Advocates Tour CTfastrak Bus Rapid Transit System

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Representatives from transportation and environmental advocacy organizations (including Tri-State) joined the Connecticut Department of Transportation for a tour of the CTfastrak bus rapid transit (BRT) system on Thursday. The tour was organized by Transit for Connecticut and led by ConnDOT’s Mike Sanders and Maureen Lawrence.

Here are a few photos from Thursday’s tour:

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NACTO State Transportation Departments Walk the Walk

State transportation departments in Massachusetts and California -- which have adopted NACTO's Urban Street Design Guide -- happen to be located in highly walkable, bikeable, transit-accessible locations. | Image: WalkScore

State DOTs in Massachusetts and California — which have adopted NACTO’s Urban Street Design Guide — happen to be located in highly walkable, bikeable, transit-accessible locations. | Image: WalkScore

As MTR reported earlier this week, Tennessee became the sixth state to formally endorse the National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) Urban Street Design Guide.

The NACTO Guide is considered “a blueprint for safe, multi-modal streets,” but 44 states (including New York, New Jersey and Connecticut) still rely on the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials’ (AASHTO) less progressive design guidelines for urban streets.

That got us thinking: What, if anything do the states that have endorsed the NACTO guide (California, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Tennessee, Utah and Washington) have in common?

Back in March of 2013, we used Walk Score to see if there was any correlation between a state transportation department’s priorities and where the people who staff those departments go to work each day.

Tri-State looked to see if — and to what extent — state departments of transportation lead by example. Specifically, how walkable are the locations of state department of transportation (DOT) headquarters, and what does this tell us about that state’s transportation priorities?

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Connecticut Seeks Bids for I-84 Widening as Number of Structurally Deficient Bridges Continues to Rise

The percent of structurally-deficient bridges in Connecticut has been steadily increasing over the last several years. | FHWA via CTMirror.

Source: Federal Highway Administration National Bridge Inventory (via CTMirror)

The Connecticut Department of Transportation announced yesterday that it is seeking bids for the Interstate 84 widening project in Waterbury. The project, which is based on a 16-year-old environmental assessment, is expected to take five years and cost $400 million, “although the final amount will be determined by the bids received,” according to ConnDOT. 

This announcement couldn’t have been timed more poorly. On Tuesday, the CT Mirror reported that 413 of the state’s 4,218 bridges were structurally deficient as of December 2013, up from 406 in 2012, according to the Federal Highway Administration. In fact, the number of structurally deficient bridges has been on the rise for years.

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Connecticut’s $400 Million Question: Replace Norwalk River Rail Bridge or Widen 2.7 Miles of Interstate 84?

Governor Malloy put the widening of I-84 in the state's capital plan, but a fix for the Norwalk River Rail Bridge depends on competitive federal funds. | Photo: Office of Governor Dannel Malloy via WNPR.org

Governor Malloy put the widening of I-84 in the state’s capital plan, but a fix for the Norwalk River Rail Bridge depends on competitive federal funds. | Photo: Office of Governor Dannel Malloy via WNPR.org

The State of Connecticut is demanding federal funding to replace the Norwalk River Railroad Bridge, a Victorian-era swing bridge that has received a great deal of attention after failing to close twice in the last few weeks. When the Walk Bridge, as it’s known in the industry, gets stuck in the open position, rail service shuts down not only on Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor, but also on the Metro-North New Haven Line. But federal dollars are going to be hard to come by. According to the Connecticut Mirror:

Connecticut is now competing with a dozen states and even Metro-North’s parent, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, for a share of a $3 billion Federal Transit Administration fund created by Congress in the 2012 Hurricane Sandy relief bill. To replace the bridge, the state is seeking $349 million, more than 10 percent of the entire fund.

If the application fails, there is no other ready funding source for a project estimated to cost $465 million in state and federal funding.

While we don’t dispute that federal transit dollars are few and far between, there is one source of funding that exists within Connecticut. It’s just a question of priorities.

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5 Reasons Why Connecticut Should Rethink Spending $400 Million to Widen 3 Miles of I-84 in Waterbury

The 2.7-mile stretch of Interstate 84 between Exit 23 and Exit 25A east of downtown Waterbury, Connecticut is considered “one of the state’s most notorious commuter bottlenecks.” I-84 narrows to four lanes in this section (two in each direction); to the east and west there are three lanes in each direction.

We don’t doubt that this temporary decrease in roadway capacity plays some role in creating a bottleneck. The question is how big of a role, and whether a $400 million widening project is the only solution. Here are five reasons why Connecticut leaders may want to reconsider the decision to widen Interstate 84:

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Highway Expansion Must Not Supplant Connecticut’s Multi-Modal Progress

Governor Malloy in Waterbury yesterday. | Photo: Waterbury Republican-American

Governor Dan Malloy in Waterbury yesterday. | Photo: Waterbury Republican-American

Governor Dan Malloy announced Connecticut’s five-year transportation capital infrastructure plan for federal fiscal years 2014-2018 yesterday. The plan allocates roughly $4.825 billion for roads and bridges over the five-year period, and $1.565 billion for transit. (Pedestrian and bicycle infrastructure projects are included in the road and bridge category). In fiscal year 2014, $1.8 billion in capital funding will be available for all transportation modes ($1.4 billion for road and bridge projects, and $345 million for transit), an increase over the state’s 2013 Capital Program, which provided a total of approximately $1.6 billion.

The plan lists several pages of transportation investments, including a few high-profile projects like the replacement of the I-84 viaduct in Hartford, the rehabilitation of the Merritt Parkway in Stamford, and upgrades to the New Haven commuter rail line and the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield rail corridor.

