ConnDOT Commissioner Jim Redeker
In 2007, after a troubled widening of I-84, a reform commission reported that the Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT) “badly needs fundamental change.”
TSTC analyses indicate that ConnDOT has been slowly improving since then, and we sat down with Commissioner Jim Redeker, who has headed the agency since last March, to talk about his work. He will be speaking at tomorrow’s transportation financing forum in Hartford.
TSTC: How did your work at NJ Transit prepare you for the commissioner job?
Commissioner Jim Redeker: I think that Connecticut is much like New Jersey was 30 years ago: there’s not a lot of transportation-oriented development happening, there’s still opportunity for new investment in transit and opportunity to improve branch lines. And I really came to try to make a difference there.
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(Clockwise from left): New Haven after a boulevard conversion of Route 34, new ConnDOT Commissioner Joe Marie, Hartford-New Britain Busway, a station on the New Haven-Springfield Commuter Rail line.
Last year, MTR wrote that Connecticut was “poised for success” after the state began to embrace progressive transportation policy reform in 2007. Though a broad overhaul of Connecticut’s transportation policy did not occur in 2008, ConnDOT is clearly more focused on transit and transit-oriented development than in 2007. New Haven also embraced livable streets policy, becoming a hotbed of civic and political advocacy.
Jan.-May: ConnDOT Reform and Legislation
2008 began with the release of a much anticipated report from the Governor’s Commission on the Reform of ConnDOT. The report set the stage for effective planning reform throughout ConnDOT, emphasizing the prioritization of road and bridge maintenance over expansion (“fix-it-first”) and policies that would support smart growth initiatives and reduce driving. Unfortunately, instead of focusing on these thoughtful ideas, Governor Rell introduced a bill to split ConnDOT into a Department of Public Transportation, Ports and Aviation and a Department of Highways, which would have forced the agency to spend much energy on structural rather than policy reform. Thankfully, the legislation was not enacted.
In addition to the proposal to split ConnDOT, the General Assembly session started off with some bold transportation initiatives. However, by the end of the session, bills that would have improved access for bikes and pedestrians, and increased funding for bus operations were dramatically watered down.
The Connecticut Bond Commission also dedicated $75 million to a bridge and road repair program. While the program was billed as “fix-it-first,” it did not represent a fundamental shift in the way the State allocates funding to transportation projects. ConnDOT spends the majority of the road and bridge money in its capital budget on expansion rather than maintenance and repair.
New ConnDOT Commissioner
The biggest coup of the year in Connecticut transportation news, however, was the appointment of Joseph Marie as the new ConnDOT Commissioner in late April. A self-proclaimed “transit guy,” Commissioner Marie has spent the latter part of the year getting to know the lay of the land in Connecticut. But by all accounts, his appointment looks like a boon for progressive transportation policy reform in Connecticut. Eight months into his new job the Commissioner is already discussing the link between transportation and land use, has publicly supported transit-oriented development and corridor planning efforts, and is looking into how the Department can fast-track projects like the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield Commuter rail line and the Hartford-New Britain Busway. All are vast improvements over previous commissioners’ efforts.
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New ConnDOT Commissioner Joseph Marie has taken over an agency that has been marred by corruption and is in dire need of policy reforms that shift its culture away from prioritizing the expansion of roadways and towards maintaining Connecticut’s existing road and bridge infrastructure, promoting mass transit, and investing in smart growth. Those aren’t [...]
On March 28, the Connecticut State Bond Commission released $75 million dedicated to a new “Fix-it-First” program. The Tri-State Transportation Campaign welcomed the Bond Commission’s release of these monies, but noted that ‘Fix-it-First’ should be the underlying strategy behind all of ConnDOT’s transportation policy and investment decisions, not a separately funded program.
In a [...]
Though ConnDOT and the MTA have been sluggish to catch on to the potential of transit-oriented development (TOD), both agencies recently made clear their intent to embrace TOD principles.
At yesterday’s State of the MTA speech, MTA CEO Elliot Sander said his agency must “be a catalyst for environmentally sound land-use, smart growth and transit-oriented development.” The statement comes after the MTA announced the creation of a sustainability cabinet which is examining TOD, and issued a “request for expressions of interest” in transit-oriented development around the Beacon Metro-North station last year.
Last month, acting ConnDOT commissioner Emil Frankel called transit-oriented development “an integral component of [ConnDOT’s] comprehensive transportation policy, plan and strategy.” ConnDOT began to move towards a TOD strategy last year, when the agency hired Deputy Commissioner Albert Martin to focus on linking transportation and responsible growth; state legislators also set aside $5 million for ConnDOT to undertake a TOD pilot study in the October 2007 bonding bill.
As a next step, both ConnDOT and the MTA should create formal programs to promote TOD. A recent Council of State Governments review found six states with “proactive” state-level TOD policies. Of these states, California, Massachusetts, and New Jersey stood out. Here’s what each one can offer the agencies.
