Christine Stuart photo

Connecticut Public Interest Research Group members, lawmakers, and transit advocates gathered Tuesday at Union Station in Hartford to highlight the need for increased investment in public transportation.

Their voices echoed across the mostly empty train station as they urged both Congress and state lawmakers to focus on funding things such as commuter rail and bus service.

Rep. David McCluskey, D-West Hartford, pointed out that the train station should be filled with people traveling to Boston and New York, but it is not.

However, McCluskey and Speaker of the House Chris Donovan, D-Meriden, were optimistic about the chances of securing federal funds to make commuter rail between Springfield, Mass. and New Haven, a reality.

U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd has said the goal is to have eight stops along the high-speed rail line. In May he said he was optimistic that the high-speed rail line will become a reality under Amtrak’s new leadership and with the help of federal funds.

Christine Stuart photo

McCluskey also touted Dodd’s Livable Communities Act as a step in the right direction. Dodd introduced the bill in the Senate prior to undergoing prostate surgery. According to Dodd’s spokeswoman who attended Tuesday’s event on his behalf, the bill offers federal funds to communities that encourage affordable housing development along public transportation routes.

For years, buses, rail, and bike lanes have received “bread crumbs” in comparison to the amount of federal funds allocated for highway construction, Danielle McLaughlin, of ConnPIRG said Tuesday.

McCluskey agreed. He said one of the first things to happen when the state was faced with a budget deficit was the deauthorization of bond funds for a statewide bus system.

“We shouldn’t have led with cutting bus service,” McCluskey said. “And we should not let Gov. Rell increase bus fares 40 percent.”

While McCluskey anticipates that there will be some bus fare increase in the budget, he doesn’t suspect it will be as high as 40 percent.

But at the moment, Anton Rick-Ossen isn’t worried about fares. He’s worried about getting from here to there.

He said the lack routes in Hartford is frustrating. He said not only do Hartford’s buses make too many stops, they don’t go north to south so it takes much longer to get anywhere.

It’s also impossible, he said,to figure out how to get anywhere if you don’t know the routes because more signage is needed

“Public transit is not rocket science,” Rick-Ossen said.

Public transportation should be a priority because it promotes prosperity and equality, Rick-Ossen said. He wondered how much more disposable income Connecticut residents would have if they could ditch their cars and ride public transit anywhere they needed to go.

“The only thing preventing us from creating usable public transportation is ourselves,” he said. “Our challenge is to do something about it.”

Highway Funding

The co-chairs of the Transportation Committee will convene an informational forum Wednesday to discuss capital improvement projects funded under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Contractors are concerned that funding hasn’t been distributed during the summer construction season.

The hearing will be held at 2:30 p.m. at the Legislative Office building in Hartford.