The governor made the announcement at a park-and-ride lot in Waterbury, a setting that was meant to highlight a major component of the infrastructure plan: the widening of 2.7-miles of Interstate 84. The project, which ConnDOT first announced in 2013, adds a lane in each direction to Interstate 84 between Exit 23 and 25A in Waterbury, and is expected to cost $400 to $450 million – almost as much as the total amount of federal highway funding Connecticut receives in a single year.

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ConnDOT Seeks Federal Funds for Northeast Corridor, Metro-North Resiliency

The Walk Bridge in Norwalk. | Photo: nec-commission.com

The Walk Bridge in Norwalk. | Photo: nec-commission.com

Some major resiliency projects could be on the way for southwestern Connecticut. Governor Dannel Malloy announced this week that the Connecticut Department of Transportation is applying for $600 million in federal transportation funding that would be divided among three key components of the state’s transportation infrastructure:

Walk Bridge Replacement Project  ConnDOT is applying for $349 million to pay for the bulk of the cost of replacing the Walk Bridge in Norwalk. The Walk Bridge is a “balky” 118-year-old swing bridge on the Northeast Corridor which “has experienced increased deterioration since its construction.” The State would replace the Walk Bridge with “a more resilient bascule bridge.”

New Haven Line communications and signaling  ConnDOT is also seeking $245 million to fund the replacement of communications and signaling equipment on Metro-North’s much-maligned New Haven Line. According to the governor’s press release, the current communications and signaling system is 35 years old and “well past its useful life, with its poor condition exacerbated by winds and flooding.”

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States Spend on Expansion While Roads Decay

According to Repair Priorities 2014, most state DOTs “are spending more money building new roads than maintaining the ones they have.” | Image: Smart Growth America

With people driving less and federal largesse not what it used to be, it would make sense for state departments of transportation to shift away from building [...]

Fairfield County Pedestrian Injuries and Fatalities Highlight the Need for Safety Improvements

Stamford and Bridgeport had the highest per capita crash rates in Fairfield County (6.45 and 6.44, respectively), based on a yearly crash rate per 10,000 residents. Source: TSTC

Stamford and Bridgeport had the highest per capita crash rates in Fairfield County (6.45 and 6.44, respectively), based on a yearly crash rate per 10,000 residents. Source: TSTC

Thanks to data recently made available by the Connecticut Departments of Public Safety and Transportation via the University of Connecticut Crash Data Repository, TSTC was able to map and analyze both pedestrian deaths and injuries in Connecticut for the first time.

The Fairfield County Pedestrian Crash Analysis found that during the three-year period from January 1, 2010 to December 31, 2012, there were 1,022 vehicle crashes involving pedestrians in Fairfield County, Connecticut. Of those crashes, 951 resulted in injuries, and 28 were confirmed fatal. These crashes resulted in a total of 1,077 pedestrian injuries and 34 deaths.

In addition to mapping the locations of these crashes, the analysis also identifies the five most dangerous roads in the county: US Route 1 topped the list with 169 pedestrian crashes, followed by CT Route 130 (43), CT Route 137 (30), Main Street in Bridgeport (30), and CT Route 127 (29). Building off TSTC’s Most Dangerous Roads analysis released earlier this month, the Fairfield analysis found that the County’s most dangerous roads share common characteristics of dangerous arterial roads that were identified throughout the region—wide, multi-lane roads that enable high speeds and have little to no pedestrian infrastructure.

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Could the New Haven Line’s Problems Be Hurting Connecticut’s Economy?

Commuters filled a "Speakout" at the Pequot Library in Southport, hosted by the Connecticut Citizens Transportation Lobby on February 18. | Photo: Steven Higashide/TSTC.

Commuters filled a “Speakout” at the Pequot Library in Southport, hosted by the Connecticut Citizens Transportation Lobby on February 18. | Photo: Steven Higashide/TSTC.

Over 100 commuters came to an occasionally raucous “Commuter Speakout” hosted by the Connecticut Citizens Transportation Lobby in Southport last Tuesday night. The event was organized in response to a series of incidents and increasing delays on Metro-North’s New Haven Line. On-time performance on the railroad, which had hovered around 95 percent for many years, fell to 80 percent in February.

“We are well aware of our failure to provide the service you deserve,” said John Kesich, Metro-North’s senior vice president of operations. Also in attendance were ConnDOT Commissioner Jim Redeker and rail administrator Eugene Colonese; Sue Doering, Metro-North’s senior director of service and stations; and Anne Kirsch, Metro-North’s director of safety and security.

The Speakout came one day after Metro-North’s new president, Joseph Giuletti, appeared at a press conference with Governor Malloy, Commissioner Redeker, and MTA Chairman Tom Prendergast. There, the officials promised to deliver a “100-day action plan” to the governor in the coming weeks. At the Speakout, Commissioner Redeker said the 100-day plan would include a safety review, a review of major projects, a new communications plan, and a simpler customer complaint interface.

Riders at the Speakout cited a litany of complaints including broken heaters, stranded trains, missed connections and standing-room-only conditions. But perhaps the most pointed line of criticism came from several commuters and elected officials who said the series of incidents was hurting the state’s economy and reputation. A realtor said that potential clients were mentioning the railroad’s faults. A new resident of Stamford said he had warned friends not to move to Connecticut. And State Senator Toni Boucher (one of several state legislators in attendance) warned that Connecticut has been losing population in recent years and can’t afford to lose any more.

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