The Transit Villages Act of 1994 created a formal TOD program to be run by the California Department of Transportation (Caltrans). The Act encouraged cities and counties to prepare plans for “transit villages,” which the legislation defined as dense, mixed-use areas within 1/4 mile of a rail transit station. By doing so they would become eligible for transportation funding and receive help expediting permits from the Office of Permit Assistance. Unfortunately, Caltrans’ ability to promote TOD was limited by the fact that the promised transportation funding never materialized. Nevertheless, instituting a statewide policy of encouraging Transit Villages has motivated numerous municipalities to apply for the designation. According to Caltrans, “at every major transit agency… there are at least one or more new TOD projects currently underway at its bus and/or rail stations.”
Caltrans is also experimenting with tax increment financing (TIF), which allows some of the expenses of TOD, such as enhanced stations, to be paid for by bonding against anticipated increases in tax revenue resulting from the TOD’s influence on the value of nearby property. While there are obvious questions regarding this funding mechanism (for example, it must be established who pays for the bonds if tax revenues fail to rise as much as projected), it is one interesting way to fund transit improvements linked to development.
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Connecticut’s legislative session opened earlier this month with much fanfare surrounding Governor Rell’s proposed split of the Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT) into a Department of Highways and a Department of Public Transportation, Ports, and Aviation. This emphasis on bureaucratic reorganization is unfortunate and misplaced. Attention should focus instead on policy ideas that actually [...]
Governor Rell presented her 2008 State of the State address to the General Assembly on Wednesday, focusing on issues ranging from crime reform to economic development. Her biggest transportation proposal was to split ConnDOT into a Department of Highways and a separate Department of Public Transporation, Aviation and Ports.
The Governor also proposed a [...]
The Connecticut General Assembly’s Transportation Committee received a briefing by ConnDOT Interim Commissioner Emil Frankel last week on the draft report of the Governor’s Commission for Reform of the Department of Transportation. The report focused on how ConnDOT could become more transparent and accountable, but also recommended that the agency pursue “fix-it-first” policy, smart [...]
The Governor’s Commission on the Reform of the Department of Transportation issued its final draft recommendation report earlier this month in Hartford. The Commission, created by Governor Rell in response to contracting irregularities along I-84, was tasked with providing steps to developing, according to the Governor, “a more responsible DOT, and a DOT that will continue to broaden its focus beyond highways.”
Tri-State Transportation Campaign has been very active in pushing for broad reforms within ConnDOT. This past fall, the Campaign held a press conference detailing a four point agenda that included a prioritizing a ‘Fix-it-First’ policy by shifting ConnDOT’s spending priorities from expansion and widening projects to maintaining existing roads and bridges, developing innovative methods to raise operational funding and incorporating smart growth principles into transportation planning.
Primarily, the report focuses on “transparency” and “accountability.” However, many of the Campaign’s ideas were included in the draft. Some highlights include:
Support for congestion pricing. The Commission recommended that ConnDOT examine new and innovative means of raising state and federal monies, recognizing that ConnDOT is overly dependent upon scarce federal transportation dollars, often in the form of unsustainable earmarks. The draft report not only supported the Transportation Strategy Board in its call for a congestion pricing study, but repeatedly brought up the possibility of tolling Connecticut’s roads and highways. Adopting this strategy would be progressive transportation policy and ensure a sustainable source of transportation system funding for the 21st century.
An unexpected recommendation concerning possible future funding was the proposal to create an Independent Transportation Authority and the partial privatization of transportation assets. This came as a surprise to the Campaign, especially considering the current row over asset monetization, a similar strategy, underway in New Jersey.
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Connecticut began 2007 having made some recovery from the backwards policies of former Gov. John Rowland. Earlier in her term, which began in 2004, Gov. Jodi Rell worked with the legislature to pass more than $3 billion of investment in the state’s transportation infrastructure. She also took steps on smart growth, creating an Office of Responsible Growth by executive order in late 2006. Both efforts continued in 2007, and were reinforced by a push for a change in the way ConnDOT does business.
Transportation Policy Reform
After winning election in 2006, Gov. Rell continued moving on smart growth in the spring. In March, ConnDOT completed its search for a deputy commissioner to handle transit-oriented development, hiring Al Martin.
In April, growing anger over an I-84 contracting scandal and the generally corrupt culture at ConnDOT helped fuel a broader discourse over the agency’s mission. Gov. Rell announced the creation of the ConnDOT Reform Commission charged with “broaden[ing the agency's] focus beyond highways,” which will release its recommendations this month. In July the ConnDOT Reform Commission held its first meeting and the Hartford Courant, informed by discussions with Tri-State, released a scathing multi-page opinion piece titled “The Right Road” which called on the agency to incorporate smart growth and fix-it-first principles into its mission.
An omnibus bonding bill, passed in October after months of delay, included funding for a transit-oriented development program. However, the legislation was worded in such a way that the program could potentially fund non-TOD projects.
In December, ConnDOT Commissioner Ralph Carpenter announced his retirement from the public sector, and Rell said the department would conduct a national search for a new commissioner, “an opportunity for a fresh start all the way around.” Former commissioner Emil Frankel took the interim job. The changes bode well for smart-growth-oriented reform within the agency, but Rell must choose a new ConnDOT Commissioner who is a strong leader and understands the transportation-land use connection.
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