With a new administration comes the possibility of new and better transportation options in Connecticut, and so far Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has at least seemed to want to act to change the way the state gets around. One of the major problems facing any new transportation initiative is the lack of money at either the state of federal level, so whether the face of Connecticut transportation will actually change is anyone’s guess.
So what’s on the table, and what can Connecticut residents actually expect to see in the future?
New Haven-Hartford-Springfield Commuter Rail – The long-discussed and long-delayed commuter rail project is plodding along towards the start of actual construction, which isn’t scheduled for a few more years. Right now it’s in the middle of a two year environmental study. Support for a commuter rail line linking the towns along the I-91 corridor has remained strong, and funding seems to exist. The project would re-install double tracking along the whole length of the line (the original second track was removed in the early 1990s—see how foresight often fails us?) and either build or upgrade stations at eleven stops.
Prognosis: Not bad. I feel a lot better about this happening than when I first heard of the project back in 2002. But don’t expect to catch a train from Enfield to Newington any time soon; current plans suggest this line won’t be up and running for about a decade.
High Speed Rail – The other upgrade along the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield corridor is the addition of high-speed rail. This is part of the federal government’s strategy of creating a high-speed intercity network.
Prognosis: Decent. Federal funds exist, and meetings are being held. High-level officials, including the new chair of the U.S. House transportation committee and Gov. Malloy, are on board.
New Britain-Hartford Busway – Ah, the busway, the transportation initiative nobody ever admits to liking. The plan is to have a dedicated bus line, paving over an abandoned rail line in most places, with stops in Hartford, West Hartford, Newington and New Britain. I’ve always had a lukewarm feeling about the busway, but it’s the best chance for a real rapid transit link between central Connecticut’s two major population centers. The project has run into some opposition, most notably from Bristol lawmakers who want to see a light rail line connecting their city to Hartford and New Britain, and, more recently, the Newington town council. You can see more about the arguments for and against the busway in a piece I wrote last month.
Prognosis: Okay. I think in the end it will happen, because there is simply not a critical mass of people willing to stop it, and it’s been moving forward for a long time. We’ll see what the governor has to say about it, though.
Border Tolls – One idea that has been gaining more traction lately is the re-introduction of tolls to Connecticut’s highways after an absence of nearly 30 years. The current plan seems to be to put tolls on the major border crossings with New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. Prepare for a huge outcry from border towns about the economic impact if this ever actually seems likely. Enfield’s major commercial area, for example, depends on shoppers driving down from Massachusetts.
Prognosis: Better than expected. I’m kind of amazed that this idea is still alive, given how unpopular tolls always are.
Waterbury-Hartford Rail – There’s an idea out there to extend commuter rail service north from Waterbury, and connect the center of the state with the Metro-North network that way.
Prognosis: Don’t hold your breath. For one thing, the existing freight line desperately needs upgrades that no one wants to pay for, and the state has more pressing transit demands.
Aetna Viaduct Removal – The aging Aetna Viaduct, the massive elevated section of I-84 in Hartford, needs replacing, and residents and others are agitating for the bridge to come down. It’s a great idea. The highway has done a lot of damage to Hartford, and I’ve seen a lot of positive ideas for what should replace it. My favorite thus far is re-routing I-84 to the north and replacing the existing right-of-way with an urban boulevard, though the most likely scenario seems to be burying the interstate instead. The DOT seems interested in some of these plans, and popular opinion in the city is against the original idea of leaving the viaduct where it is.
Prognosis: Iffy at best. This is the sort of project that needs a constant focus of attention to make it happen, so we’ll see if residents and advocates for the capital city can keep this on the front burner.
Route 11 – In the middle of nowhere, there is a nearly-empty highway that dead-ends at Route 82. Governments have alternately promised to finish it and declared it dead for decades. Apparently there’s talk of digging up this tired old corpse and flogging it some more.
Prognosis: Sorry, New London County. It’ll never happen. You didn’t want to go to Hartford anyway, right?
Susan Bigelow is the former owner/author of CTLocalPolitics.com. She lives in Enfield with her wife and cats.