Last week, a number of Connecticut’s prominent public officials joyously announced overdue plans for building around Windsor Locks’ proposed train station. The press conference focused on federal funding as well as developers’ plans for connecting public transit with local development, or transit-oriented development. But linking transportation hubs like Windsor Locks’ station to Bradley International Airport, remains an ongoing saga in Connecticut.
Last year, over $62 million in state and federal funding was approved to help fund a new train station in downtown Windsor Locks, including $45 million from the state Bond Commission. Plans include a market, apartments and an airport-shuttle waiting area.
But state and local officials are relying on Congress to approve the infrastructure bill to finish double tracking for CTrail’s Hartford Line and Amtrak trains. If plans do go out to bid next month, construction could begin next spring and be completed in a couple of years.
While the Hartford Line was only built in 2018, it has sparked and even propelled development around various stations. This includes Meriden’s stop and plans for additional train stations in West Hartford and Enfield, among other towns. These proposed initiatives are long overdue and serve as a reminder that Connecticut can be accessible and less automobile-reliant.
While public transit has largely been an urban issue, multimodal approaches often lure younger and older residents especially in dense regional areas. If Connecticut is going to successfully grow, especially in this decade, varied transportations options and effective development need to be planned.
Transit-oriented development is hardly new. Nearby states have grown around existing transportation hubs, especially New Jersey ‘s transit village proposals and Maryland’s smart growth initiatives. Transit-oriented development is merely one approach to addressing mixed-use development and confronting overdevelopment or sprawl.
But Connecticut and many of its municipalities have much to learn about effective development approaches. While we cherish local decision-making or home rule, regional planning is Connecticut’s Achilles’ heel. Divided municipalities and few development approaches limit our state’s economic growth. And, interestingly, no Connecticut university offers an accredited graduate planning program, which speaks volumes about our economic development and transportation priorities.
Public transit in Connecticut is often an overlooked opportunity and bureaucratic affair. We have so many authorities and transit districts that hardly allow passengers to transfer systems that a universal pass for various trains and buses is nearly impossible to conceive. Even connecting transit systems is a rare feat along the Hartford Line as the train runs parallel to CTfastrak for miles.
Another fitting example is getting to Bradley International Airport by public transit. There may be hourly CTtransit bus service, but Hartford Line train riders must transfer at downtown Hartford’s Union Station because there is no direct service from Windsor Locks’ existing train station. I have taken these transit routes and scheduling a train from New Haven to Hartford and then riding a 45-minute bus to the airport is a strategic ordeal.
In light of Windsor Locks’ plans for a new train station, hopefully there will be an effective link between the station and the airport. Connecticut, and the Greater Hartford area especially, deserve pragmatic planning initiatives. Building transit-orientated development around existing and newly created public transportation points is a start. But connecting mass transit lines to one another and to a critical regional airport must be a priority. Connecticut could stand to do a better job with linking transit hubs with each other especially for our state economy’s sake.
Jonathan L. Wharton, Ph.D. is the associate dean of the School of Graduate and Professional Studies and teaches political science at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven.