If you want to resuscitate Connecticut’s economy, the way to get there is through cities, according to Bridgeport economic policy wonk Jeff Kohut. He writes, “the urban centers of the world are the logical, natural economic generators for their surrounding geo-political regions. Connecticut must rediscover this reality and act accordingly.”
As a lifelong Connecticut resident that remembers when the state began sliding on a then-imperceptible (deniable) negative gradient, from the edge of the horizon of our flat-earth prosperity, toward the edge of the economic abyss that now looms as a nightmarish possibility, I can only attempt to deny that our political and business community leadership apparently don’t have access to the indicated big-picture view of Connecticut’s transportation future, much less a creative, progressive plan by which to make it a reality.
In 21st Century Connecticut, the economy and all aspects of modern life require the efficient access and use of various modes of public and individual transportation, per the availability of properly situated, well-maintained, rail and road surface (including safe, well-maintained bridges) as well as access to air- and water-transportation linkages (the latter of which are under-regarded and fixed in perception (in Connecticut, at least) as minimally exploitable, secondary linkages in the ground/surface-focused, transportation linkage infrastructure hierarchy. *[Of course, the age of scale-size, driverless, pilotless drone aircraft and watercraft, per the ubiquitous presence/insinuation of digital (automated, remote) control/environmental sensing, increasingly affecting (directing) all aspects of our lives, will soon change the hierarchy of transportation infrastructure needs of the developed (as well as the developing) world such that much extant and presently proposed ground/surface infrastructure will be rendered unnecessary. This needs to be an important policy consideration for all levels of government and their economic development/infrastructure needs planners.]
But when assessing transportation needs, the operative term, of course, is translocation. And, inasmuch as the need (if not the option) to accomplish changes in location of humans, and objects/substances of human utility, is limited (limitable), so too are the transportation “needs” of society.
In this regard (in our hierarchy of transportation needs), the extent to which our transportation needs can be met with minimal relocation time/energy, the less extensive–and expensive–will be the infrastructure required to meet those needs. And of course, the best way to limit the expenditure of time and energy and material resources (money!) on transportation needs is to obviate the need.
This latter statement raises the issue of the need by efficient government to create policy and initiative to address society’s basic, transportation-related needs via minimal expenditures of time/energy and material resources, such as by the highly indicated efficiency of creating economic development policy that encourages the proximal location of jobs and housing. Such policy would go a long way in solving the Fairfield County transportation conundrum and would obviate the “need” for the widening/expansion/improvement” of I-95, R-15, I-84, et al. Likewise, it would obviate the need for extensive expansion of rail use with respect to these corridors (with the glaring exception of the expansion of rail-freight capacity/usage). To cut to the chase; if Connecticut economic development policy were to be conceived and implemented along logical, pragmatic, politically holistic lines, the co-dependent Connecticut transportation and economic crises would never have occurred and could be efficaciously addressed in relatively short order.
Marry Connecticut economic development to affordable labor and land availability–with the logical focus therein being on the state’s distressed urban centers (i.e., Bridgeport, New Haven, Hartford, Waterbury, New London )–and free the state from its present policy of economic suicide per the present policy of Stamford-area economic-development primacy that necessitates the transportation logjam in lower Fairfield County that is strangling and destroying the entire state economy (even as it unfairly mal-distributes tax-base/jobs).
Now this isn’t to say that expensive transportation improvements and innovations aren’t necessary for future economic and population growth accommodation. But solve the Fairfield County transportation conundrum by obviating the need to shift a large workforce across the region on a daily basis–by locating necessary housing proximal to jobs and jobs proximal to available labor/housing–and several problematic socioeconomic issues become resolvable within the context of an expanding state economy and workable state budget. By revamping economic development policy to favor urban employment (where labor and housing are already in place) and remedy urban tax-base deficiencies (by helping/encouraging business relocation to urban centers, via various direct incentives, in the context of relevant, urban social and infrastructure investment), two major socioeconomic problems are addressed even as the cost of transportation infrastructure upgrades necessary for an expanding economy are pared to manageable levels–with the added benefit of an expanding housing/commercial-building sector expansion in the state as commuter labor is housed proximal to extant jobs and new businesses are drawn to high unemployment, urban areas.
So part of the transportation infrastructure cost conundrum can be solved by indicated economic development policy. Another part can be addressed by the creation of policy and investment strategy geared toward the creation of better telecommuting options for various jobs presently requiring the use of transportation infrastructure–especially in the finance and advanced manufacturing sectors. And as previously mentioned, much effort toward understanding and anticipating/preparing for future transportation trends/options, per the increasing dominance of digital information technology/telecommunication/remote control options, must be a focus of all levels of government in economic development/transportation-infrastructure planning. Truly, the most basic aspect of 21st Century economic development/transportation planning must occur in terms of the assurance of digital signal access across all geographic areas such that all geographic areas and societal segments are served by access to secure digital signaling/IT access, even as the present and future generations are assured of adequate training to participate in all aspects of the increasingly digital, remotely accessible world.
But in terms of solving the transportation infrastructure funding dilemma faced by our state; tolls (however physically unobtrusive) and the gas tax must be avoided/eliminated. Both taxes can only serve to discourage commerce in Connecticut even as they negatively impact Connecticut family income [$2,200/yr. (!)–Connecticut Post, Sunday, 2/11/18, “Revving-up tolls for revenue,” pages 1,12) and business relocation/jobs and tax-base development (the latter of which are the sine qua of Connecticut economic survival). Connecticut is not NYC–we are not a world economic focal point or destination. To a large degree, out-of-state toll payers and gas buyers who might want to enjoy a Connecticut segment to their Boston/NYC trip, on which they might stop for a meal, et al., in Connecticut, can skirt around us by car if we add significant expense by taxes and tolls. We aren’t a destination, nor are we too big to drive around to save a few bucks on taxes and tolls. And what about the train option–how do we hit train travelers who opt out of driving through CT because of gas taxes and tolls and instead decide the more expensive Connecticut driving segment makes the train more attractive on their NYC/Boston jaunt? (But to repeat, this will ultimately happen anyway–less dependence on cars regionally and nationally–which, along with telecommuting and development policy changes, could wind up making a lot of costly highway improvement/construction a contraindicated waste in the long-term anyway.)
Given the contraindications of tolls and the gas tax for the Connecticut economy, in the context of indicated, costly transportation infrastructure improvements (albeit, many of which require reevaluation in terms of development policy changes, e.g., the widening of I-95), it is necessary to devise alternative, acceptable means of financing needed infrastructure improvement costs. In this regard, we would do well to marry the planning of Connecticut’s energy future with that of our transportation infrastructure needs and emulate various developed and developing countries around the world, such as Germany, in the pragmatic usage of highway right-of-way for the siting of taxable/revenue generating alternative energy generation equipment/infrastructure.
Present Connecticut energy policy, per the budget balancing by the Malloy Administration in which $200 million earmarked for alternative energy development was transferred to the general fund, in the context of the official weighting of current and future energy policy by DEEP to favor the expansion of the use of fossil fuels (as expressed in their recently released–2/8/18–“Comprehensive Energy Strategy” document, based on a months-long series of “public meetings” that largely ignored public input), doesn’t resonate with generating government revenue–ostensibly for application to transportation infrastructure needs–in any pragmatic manner along Germany’s policy lines. These related facts/situations, in a state considered an energy technology leader, in the country that pioneered the development of the alternative energy technology that is the basis of future energy and economic development strategy for most of the rest of the world, scream out the need for public outrage and abrupt, economy saving, energy/transportation policy change.
We as residents of Connecticut must be ashamed at the stupid, tragic economic/transportation morass in which we have allowed ourselves to be dragged by greedy special interests and their political lackeys (e.g., big oil and gas/the multinational public utilities of Connecticut, and the Malloy Administration, respectively).
As the new legislature works to identify policy need and produce indicated new statute and policy in 2018, we must hold our representation responsible for pursuing enlightened energy, transportation and economic policy/statute, that seeks to resuscitate our state economy by harnessing the economic potential of our economically essential urban centers by way of efficiently utilizing their preexisting housing, energy, sanitation, transportation infrastructure, and other related infrastructure, as well as their vital labor/social capital. As has been recognized, the urban centers of the world are the logical, natural economic generators for their surrounding geo-political regions. Connecticut must rediscover this reality and act accordingly.
With respect to funding transportation improvements. We do know where to go–and where not to go–as a state, in creating the financial wherewithal to accomplish indicated changes (the latter of which require much enlightened review and reconsideration, however). This present General Assembly must make real progress in creating the right, progressive policies and measures to address our long- and shorter-term transportation needs by way of recreating a powerful, urban-based Connecticut economy. There is no time left for appeasing special interests or playing party politics. This General Assembly must be answerable and effective in these regards, or replaced in the August primaries/November general election.