Distractions Driving Connecticut’s Toll Conversation

Tolls at the borders would raise revenue, but they would do little to address congestion on Connecticut's most congested corridors. | Source

Tolls at the borders would raise revenue, but they would do little for Connecticut’s most congested corridors. | Source

Modern, all-electronic tolling systems don't require old-fashioned toll booths. | Source

Modern, all-electronic tolling systems don’t require toll booths. | Source

There’s been a lot of talk about about bringing highway tolls back to Connecticut these last few days. The state outlawed tolls after seven people were killed in a fiery crash at a toll both on Interstate 95 in 1983. That tragedy has left Connecticut residents skeptical of tolls, and justifiably so. But  in recent days, a lot of the discourse surrounding tolls has been misinformed, which has led to some confusion. And that’s not good for lawmakers who are trying to deal with serious congestion problems on some of the worst roads in the nation, not to mention an underfunded 30-year transportation plan.

Tolls at the borders

A bill introduced by State Rep. Tony Guerrera, which would bring tolls to interstates at Connecticut’s borders, was the main topic of conversation at a Transportation Committee hearing Wednesday. Guerrera, the committee’s co-chair, “says the legislation is needed to pay for highway projects because the state’s gas tax isn’t raising enough money.”

The argument for placing tolls at the border is that out-of-state residents would shoulder some of the load — as much as 75 percent, Guerrera argued. Connecticut residents pay tolls when they drive to New York and Massachusetts, so let the folks clogging up Interstates 84 and 95 between the Boston and New York metro areas pay their fair share, right? It’s good political calculus — especially since Guerrera represents Newington, Rocky Hill and Wethersfield, which are smack dab in the middle of the state (and would be minimally impacted by tolls at the state’s edges).

The argument against border tolls hinges on the fact that they disproportionately impact residents (and the economies) of border towns like Danbury and Enfield.

Both arguments are perfectly sound. The problem is, it’s wrong argument to be having.

Rep. Guerrera is right: the state’s gas tax isn’t bringing in enough revenue to maintain the state’s transportation system. But reinstating tolls in order to raise revenue misses the point of tolling. The goal of bringing back highway tolls must be congestion management.

When you look at tolling from a congestion management perspective rather than a revenue perspective, it completely changes the map. Instead of locating tolls in a way that aims to minimize its impact on intrastate travel, they should be placed A) where there’s a great deal of congestion, and B) like the proposed Move New York plan, where there are alternatives to driving available.

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Wednesday Winners (& Losers)

A weekly roundup of good deeds, missteps, heroic feats and epic failures in the tri-state region and beyond.

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. | Photo: bronxboropres.nyc.gov

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. | Photo: bronxboropres.nyc.gov

WINNERS

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. — During his State of the Borough speech, Diaz called on the state to stop dragging its feet and redevelop the Sheridan Expressway.

Hicksville commuters — Governor Cuomo has announced a $120 million improvement project for the Hicksville LIRR stationthe busiest station on Long Island.

Fair Haven, NJ Mayor Benjamin Lucarelli — The bike-friendly mayor is taking his campaign for streets safety to Washington to participate in the USDOT’s Mayors’ Challenge.

Ossining Village Board of Trustees  Ossining has adopted a Complete Streets policy which will take effect immediately.

New Rochelle, NY — The City Council has approved two development projects near the town’s Metro-North station, which will include affordable housing.

Metro-North riders — By mid-April, all Metro-North conductors will carry credit card machines.

Statewide transit riders — On Thursday, state and local electeds came together at separate events in Buffalo and in Yonkers for a unified call to action: the State must prioritize funding for statewide transit systems.

New York City road users — WNYC analysis of NYC’s speed camera program has found that the program is improving safety, as both tickets and crashes have decreased in areas with cameras.

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Roads and Rails, Buses and Bridges: Breaking Down Connecticut’s Transportation Vision by Project Type

Yesterday we wrote about what’s included in “Let’s Go CT,” Connecticut’s long-term statewide transportation plan. Both of the documents released yesterday — the “5-Year Transportation Ramp-Up Plan” and “Connecticut’s Bold Vision for a Transportation Future” — are nicely laid out and full of details about each project, but they lack user-friendly charts to help see where the money is going.

