Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has said that his big focus for 2015 is going to be transportation infrastructure. This is excellent news; our state has lagged behind in transportation for too long. We don’t yet know where he’ll focus transportation spending, so here’s a list of suggestions:
Expand bus rapid transit
CTFastrak is going to be a success; in fact, if you look at the economic activity and investment it’s attracting, it already is. Because buses can easily enter and exit the busway at many points along the route, it’s incredibly flexible, and will work with many of the area’s busiest lines.
We should be looking at expanding bus rapid transit (BRT) services. There are a few possibilities for clear expansion to the north and east. For example, there is a disused rail line running up through Bloomfield toward Bradley Airport. This line was the focus of a proposed light rail project called the Griffin Line back in the 1990s. It should be repurposed for bus rapid transit traffic and stations, and finally provide the mass transit link between the airport and downtown that the state needs. BRT could also be expanded east toward Manchester on disused rail lines there. BRT lanes can also run in dedicated, separated lanes on major streets. This is what Cleveland did, with much success.
If BRT is a success in Hartford, there’s no reason it can’t be expanded to other cities like New Haven and Bridgeport. Bus rapid transit is going to be a big part of the future in this country, and we should invest in it.
Improve rail service
Rail service in Connecticut has fallen on hard times, lately. The new commuter rail line scheduled for 2016 will be a boon for the state, but more needs to be done. That line needs someone to run it; Connecticut needs to choose wisely. The second phase of stations needs to be built sooner rather than later.
Secondly, Metro-North needs a shakeup. The tracks need work. The trains aren’t running on time. Surely we can fix this. Also, Metro-North could be expanded. The Waterbury line ends at, well, Waterbury. But there are tracks between Waterbury and Berlin, where they link up with the main tracks connecting New Haven, Hartford, and Springfield. Let’s upgrade them and start passenger service there.
Lastly, the line running from New Haven to New London needs a boost. Shore Line East’s ridership is strong, and it would be even stronger if the trains ran more often.
Rail trail expansion and other
Rail trails are cheap, and they can make a huge difference in a community’s quality of life. Unusued rails and railroad rights-of-way exist all over the state — why not convert a few into multi-use trails? Let’s connect the Farmington Canal trails together and make it possible to bike from New Haven to Massachusetts, for instance.
Our cities and larger towns also need better bicycle infrastructure, from dedicated, separate bike lanes to improved crossings to bike share programs. New Haven, which has a large and passionate cycling community, would benefit most from this sort of improvement.
Rethink cars and highways
Our highways aren’t in great shape, and we know our bridges need work. But beyond this, we need to think about whether we are well-served by these massive ribbons of pavement cutting through our cities and towns. Imagine, for example, how different Hartford would be without the looming Aetna Viaduct that carries I-84 through the heart of the city. Many cities, like Waterbury and Bridgeport, have large sections of elevated highway that might work better in a different configuration. I-84 in Hartford, for example, would work a lot better as a tunnel — just as Boston is much better with I-93 buried.
We also need to think about what we put on those highways. The cars of the very near future will run on hydrogen and electricity; in fact, Toyota is rolling out hydrogen-powered cars in California next year. We ought to have them here as well. Let’s invest in fueling stations for hydrogen and electric cars at points all around the state.
Avoid the mistakes of the past
What we don’t need is the same sort of thinking that has made Connecticut a transportation nightmare over the past 50 years. No more huge highway projects, no more acres of asphalt and concrete covering up cities and towns, and no more sacrificing city real estate to create parking spaces.
Public transit and smarter highways and cars are a better way forward. I hope the governor embraces it.
Susan Bigelow is an award-winning columnist and the founder of CTLocalPolitics. She lives in Enfield with her wife and their cats.
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