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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Transportation Absent From Malloy’s State of the State, But Not His Budget

Governor Malloy didn't mention transportation in his State of the State address, but did propose a budget with new transportation initiatives. | Photo: Brian Pounds, Connecticut Post

Governor Malloy didn’t mention transportation in his State of the State address, but did propose a budget with new transportation initiatives. | Photo: Brian Pounds/Connecticut Post

Last week, Governor Dannel Malloy delivered a snow-delayed State of the State address focused on his plans for tax relief, education, and economic development. It was so focused on those plans, actually, that it did not include a single word on the topic of transportation. But the Governor’s proposed midyear budget, presented to the General Assembly that same day, tells a different story.

In fact, the Governor’s proposed budget includes several new transportation initiatives:

  • A $7 million predevelopment fund for transit-oriented development, to be administered by the Office of Policy and Management. The fund will likely first be used to assist communities that want to build around stations on the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield Line and CTfastrak bus rapid transit. The budget would also allow ConnDOT to hire employees to work on TOD.
  • 75 new engineers, as well as new ConnDOT positions focused on speeding up project delivery.
  • A $1.5 million “Safety and Maintenance Program” developed in response to the May derailment on the New Haven Line.

In a triple win for state taxpayers, the budget includes no new fare hikes, no cuts to rail and bus operations, and no transfers out of the Special Transportation Fund. The $7 million predevelopment fund is particularly welcome considering TSTC and other advocates have called for a formal TOD program for years. Responding to this component of the budget, Howard Rifkin of the Partnership for Strong Communities (an affordable housing advocacy group) praised the Governor for “ensuring that development in and around transit stops includes mixed-income housing for our workforce,” and called the fund “good news for the future of CTfastrak and the Springfield-to-New Haven commuter rail line.”

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Connecticut 2013: Looking Back on the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

CT-GBE-2013There was plenty to be happy about in Connecticut last year, with progress on the CTfastrak bus rapid transit corridor, lots of new bike infrastructure and the election of livable streets champions in cities across The Nutmeg State.

But as there almost always is, there was room for improvement in 2013. Connecticut’s elected officials boosted transit fares, failed to vote on a key piece of safety legislation and continued to use limited highway dollars for capacity expansion instead of sorely-needed road and bridge maintenance.

The Good

Positive outlook for CTfastrak, now under construction — Construction is underway on Central Connecticut’s bus rapid transit system, and much of the negativity surrounding the project appears to have given way to excitement. And on top of that, the busway has proven to be a catalyst for transit oriented development.

Never-before seen in Connecticut bike infrastructure on the way — Under the leadership of Transportation, Traffic and Parking Director Jim Travers, the City of New Haven introduced the City’s first bike corral. New Haven will also be home to Connecticut’s first cycle track, which suggests a changing mindset at the Connecticut Department of Transportation. On top of that, (soon to be painted) green lanes will be installed in Hartford.

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Connecticut Residents Want a Multimodal Future

transformCT-chart

Earlier this year, Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy announced an initiative that would “draw on broad public input and result in a plan to transform transportation in Connecticut.” Acknowledging that the Nutmeg State’s transportation needs were moving away from just cars and highways toward walkable neighborhoods and healthy communities, the TransformCT initiative was launched in order to engage the public through meetings, surveys and opinion research as well as its interactive website.

Early input* confirms what state officials had surmised: that Connecticut residents want and need a more balanced transportation system that gives them more mobility options than they have today. The highest percentage (22 percent) of responses call for expanding transit and 17 percent of responses call for better operated and maintained roads. Pedestrian and bicycle improvements received the third largest share of responses (15 percent), and only 9 percent of respondents call for expanding roads.

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Repairing the Heart of Hartford

The 2010 Hub of Hartford study looked at dramatic alternatives for the segment of I-84 that cuts off downtown Hartford from other parts of the city. Rather than simply rebuilding the highway viaducts as-is (depicted at left), planners say that bringing

The 2010 Hub of Hartford study looked at dramatic alternatives for the segment of I-84 that cuts off downtown Hartford from other parts of the city. Rather than simply rebuilding the highway viaducts as is (depicted at left), planners have suggested several ways to reclaim downtown real estate and reconnect the city (right).

Hartford faces a once-in-a-century opportunity to reshape its downtown as state engineers again turn their attention to the aging “Aetna viaduct” which carries I-84 through the city center. Bringing this elevated highway down offers a chance to reconnect neighborhoods and give the city a major economic jolt.

The viaduct, constructed in 1965, accommodates roughly 175,000 vehicles a day, but it also acts as a barrier between neighborhoods and is a blighting influence around major employers like Aetna and city landmarks like Union Station, Bushnell Park and Capitol Hill. So last decade, when the Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT) began studying a project to replace the now-deteriorating structures, civic and community leaders saw an opportunity to undo some of the disruption caused by the placement of the highway.

Three years ago, the Capitol Region Council of Governments (guided by the aforementioned civic and community leaders, who dubbed themselves the “Hub of Hartford” committee) completed a study of visionary alternatives for I-84. The study found that moving the highway at-grade, placing it in a short tunnel segment between Broad Street and Union Station, and rerouting the Amtrak rail line to the north of I-84 would free up 15-20 acres of developable land next to Union Station. Such a rearrangement could support at least one million square feet of mixed-use development and raise city property taxes by at least $12 million annually. On top of that, new streets and parkland would create a better urban fabric, all while costing the same as rebuilding the viaducts, though far more study is needed to be sure.

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ConnDOT Takes Stock of its Progress Towards Complete Streets

In 2009, Connecticut passed one of the strongest Complete Streets laws in the country, but a law is only as effective as the agencies who implement it. This summer, Connecticut DOT released a webpage and report outlining the progress it has made to change the way it designs streets. It’s a welcome show of transparency and shows that the department has made real changes toward making the complete streets approach part of its daily business. At the same time, many important reforms — like a badly needed rewrite of the department’s road design guidelines — still remain to be addressed.

ConnDOT has systematically widened medians on two-lane state roads, such as this stretch of State Route 99. | Photo: ConnDOT.

ConnDOT has been providing wider shoulders on two-lane state roads, such as this stretch of State Route 99. | Image: ConnDOT.

According to the report, ConnDOT has been systematically widening shoulders along two-lane state roads, narrowing car lanes from 12 feet to 11 feet to provide the extra space. Of the 180 miles of two-lane highway that were resurfaced in 2012, 162 miles were redone with wider shoulders.

The department has been using a “bike and pedestrian form” at an early stage in the project design process to ensure that designers consider the need for pedestrian and cycling improvements. And since 2012, ConnDOT has sponsored or sent staff to at least four complete streets training workshops. Last year the department also established an internal Complete Streets Committee to recommend changes to agency policies.

One of the most needed reforms is a rewrite of the state’s Highway Design Manual. The manual is the standard reference book for road designers in the state and does not reflect a complete streets approach. Encouragingly, the ConnDOT report says that ”eventually, future initiatives will include the development of a Complete Streets Manual that integrates with the Department’s Highway Design Manual.”  However, there is no timeline for this eventual “future initiative.”

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