Gov. Ned Lamont and Transportation Commissioner Joseph Giulietti Credit: Hugh McQuaid / CTNewsJunkie

HARTFORD, CT – As Gov. Ned Lamont urged a regional convention of transportation officials to use new infrastructure funding to make a “transformational difference” on Monday, his transportation commissioner floated an idea to transform CTfastrak into a light-rail system.

Lamont helped kick off an annual conference of the Northeast Association of State Transportation Officials at the Hartford Marriott. The regional group of government transportation employees includes representatives of East Coast states from Maine to Maryland as well as Washington D.C. and Quebec. Organizers expected as many as 370 people would gather for the convention over its three-day agenda.

The governor told the group that the passage of last year’s more than $1 trillion infrastructure investment package represented a once-in-a-generation opportunity for the transportation industry.

“There’s very few times when you make a transformational difference and I think this is one of those unique times where in transportation, we can make that difference,” Lamont said, comparing the moment to the spread of canals or rail during prior generations.

“Think strategically. Think about what our state and our region can look like once this trillion dollars is fully invested,” Lamont said. “Make sure to invest that money incredibly carefully.”

Lamont said the federal law, which increased the federal funding formulas for state transportation projects and made more money available through competitive grants, had allowed Connecticut to speed up the rollout of its five-year infrastructure plan.

Earlier Monday, the administration announced the start of six new trains on Metro-North’s New Haven rail line and seven new weekday trains on the Waterbury line.

However, during his own remarks to the convention, state Transportation Commissioner Joseph Giulietti pitched another idea: converting CTfastrak – a dedicated bus line running between New Britain and Hartford – into a light-rail system similar to trolleys.

“You can see that you can build on a bus system that will one day become a light-rail system going forward,” Giulietti told NASTO members.

Giulietti clarified the remarks to reporters, saying the idea was a personal aspiration but one he argued made sense.

“You look at that viaduct and immediately anybody that’s been in the industry is going to say ‘Oh my God, all you gotta do is drop in some tracks here, you can run down the viaduct, we’ll have a light-rail system that can act as a heavy rail system with[out] interfering with traffic,’” Giulietti said.

The dedicated bus line, which began operation in 2015, has recently seen a surge in ridership as commuters have taken advantage of a temporary suspension of bus pass fees, which was included in a bill that also created a holiday on the state’s gasoline excise tax.

Giulietti said the transit system’s existing ridership would help the state secure federal funding for a potential conversion to light rail.

“As the ridership increases, you will be able to use that buy-in of the ridership as your justification to go and make it into a rail,” he said.

In the past, constructing light-rail systems has cost around $80 million per mile and inflation has driven up the cost of construction, Giulietti said. CTfastrak runs about 9.4 miles. Giulietti told reporters there were no immediate plans to begin the project.

“We’re years away from being able to do it. There’s not enough ridership there that I would push it but do I envision it? Yes,” Giulietti said.