After one year in office, Mayor Toni Harp has yet to make substantial progress on a number of her transportation goals for the Elm City.
In last February’s State of the City address, Harp outlined three specific transportation initiatives she planned to begin in her first year. First, she sought to connect New Haven to other major cities by lobbying to add flights from local Tweed Airport to Florida, Washington, D.C. and Chicago. Harp’s second goal was to improve transportation to New York City by introducing a one-hour express train from Union Station to Grand Central. Finally, she pledged to add buses and expand bus routes in New Haven. Though the city has made varying degrees of headway on all of Harp’s goals under her leadership, none of the three have yet been achieved.
Adding flights out of Tweed — a task that Harp said would be completed in two years at last year’s State of the City — is complex because it requires action at the state and federal levels in addition to the city level, City Hall spokesperson Laurence Grotheer said.
“There has been progress,” he said. “But it’s really only incremental progress.”
According to Grotheer, the city must communicate with New Haven and East Haven residents to first gauge interest in the project. Then, the mayor must appeal to both the state and federal governments, specifically the Connecticut State Department of Transportation and Federal Aviation Administration, to acquire the license to add the flights. The last piece of the project, he said, is to work with the private airlines willing to offer service out of Tweed Airport. While the airport used to receive flights from 12 major airlines, currently only five major airlines operate out of Tweed.
“We’re not there yet because we’ve given ourselves a very high bar to get over,” City Economic Development Administrator Matthew Nemerson SOM ’81 said. “But it’s one of highest priorities. This administration has an ongoing commitment to making the airport more useful to the region.”
Nemerson said he has met with residents living close to Tweed Airport to build trust and convince them that the addition of flights would be worth any inconvenience of higher traffic in the area. He estimated that approximately 1.5 million Connecticut residents live closer to Tweed than any other airport and would benefit from the added destinations.
In addition to supporting an extension of Tweed’s services, in her February address, Harp dubbed New Haven the “great small city” between New York and Boston, calling for improved transit options to both cities. During her 2013 campaign, Harp specifically proposed a high-speed transportation option from New Haven to New York to reduce the travel time to one hour. A high-speed transit option already exists between New Haven and Boston, Grotheer added, citing that the Acela service only makes two stops, in New London and Providence, en route to Boston in two hours. Though New Haven is roughly 60 miles closer to New York than Boston, both the Metro North and Acela options from the Elm City to New York are only about 15 minutes shorter than the Acela service to Boston.
Harp has yet to make significant moves on this one-hour train service initiative, but Grotheer said it remains a goal of her administration. He added that progress has been made on the New Haven—Hartford—Springfield line, a new commuter service.
Gov. Dannel Malloy announced on Jan. 12 that the State Bond Commission had approved $5.75 million of funding for the development of design plans of new railroad stations along the line.
“Creating a commuter rail line along the 1-91 corridor is part of our transformative transportation vision for Connecticut,” Malloy said in a statement. “This bond authorization will give this important project needed momentum.”
City Director of Transportation, Traffic and Parking Doug Hausladen ’04 echoed Malloy’s sentiment, but added that while the governor has expressed commitment to a “big, transformative planning project” for transportation, he has yet to lay out a specific plan to that effect.
Hausladen said that his department’s primary focus is the restructuring of Route 34. The city will remove two of the highway’s exits to make room for the new Downtown Crossing to be built on the former Coliseum site. Hausladen added that Harp’s goal of improving bus transport in the city was also a department priority.
With funding assistance from the Federal Transit Administration and the state, the city is carrying out a one million dollar study of the city’s transit routes to determine weaknesses in the system as it stands.
“In order to actually change the system, we need to have information,” Hausladen said.
Grotheer said one of the holes in the current system is that there are not buses running between areas outside of the city, so residents must come into downtown instead of travelling directly between these satellite locations — an issue revamped city bus routes would address.
Harp will deliver the 2015 State of the City address on Feb. 2.