Connecticut 2012: Looking Back on the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

CTfastrak, Connecticut’s first BRT project, broke ground in 2012. | Photo Connecticut Fund for the Environment

2012 was a year of firsts for Connecticut, with the state’s first bus rapid transit project breaking ground and the implementation of its first road diet. There were a few disappointing outcomes for pedestrian safety legislation, and the state and its municipalities have a long way to go before they have the multi-modal transportation systems they need, but overall, 2012 was a year of progress.

The Good:

CTfastrak - The bus rapid transit project between Hartford and New Britain broke ground in May and was officially named CTfastrak. This 9.4 mile BRT line will be a true rapid transit service, with its own exclusive right-of-way and headways of three to six minutes during peak travel hours. It also includes a five-mile trail for pedestrians and cyclists along the southern portion of the corridor. The project is expected to create thousands of construction jobs and stimulate economic development in areas surrounding the 11 CTfastrak stations.

New Haven-Hartford-Springfield line - CTfastrak isn’t the only major Connecticut transportation project that broke ground last year; construction also began on the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield line in the fall. The high speed rail project — which Tri-State has supported since 2009 — also cleared a major regulatory hurdle in 2012 as well. The NHHS project will bring dramatic improvements to the region’s rail infrastructure and will integrate seamlessly with CTfastrak, creating a robust transit network in central Connecticut.

Governor Malloy, smart growth champion - Governor Dan Malloy established himself as a champion for smart growth in 2011 and continued to lead on smart growth and transit-oriented development (TOD) in 2012. In October, news broke that Malloy is leading the charge to potentially relocate state agencies to downtown Hartford from suburban locations, a change that could save money for the state while also helping revitalize the city. In December he announced an inter-agency working group that will address TOD around new rail and BRT stations.

Bridgeport bike share program - The City of Bridgeport was awarded $1.6 million in federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) funding which will pay for, among other things, a bike share system that could be running by the summer. That a bike share program is coming to Bridgeport should surprise no one. The city has become a regional leader in sustainable transportation and development under Mayor Bill Finch and Office of Planning and Economic Development Director David Kooris.

First road diet on a state roadway - The Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT) announced its first-ever road diet in July, which is intended to improve safety for pedestrians and cyclists on a section of Burnside Avenue/Route 44 in East Hartford. ConnDOT will narrow a three-mile section of Burnside Avenue, removing one vehicular travel lane in each direction, leaving enough room for bike lanes, on-street parking and left turn lanes at some intersections. While this is the State’s first road diet, it certainly should not be the last.

The Bad:

Route 34 fails to impress – New Haven’s Route 34 “Downtown Crossing” project  was supposed to make the area safer for pedestrians and cyclists, but the first phase of the project has underwhelmed advocates for active transportation. Instead of pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly streets, the plan calls for thoroughfares that are too wide – up to five lanes at some intersections. Concerted work from local elected officials and advocates, however, has helped win some mitigation; the City has said it would be willing to make further traffic calming improvements to the wide boulevards, as advocates have suggested, in later phases of the project.

The Ugly:

Vulnerable users and other common-sense bills fail to pass legislature – Despite unanimous support in the State Senate, a “vulnerable user” bill failed to pass the General Assembly for the third year in a row. The law would boost penalties for careless drivers who injure or kill pedestrians, cyclists, and other users of the road who are most at risk. It’s a common-sense fix to a legal status quo where drivers who injure or kill pedestrians or other vulnerable users often get away with nothing more than a traffic ticket. A bill to allow red light cameras also failed to get off the ground. For good measure, legislators raided the Special Transportation Fund to shore up a mid-year budget deficit (they kept the fund intact in a December budget deal, however).

Governor Malloy, road builder? – With his actions, Governor Malloy has shown himself to be a champion of increased transit investment and TOD. But his words have, on occasion, told a different story. At a forum sponsored by Transit for Connecticut, the governor asked attendees, “What do we do about falling gas tax revenues? How do we build out Route 11 or the 395 interchange or the widening of [I-95] in the eastern part of the state?”  The governor was right to highlight the problems caused by stagnant state and federal transportation revenue. But the constrained funding picture means Connecticut should double down on its road and bridge repair backlog, on transit projects that move people efficiently and boost economic development, and on the inexpensive pedestrian and bicycle projects that give residents multiple transportation options. That’s not just our opinion; it’s the view of many of the state’s leading business, planning, and environmental groups.

What to Expect in 2013:

Connecticut faces a yawning budget gap of roughly $1 billion for both fiscal years 2014 and 2015, and the governor warned in today’s State of the State address that tough choices will need to be made. He and state legislators must avoid deep cuts in places like transit operations, which will make it harder for citizens to get to work and stall the economic recovery. Lawmakers should also work to get common-sense laws, like the vulnerable user bill, across the finish line once and for all.

Meanwhile, the Malloy administration’s TOD task force should recommend strong policy changes that make it easier for municipalities to plan and build around their transit stations, and decisionmakers need to prioritize a multi-modal transportation vision to help fulfill the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection’s comprehensive energy strategy.

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