In order to provide a clearer picture of Connecticut’s spending priorities moving forward, we’ve broken down spending totals for the five-year ramp-up and for the following 25 years by project type.

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What’s in Connecticut’s 30-Year Transportation Vision?

letsgoCTcoverConnecticut Governor Dannel Malloy made an historic announcement today that will set the tone for the state’s transportation priorities for the next three decades. Speaking at the State Capitol in Hartford, the governor outlined a 30-year, multi-modal vision for Connecticut’s transportation system, which includes not only upgrades to aging highways and bridges, but also railway improvements, new bus rapid transit lines, and funding to improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety.

The governor’s vision will extend well beyond his time in office. What he will oversee, however, is the five-year “ramp-up,” which invests an additional $2.8 billion above the State’s expected levels of transportation funding. That $2.8 billion is front-loaded with $1.7 billion for railway improvements, which can be accomplished “faster and cheaper than big-ticket interstate jobs.”

The full 30-year, $100 billion plan, introduced today as “Let’s Go CT,” is being billed as a “Bold Vision for a Transportation Future.” How bold? Here are some of the highlights:

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Wednesday Winners (& Losers)

A weekly roundup of good deeds, missteps, heroic feats and epic failures in the tri-state region and beyond.

New York City Councilmember Mark Weprin | Photo: DecideNYC.com

New York City Councilmember Mark Weprin | Photo: DecideNYC.com

WINNERS

Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy — Governor Malloy unveiled today a truly multi-modal long-term transportation plan which includes, among other things, an eastern extension of CTfastrak, upgrades to the Metro-North Waterbury Branch and a program to improve pedestrian and bicycle improvements in urban areas.

New York City Department of Transportation — The City DOT has begun the release of its borough-specific Vision Zero action plans, so far releasing plans for QueensManhattan and the Bronx. The plans detail specific “priority” corridors and intersections identified through research and public workshops over the last year.

New York City Councilmember Mark Weprin — After having opposed previous congestion pricing proposals, Weprin is now one of MoveNY’s biggest proponents and one of few elected officials publicly endorsing the plan.

Senators Chuck Schumer (NY) and Richard Blumenthal (CT) — The senators’ new legislation, the Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Safety Act of 2015, would dramatically increase funding for the Federal Highway Administration’s rail safety programs.

Gene Aronowitz — The Brooklyn resident is working to educate fellow senior citizens about traffic safety.

The Village of Munsey Park, NY — Village officials stand by the effectiveness of traffic enforcement cameras, and are considering the possibility of installing them as part of a four-point traffic safety plan to curb the village’s speeding epidemic.

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Another Look at Stamford’s Washington Boulevard

An elderly woman who was using a motorized wheelchair sustained serious injuries after she was struck by a driver late last week while crossing Washington Boulevard at Main Street in downtown Stamford.

Washington Boulevard is like many of Stamford’s downtown streets: a wide, multi-lane arterial that is out of place in a downtown area. There’s a well-marked crosswalk and a narrow landscaped median on this segment — a good start, but more should be done in a central business district such as this. Ideally that median would extend into the crosswalk and serve as a pedestrian safety island. Without one, you’ll need to get all the way across seven lanes in one phase of the pedestrian signal (which you might consider much of a challenge, but imagine doing it in a wheelchair).

We took some rough measurements of Washington Boulevard using Google Maps. It appears to be 80 feet wide curb-to-curb, with lane widths of about 11 feet. We uploaded these characteristics into Streetmix and came up with an alternative design that considers more than simply level of service for cars and trucks.

Here’s what Washington Boulevard looks like today:

Screen Shot 2015-02-08 at 12.04.36 PM

Screen Shot 2015-02-09 at 1.03.29 PM

And here’s what it could look like:

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Walking in a Winter Wonderland? Only if Sidewalk Snow Clearance Ordinances are Obeyed — and Enforced

Pedestrians and transit riders in Bridgeport -- which has a sidewalk snow clearance ordinance -- were forced to walk and wait for buses in the street. | Photo: Ned Gerard/CT Post

Pedestrians and transit riders in Bridgeport — where property owners are responsible for clearing sidewalks of snow and ice — are forced to walk and wait for buses in the street. | Photo: Ned Gerard/CT Post

What happens when walkable communities — those places with complete streets, comprehensive sidewalk networks, and safe crossings — become covered in snow?

