Monday, May 23, 2005

Going Nowhere, Slowly

State Not Addressing Many Transportation Issues

Last week, the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee voted to throw out a proposed gas tax that would have helped to pay for a multimillion dollar transportation plan proposed by Governor Rell. The plan itself remained largely unchanged, with money earmarked for specific road improvements shuffled around to other projects identified by the Transportation Strategy Board. Rell's plan focuses on adding over 300 cars to Metro North's New Haven Line, and making improvements to I-95.

This is a small step in the right direction, but leaves the state dealing with a host of unresolved transportation issues. Here is a partial list of problems and possible solutions (feel free to add your own):

1. Route 11. Weren't we supposed to finish this thing twenty years ago? Every election season candidates campaign on a promise to "finish Route 11," but so far the bridges over CT-82 in Salem still lead to dirt trails instead of I-95. Southeastern Connecticut could use the economic boost the finished road would provide, especially given recent events.

2. Route 6. Wetland issues and NIMBYs have held up the building of a planned expressway for decades, while people continue to die on "Suicide 6." An expressway linking I-384 and the US-6 expressway in Willimantic would be a benefit for eastern Connecticut. Let's find a solution now.

3. I-95 in Fairfield County. Probably the biggest transportation nightmare in the state. Fairfield County is a parking lot during rush hour: how can this be fixed? Rell's proposal to add cars to Metro North is a good start, but are there other solutions? Adding yet another lane is probably not the solution, since traffic will continue to increase beyond the roadway's capacity. Decent local public transportation might be a start. Would putting the tolls back in force people on to the trains and buses?

4. Hartford County. Public transportation in most of Hartford County is terrible at best. The New Britain-Hartford busway is stalled, last I heard, and it really wasn't all that great of an idea to begin with. Why tear up train tracks to put in a bus line? Why not have, say, trains? Light rail ideas like the Griffin Line north of the city have been floated for years without any solution or serious proposals. Traffic, in the meantime, is getting worse. A proposed commuter rail line between New Haven and Springfield may help, especially by constructing new stations in Newington and Enfield.

5. I-84 . I-84 is a mess in the western part of the state. This is a major national thoroughfare now, especially for truckers, and it should be treated as one. Adding another lane and making other improvements to interchanges, etc., is necessary.

There are many others I've left off this list, like the enticing possiblity of building a bridge across the Sound, but feel free to comment on them.

A wise mix of improvements and upgrades to public transportation and traditional highway systems will help to improve our quality of life and to keep Connecticut economically viable. Like it or not, highways and other forms of transportation drive economic growth, and should be one of our top priorities.


stomv said...

So we're going to build a bridge over the Sound to save traffic around NYC? Fahgetaboutit. About the only additional revenue CT will get is gas tax as folks from Lon Guyland drive to the Indian Casinos.

Bah. You simply cannot solve traffic with more roads. Cars will always fill the lanes.

I agree that more cars for Metro North would help -- as would spending millions of dollars to straighten out the track and properly bank the curves, thereby allowing the trains to shave a few minutes off of each trip. A faster train, as well as more runs per day will make the train far more attractive.

Additionally, increasing the amount of HOV lanes will help in the long run too. While we're at it, expanding and connecting bicycle paths around Hartford, New Haven, Danbury, etc. would help to reduce the number of cars on the roads due to local traffic. Simply put, CT has got to make commuting by other methods faster & cheaper than by car.

It's a shame they couldn't get the gas tax through committee, but you can be damned sure that increasing the gas tax right now is not the politically savvy thing to do. If the prices fall to below $2.00, perhaps raising them after Labor Day might work. But, there's no way you'll pull it off before then.

Indian2Nighthawk said...

Transportation is the key to survival and job growth for our state. Period.

Investments along the transportation assets mentioned above are key. If we cannot get products to markets or people to places of business we are in trouble.

It is clear to me that Connecticut's transportation issues are more and more not a regional issue. Connecticut cars are on the road but so is anyone drving from NY to Mass. Putting up tolls at the beginning and ending points of 95/84 and 91North all make sense. It helps to create revenue and the out-of-stater's help foot the bill.

I know toll reinstallation will have an effect on federal funding but we need to re-examine our view in some way. If it is clear that the cost outweighs the benefit then of course we shouldn't do it. But please, someone give the public some numbers so we know what is going on!

Genghis Conn said...

When I was in western Europe, I was amazed by how omnipresent public transportation was. Even in some of the most rural parts of Germany, I was easily able to board a convenient bus and ride in to town. Mass transit was cheap and effective, and nearly everybody used it.

I'd love to see that here, but there is a fundamental difference between Europe and the U.S. that stands in the way: sprawl. In Europe, populations are highly centralized, simply because that was the way land use evolved. Basically, aristocrats owned all of the land (and farmed it) except for a small patch of ground on which the town stood. The town, therefore, had predefined limits, which were further reinforced by the use of town and city walls. There is still a sharp divide between town and country in many parts of Europe, although this is beginning to change to a certain degree. Therefore, public transportation has clearly defined hubs.

