The state budget will consume much of the CT General Assembly’s time in the coming weeks, as state legislators and Gov. Malloy work out how to close a budget deficit of $3 billion. But there’s plenty Connecticut can do outside the budget to support safer roads and foster a more transit-oriented future.
To start, the General Assembly can finish the business it failed to complete last year by adopting legislation that would create stiffer penalties for motorists who drive carelessly and injure or kill vulnerable users of the road like pedestrians and cyclists. This year’s vulnerable user bill is sponsored by State Sen. Beth Bye of West Hartford and is nearly identical to last year’s bill, although advocates plan to include first responders like police officers, firefighters and EMTs, as vulnerable users as well.
Another safe streets bill making its annual trip to Hartford is legislation to establish a red light camera program. The bill would allow municipalities “to use camera equipment for purposes of enforcing traffic laws and to receive a portion of revenue generated by such equipment,” and is headed up by freshman State Rep. Roland Lemar from New Haven. Rep. Lemar was a proven advocate for safer streets as an Alderman in New Haven and is now taking that passion to Hartford. With new data from the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety showing that cameras improved safety in cities across the country, advocates are hoping that this is the year for an “opt-in” red light camera program.
With both legislators and Gov. Malloy recognizing that the state needs to find ways to pay for transportation, the prospect of implementing tolls along Connecticut’s borders has been raised once again. Tolling can generate revenue and mitigate congestion, but restricting it to the borders is an inequitable way to generate revenue, and a state study has shown it would not mitigate congestion. This bill should be rewritten to enact tolling on all limited access highways and congestion pricing in the I-95 corridor. In addition, the bill should pursue converting the HOV lanes on I-81 and I-84 to high-occupancy toll lanes, which would allow solo drivers to use the lane by paying a toll.
One misguided bill being considered this year would effectively kill the Hartford-New Britain Bus Rapid Transit project, transferring state funding for the project to a nonexistent plan to reestablish commuter rail service between Waterbury and Hartford. The bill, introduced by freshman State Sen. Jason Welch, would scuttle the project right as it is on the cusp of receiving a “Full Funding Grant Agreement” from the Federal Transit Administration. The project, after years of study, has been found to be the best mode to reduce congestion, spur economic and transit-oriented development and provide high-quality transit service in Central Connecticut. On Friday, environmental, planning, business, and labor groups called on the governor to support the project.
Photo: LA Times.