On Oct. 30, the Connecticut General Assembly passed a $2.9 billion bonding bill, ending a 5-month impasse between Assembly Democrats and Governor Jodi Rell (see MTR #565). The new bill includes $864 million has been allocated to transportation projects. Some highlights include:
- Cancellation of the proposed $1-per-trip fare hike for the New Haven Line (see MTR #500). Instead, a 1.25% fare increase will take effect in 2010, with a 1% increase in existing fares every year thereafter until 2016.
- $150 million (FY08-FY09) for the establishment of a “fix-it-first” program for Connecticut’s existing state roads and bridges.
- The purchase of up to 38 electric rail cars for the New Haven Line and Shore Line East commuter rail services.
- $20 million (FY08), to be allocated for improvements in bus connectivity as follows:
- $14 million to build bus maintenance and storage facilities in the Windham and Torrington regional transit districts.
- $5 million to buy and install clean diesel bus retrofits.
- $1 million to buy vehicles for elderly and disabled demand responsive transportation programs that participate in the state municipal dial-a-ride matching grant program.
- $12 million slotted to the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) for the establishment of a Connecticut bikeway grants program for municipalities.
- $5 million allocated to a Transit-Oriented Development Pilot Program.
- Funding to increase monitoring and transparency of truck weigh station activities and create safer highways and roads.
While these transportation dollars are welcomed, particularly the $20 million allocation to increase bus connectivity, many of the details in the aforementioned projects are cause for concern.
The TOD pilot program, for example, defines TOD in extremely broad terms (see MTR #552). The state starts off on the right foot by defining TOD as “the development of residential, commercial and employment centers within one-half mile or walking distance of public transportation facilities…that meet transit supportive standards for land uses, built environment densities and walk-able environments.” However, the program also makes eligible for funding any “strategic transportation” project, any project that is substantially funded by the local, state, or federal government, and any project where substantial planning is either under way or has been completed. Given this definition, “transit-oriented development” could occur in Connecticut with little regard to actually developing around transit hubs.
The bonding bill also allocates $150 million to “fix-it-first” programs dedicated to rehabilitating and rebuilding existing state highways and bridges. While the gesture is appreciated, the Tri-State Campaign would prefer to see the entire ConnDOT capital budget espousing a “fix-it-first” policy, rather than an additional program dedicated solely to repairing existing roads and bridges.
Finally, municipal bikeway grant funding should go to ConnDOT and not DEP. The Campaign welcomes any funding dedicated to increasing cycling as a means of transportation. However, failing to dedicate this funding to ConnDOT discredits cycling as a legitimate means of transportation that should be included in its transit solutions repertoire.
The ConnDOT Reform Commission will deliver its recommendations to Gov. Rell on December 1. The Commission should head the requests of advocates and recommend a restructuring of ConnDOT from an agency dedicated to highway building to an agency dedicated to smart growth and transit-led solutions to the problems of the 21st century.