CT Legislature to Consider Ambitious Transportation Agenda

The Connecticut General Assembly’s Joint Committee on Transportation reported 31 bills out of committee as of Monday, the official deadline for doing so, on issues ranging from the waiving of motor fees for Purple Heart recipients to the proposed split of ConnDOT into a Department of Highways and a Department of Public Transportation, Aviation and Ports. These bills will now be considered by the entire General Assembly for passage.

Several of the bills reported out of committee, if passed, will represent a continuation of the ConnDOT reform process which began last year. In particular, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign is impressed with the Committee’s favorable reporting of the following:

Senate Bill 286: An Act Concerning the Hours of Operation of the Official Weighing Areas in Greenwich, Danbury and Union.

This bill will extend the hours of operation at the Greenwich, Danbury and Union weigh stations, reducing the number of overweight and unsafe trucks on Connecticut highways. The favorable reporting of this bill marks another victory for transportation reformers like Connecticut Citizens Transportation Lobby (CCTL) co-chairs Jill Kelly and Carol Leighton, who have made truck safety a top priority.

Senate Bill 299: An Act Concerning Bicycle Access and Safety

The bill replaces language in an existing statute which directs the Commissioner of Transportation to simply “encourage the inclusion of areas for bicycles and pedestrians” when creating a new layout of a state highway or relocating a state highway with language that states the Commissioner must “include” bike and pedestrian areas. This subtle change may make a great difference in increasing access for cycling and walking as forms of transit.

House Bill 5734: An Act Concerning New and Expanded Bus Transportation Services Throughout Connecticut

This bill would establish a “Buses for the 21st Century Mobility” program that would provide services for disabled citizens, expand existing services, provide new rail shuttle services to encourage Metro-North, express commuter services and other services dedicated to increasing ridership opportunities throughout Connecticut. The Transit for Connecticut coalition deserves great praise for its efforts to get this bill through committee. The program would be funded with $22 million from bond proceeds and ConnDOT’s operating budget.

A few bills which made it through committee would be better if reworded or altered drastically:

Senate Bill 285: An Act Concerning the Department of Transportation

This bill authorizes the Commissioner of the Department of Transportation to prioritize ConnDOT programs and activities to develop an estimate of funding needs for the future. Tri-State testified in support of this bill if “Fix-it-First” language that prioritized maintenance and repair of existing roads and bridges over greater expansion of roads was incorporated into the final draft. This language was not included in the bill, but the Assembly can still amend it and mandate that ConnDOT reverse its current emphasis on highway expansion.

And finally…

House Bill 5041: An Act Concerning the Creation of a Department of Public Transportation, Aviation and Ports and a Department of Highways

Otherwise known as the “ConnDOT split” bill, HB 5041 will more than likely face fierce debate in the General Assembly. While Connecticut needs to do a better job of emphasizing public transit, Tri-State opposes this bill because it fails to adequately address how the two proposed departments will coordinate transportation planning when ConnDOT’s highway and transit bureaus can’t do so today. In addition, HB 5041 fails to emphasize and incorporate land use planning into the development of transportation projects. No amount of reorganization will solve Connecticut’s congestion and sprawl issues if it continues to ignore the link between transportation and land use — in fact, a massive reorganization would likely distract agency officials from making real reforms.

In order to adequately address this issue, the General Assembly should amend the bill to realign the DOT. It can do this by including language that would raise the Bureaus of Engineering and Highway Operations, Public Transportation, and Policy and Planning to the Deputy Commissioner level and delineate, in detail, how the new ConnDOT will coordinate and incorporate land use into transportation planning.

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