While it’s expected that municipalities will clear snow from roadways, it’s quite rare for them to clear snow from sidewalks. In Connecticut, there’s no state law which requires property owners to clear snow and ice from the sidewalks abutting their lots. There is, however, a state law which grants municipalities the ability to require property owners to keep sidewalks (and curb ramps) safe for pedestrians. Several Connecticut cities and towns — New Haven, EnfieldStamford, Fairfield, West Hartford and Milford, to name a few — have enacted such ordinances.

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Stamford Becomes the Third Connecticut City to Formally Embrace Complete Streets

Stamford's new Complete Streets ordinance should guide the City toward building more crossing islands like the one on the left, and fewer like the one on the right. | Photos: Joseph Cutrufo/TSTC

Stamford’s new Complete Streets ordinance should guide the City toward installing crossing islands more like the one at Washington Boulevard and North State Street (left), and less like the one on at Washington Boulevard and Tresser Boulevard (right). | Photos: Joseph Cutrufo/TSTC

Earlier this month, Stamford, Connecticut’s Board of Representatives unanimously approved a city-wide Complete Streets ordinance. The ordinance, which was sponsored by Land Use Committee co-chair David Kooris and drafted with support from Tri-State Transportation Campaign, “mandates that the Office of Operations review transportation projects and explore opportunities to make them more bicycle- and pedestrian-friendly.”

Kooris introduced the bill in September, but support for a Complete Streets law had been growing in Stamford after three pedestrian deaths took place in a four-month period in 2014. The new ordinance rounds out Mayor David Martin’s Street Smart initiative, which took initial steps toward addressing safety issues on Stamford’s streets.

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Wednesday Winners (& Losers)

A weekly roundup of good deeds, missteps, heroic feats and epic failures in the tri-state region and beyond.

sweeney_color

New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney | Photo: njleg.state.nj.us

WINNERS

New Jersey Senate President Stephen Sweeney — After several bridge closures, Sweeney declared that “[New Jersey’s] transportation priorities are mixed up,” and is now calling for the creation of a comprehensive transportation plan for the state.

Advocates for Albany reform — The arrest of New York Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver has put the state’s political system under scrutiny, generating widespread calls for reform.

“Gridlock” Sam Schwartz — The engineer and former NYC traffic commissioner has proposed a potential work-around for the 91st Street Marine Transfer Station’s truck traffic problem.

Amtrak — The agency has given cross-Hudson commuters a sliver of hope to cling to for the first time since Governor Christie shut down the ARC plan: Amtrak will be taking its first step toward the construction of two new rail tunnels with an environmental review this fall, and in the meantime they continue to lobby for funding for the Gateway project.

Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano — At least week’s State of Long Island breakfast event, Mangano mourned the loss of the county’s school zone speed camera program, insisting that it was successful while it lasted.

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Connecticut 2014: Looking Back on the Good, the Bad and the Ugly

ct-2014-reviewThey say the only thing more painful than learning from experience is not learning from experience. So now that the 2015 regular session of the Connecticut General Assembly is underway, it’s important to look back at 2014 to see what went well for transportation policy in the Nutmeg State, and shed some light on what did not go so well. We’re just three weeks into the new year, so it’s impossible to know what 2015 will bring. But what we do know is that we won’t see much progress if leaders don’t replicate their successes and learn from their missteps.

The Good

Governor Dannel Malloy reelected — Despite our many criticisms of the Governor during his first term, he did quite a lot of good for Connecticut in 2014, including dedicating $15 million to support transit-oriented development, signing the vulnerable user bill into law, and announcing more frequent service on the Metro-North New Haven Line. Transportation was a key plank of Governor Malloy’s reelection platform in the close race against challenger Tom Foley, who in contrast displayed little knowledge about the state’s transportation challenges, said Connecticut spends too much on transit, and criticized strategies which try to “push people out of their cars and onto mass transit.”

Connecticut’s Streets Safer for All Users — At the state level, the Connecticut Department of Transportation finally caught up with the State’s Complete Streets law by adopting a departmental policy enabling “the alignment of transportation funds to encourage improvements for non-motorized users,” and a long-awaited Vulnerable User Bill became law. And in addition to the establishment of several promising local safety enforcement campaigns, more communities joined and climbed the list of Bicycle Friendly Cities.

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