Bradley International Airport, according to a statement issued by Rell’s office Sunday. Other proposals include the rehabilitation of 40 Metro-North rail cars, expanded bus service in the Hartford area and an expansion of commuter rail service in the North Haven area.
The new plan follows a $1.3 billion initiative approved by the state’s General Assembly last year to refurbish state highways and add rail cars to Metro-North. A price tag for the new proposal has not yet been determined, but the initiative should not cause an increase in taxes, Rell spokesman Judd Everhart said. Rell hopes to draw funding for the initiative from federal funds and a transfer of petroleum gross receipts tax revenues to the state’s Special Transportation Fund, the statement said.
City officials have lobbied for the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield commuter line for years, New Haven Deputy Director of Economic Development Tony Bialecki said. The new service, Bialecki said, will be a boon for the Elm City’s economy.
“Not only would it free up problems on the highway corridors, [but] we think a lot of people would live in New Haven and work up in the Hartford area,” he said.
Although Amtrak trains already run on the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield line, a commuter rail line would offer customers cheaper fares and more flexibility in arrival and departure times, Bialecki said.
Former State Commissioner of Economic Development Joe McGee said Rell’s emphasis on mass transit places transportation reform on the right path.
“Connecticut cannot pour concrete and roads to get itself out of its highway problem,” he said. “Busways and mass transit have to be at the forefront of a 21st century plan. For the governor to stand up and say that the 21st century is going to be built on mass transit is very long overdue, and she gets credit.”
But the scale of Rell’s proposal will not be enough to permanently resuscitate Connecticut’s ailing transportation system, McGee said. A report released by the Connecticut Transportation Strategy Board in 2003 estimated that around $5.5 billion over 10 years would be necessary to bring Connecticut’s transportation system up to an acceptable standard. Until an investment of that size is approved, McGee said, Connecticut’s economy will continue to have problems competing with those of nearby states.
Neighboring Massachusetts, for instance, is considering a $31 billion plan to be paid for throughout the next 20 years to address transportation infrastructure needs, said Kevin Maloney, spokesperson for the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, which released a report last year advocating the use of $4.8 billion in state funds for transportation infrastructure within the next decade.
“The question is, ‘Can the legislature enact enough money to make a difference?’ We’re hopeful that the legislature will take the governor’s proposal and build on it,” Maloney said. “Certainly, everyone recognizes more needs to be done.”
Antonio Guerrera, co-chair of the state legislative transportation commission, also said more money should be put into transportation reform, but he said an equal emphasis should be placed on altering commuter habits through tax incentives and educational campaigns.
“When you ask people to leave their car at home … they have a hard time with that,” he said. “With all the money you put into [mass transit], if people don’t use it, we’re throwing away money.”
Rell’s proposal also includes plans to improve bus service between rail stations and major employers. Cost and funding details, according to the statement, are scheduled for release next month.