Light rail, deep-water shipping, air-freight system, policy guru Jeff Kohut, 2011 petitioning candidate for mayor, offers Governor Dan Malloy improvements in his transportation proposal. Grab a cup of joe and check out Kohut’s transportation vision.
Every governor since and including William O’Neill has devoted considerable time and attention (if not money) to the remediation of the Fairfield County highway traffic logjam and to addressing the safety issues of our aging, overburdened surface transportation infrastructure. (Truly, the date that should mark the start of the initiative to move Connecticut’s transportation infrastructure into the 21st Century should be the date of the Mianus River Bridge collapse on I-95 in Greenwich–June 28, 1983.)
While it was noted by state transportation officials nearly 50 years ago the amount of vehicular traffic on Fairfield County’s highways was becoming problematic, most of the state’s transportation improvement measures since the Mianus River Bridge collapse have not moved beyond the “study” stage, the latter of which have provided little more than grist for arguments as to exactly how many cars traverse the Fairfield County section of I-95 on a given workday and where more lanes can be added to I-95 and the Merritt Parkway. (Governor John Rowland actually proposed the breakdown lane on I-95 should be employed as a traffic lane!)
Fast forward to 2015 and we now have Governor Malloy declaring indeed, transportation is a most vital issue in Connecticut (especially in Fairfield County) and all necessary resources must be used in resolving the state’s transportation problems.
While the Governor is speaking in terms of the commitment of the necessary money and resources by the state to undertake this (necessarily) huge initiative, he really hasn’t presented any clear vision of what he believes actually needs to happen–beyond building a $1 billion busway between Bristol and Hartford, building a handful of train stops (including a $500 million upgrade/expansion of the Stamford train station) and adding lanes to I-95 and I-84 in Fairfield County. But more importantly, beyond speaking in terms of accommodating the future “growth” of the state, he hasn’t articulated where this initiative is supposed to take us; neither has he divined from whence the money will come to accomplish this astigmatic vision of “the future” of our state.
With a daunting price tag of up to $100 billion factored into our budget over 2-3 decades for “needed” transportation infrastructure improvements (mostly for road expansions/upgrades), it would seem we need to take a very pragmatic, dispassionate approach in identifying our probable infrastructure “needs”–especially in regard to the amount of population growth that is desirable for a livable Connecticut of the future, as well as determining the kind and amount of infrastructure we will need in order to achieve and maintain a desirable population limit/population demographic in the context of an appropriately diverse economy and employment situation.
What should our state look like in 20, 50, 100, 150 years? What type of lifestyle should our people expect? What types of industry and services, and what state and regional population numbers will our transportation infrastructure need to safely accommodate in a pragmatic timeframe(s) (in terms of integrated, short- and long-term planning)?
In the shorter term, a clear, expansive vision of the initiative should be presented–including the “whys/wherefores” and ways and means. That is to say, the very first step in this grand undertaking by the state has apparently not yet been taken by the Governor and his cabinet–the creation (in terms of a rationale) of a clear, comprehensive vision of the future of the economy, demographics, and environment/landscape of the state that will define at least the essential parameters of the proposed transportation initiative. (An astute editorial page contributor from Shelton CT, Mr. Robert Todd, recently commented on the current Malloy/state government focus on “growing” the state, in terms of increasing our population. He presented the timely and essential question of just how much population growth is desirable in a state that is already feeling the negative impact of overpopulation/overdevelopment; additionally he admonished the Governor and state planners to try to factor in how technology will influence our transportation needs, e.g., the probable increase in telecommuting. See CT Post, page A11, 1/22/15.)