America, on the other hand, is a nightmare of suburban sprawl, most of it accessable only through cars. Public transportation is much harder here, because we are so decentralized.

The point is that we have to deal with cars and highways--there's no easy way to change that. Increased reliance on public transportation will help as we grapple with solutions, but they won't fix everything.

stomv said...

Transportation is the key to survival and job growth for our state. Period.

I don't disagree that it is essential. However, I simply don't believe that building more/wider roads results in improved transportation. I believe it's a money sink.

I believe that the way to improve transportation within the state is to provide alternatives to 1-person-1-auto transportation. Improved cycling lanes. More HOV lanes. More&faster busses. More&faster commuter rail. Smarter development in downtown areas that mix office space and residential, thereby allowing people to *gasp* walk to work.

Provide alternatives to the current status quo, don't merely increase the number of cars that can sit in a traffic jam by widening the road. It just plain doesn't work.

dumbruss said...

As a Fairfield Co. commuter, I can personally speak to how attrocious the Parkway and the Turnpike get in the morning and afternoon rushes. The problem is that they get so bad, that the back roads and assorted "shortcuts" all also get backed up. In other words, all of Fairfield Co. becomes one giant traffic jam.

The solution isn't public transportation because of sprawl issues. Public transportation works when it is more convenient than private transportation. That's why the subway in NYC is so dominant. No one is going to send a bus to my door and drive me to work. Any other suggestion is a pipe dream.

If I were king of the world here is what I would do:

Between 7 and 9AM and 4 and 7pm, no trucks (over a certain size) would be allowed on the highways. Tolls would be added in Greenwich, Stonington, Enfield, Union and Danbury coming into and out of the state. Those tolls would be at least $3 a car. If we have to justify it in any way, we'll put them over bridges only. We wouldn't be the only state to be this unfair. Drive through Delaware (a state that understands that only people passing through drive on I-95)some time. Lastly, I would add lanes to 95 and the Merritt. I wonder when people are going to realize that as beautiful as the Merritt is, it still needs to be a workable road. Both roads need to be 4 lanes all the time from the state line to New Haven. If need-be, make the new lanes one of those carpool/pay-extra lanes, to at least attempt to reduce the traffic burden.

Just my 2 cents.

stomv said...

I disagree with much of dumbruss.

I agree that the tolls on the border would be great. Of course, what it does lead to is absolutely making travel by car more than a few hundred miles absolutely miserable.

Imagine paying $3 "entrance fair" from Boston to Orlando. CT, NY, NJ, DE, MD, VA, NC, SC, GA, FL. $30 in tolls before you include all the current tolls.

As for sprawl being an excuse for poor public transportation, I think it's a weak excuse. Access to public transportation results in undoing sprawl. Living near a commuter rail stop, a light rail stop, etc. is more valuable -- and hence the housing and businesses near those stops increases. Furthermore, there's no reason why folks in Fairfield County can't commute to the commuter rail stop and ride the rail -- and heck, they can drive there in an HOV lane with their neighbor who's heading the same way anyway.

Don't think that HOV lanes alter behavior? Check out . People in Washington DC carpool with strangers on an unscheduled daily basis. I'm not saying that this is what Fairfield County should do, just illustrating the power of the HOV.

And then there's bicycle paths for short commutes, increasing access to highspeed bandwidth for telecommuting, etc.

The myopic kneejerk reaction of building more roads to alleviate traffic only results in more traffic -- not less.

dumbruss said...

Drive down the eastern seaboard sometime. There are tolls in NY, NJ, DE, MD and VA (although not if you only follow 95 in VA). Its already miserable, Ez-Pass is the only saving grace, and it already costs an average driver $20-$30. CT would only be claiming its fair piece of the pie.

Don't you think everyone would support an effective public transportation system in CT if it could be built (including me)? My point is that you are never going to provide a system in CT that will approximate public transportation in a big city. Homes are too spread out. Businesses are too spread out. HOV/Pay more lanes would be the only really possible system to have any kind of a chance in reducing congestion.

stomv said...

Don't you think everyone would support an effective public transportation system in CT if it could be built (including me)?

No, no I don't. There's the greedy type, who don't want the government to spend money on it because they won't be riding on it personally. There's the NIMBY type, who don't want it near their neigborhood. There's the SUV-type, who believe DOT should exist only for paving more roads.

There's tons of people who don't wouldn't want public transportation in CT, even if it could be shown to be a brilliant deal.

Additionally, your claim that "HOV/Pay more lanes would be the only really possible system to have any kind of a chance in reducing congestion." is also false. HOV is one way to reduce congestion. Other things I mentioned still hold true. Change zoning to encourage a higher density in city centers. Improve cycling paths. Expand the availability of broadband. Encourage workplaces to shift work time, or allow more flextime to reduce rush hour demand.

There are tons of ways to reduce traffic, a little bit at a time. They take time, follow through, and a long term vision -- things that government rarely is capable of.

Aldon Hynes said...

I started writing my comments on this post, but it rapidly grew to a fairly long post in and of itself, so I thought I would post it over on The DeStefano blog. Stop by and share your thoughts.