Since the intention of this writer is not simply to criticize the Governor, but rather to attempt to resonate with him in regard to the creation of a progressive, livable, prosperous Connecticut of the future, herewith are a few specific ideas/thoughts on the proposed transportation initiative and the future of the state:
· Consider development policy changes as a first step in creating the transportation overhaul plan: Direct economic development/jobs to areas that already host large labor pools and workforce housing, such as Bridgeport, while at the same time building enough workforce housing to accommodate the workforce where jobs are already located–such as in Stamford and Greenwich. This policy could hugely reduce the workday number of cars on I-95 and the Merritt Parkway by 60,000+, while accomplishing enough population/tax-base growth to sustain the economies and lifestyles of the municipalities affected. By such development policy change, costly road building/road widening and infrastructure creation could be avoided while stimulating economic development in distressed Bridgeport. The money could be spent rebuilding Bridgeport’s economy/tax base and creating affordable housing in municipalities that require population growth for tax base and lifestyle maintenance.
· Consider development of underutilized, alternative transportation options: Develop and utilize inland waterways and Long Island Sound as a means of diverting both in-state and interstate traffic off the highways. (This would not include environmentally and economically contraindicated options such as using Long Island Sound for intense feeder-barge traffic.) Long Island Sound passenger-ferry options could be expanded/developed for intra- and interstate passenger transportation. In this context, carefully considered, optimally located canals and natural interconnections could be exploited/created between cities and towns to connect such waterways as the Mianus, Pequonnock, Housatonic, Connecticut rivers, et al., to each other. The expanded use of ferries, buses, trains, etc. could be integrated to accommodate many thousands of passenger trips that would normally have to rely on cars using highways. Limited, appropriate, freight transport could be incorporated into this system. (A study should be undertaken to explore all of the economic opportunities/cost advantages this type of transportation could have, versus highway expansion.)
· Interstate and intrastate rail/freight capacity should be expanded/developed to help limit the amount of truck traffic in the context of an expanded Connecticut economy.
· Deep-water shipping (for ocean-going vessels/international trade) should be developed, in conjunction with rail/freight service to our deep-water ports, in the context of an expanded Connecticut economy/manufacturing sector. *(Environmentally/economically contraindicated use of our ports/Long Island Sound for feeder-barge traffic should not be part of this plan. Only shipment–via ocean-going vessels and rail/freight–of high-value, Connecticut manufacturing-sector and Connecticut retail-sector goods should be involved.)
· Study/consider novel surface/transportation options for intra- and intercity traffic congestion amelioration: Explore the use of such possibilities as elevated trams for use in transporting passengers between congested work and retail areas within and between towns in congested micro-regions of the state.
· Develop “light” passenger rail cars/rail tracks for use in congested micro-regions of the state. (The hardware and technology for this type of system could be developed and made in the state–perhaps by GE, using a factory in say, Bridgeport?)
· Develop “light” passenger helicopters/extensive system of heliports for use in appropriate commuter situations on an intra- and interstate basis. (This technology could be developed and manufactured by Sikorsky/UTC in say, Bridgeport?)
· Develop an air-freight (freight helicopters, et al.) system, integrated with our rail and water freight systems, in the context of growing the Connecticut economy, which will help to reduce the need for expanded truck-traffic/expensive roadway infrastructure. (The development/deployment of a practical freight helicopter could be another manufacturing opportunity for Connecticut.)
· Optimize conventional air-transportation options in the context of a growing Connecticut economy.
· Study/implement communications/technology options that will help to limit the need for the movement of passengers and freight within the state. (Work with our universities and corporations to develop and implement technology for more effective telecommuting and freight abatement–such as by the use of 3D printer technology to allow “remote manufacturing” of specialized tools/components for manufactured products that might otherwise require the movement of persons/materials for minimal value-added purposes.)
While most of the money for this type of initiative will have to come from the state, it should be possible to leverage creative ideas for unconventional options such that significant sums of money could be raised in partnership with the federal government and corporations in creating the integrated transportation system of the future in Connecticut as a national prototype.
I’m sure many thousands of creative, concerned residents of Connecticut could contribute many viable ideas to this list of possible means to address our transportation/economic-growth dilemma. The governor should reach out to the collective Connecticut intellect for input in this regard.