Plan Would Add Train Stations For Commuter Service, Revive Long-Stalled Busway Plan
January 25, 2006
By CHRISTOPHER KEATING, Capitol Bureau Chief
Coming on the heels of last year's
$1.3 billion transportation plan, Gov. M. Jodi Rell is calling for
spending at least another $600 million over the next 10 years in
phase two of the program.
plan calls for opening new train stations in Enfield, Newington
and North Haven as part of a proposed 11-station commuter rail service
from New Haven to Springfield, with eight trains running daily each
way. Amtrak currently runs along the tracks, but the new commuter
service would have more stops.
Rell also wants to revive the long-stalled,
$336 million New Britain-to-Hartford busway, a 9.4-mile route with
12 stops that would end at Union Station in Hartford. That project
was included in the federal transportation bill signed by President
George W. Bush in August, but it still requires approval by a federal
transportation agency in a ruling that could come late next month.
The agency had placed the project on its "not recommended"
list last year, but state officials believe they have completed
the necessary design and planning work during the past year to reverse
the previous ruling.
While applauding aspects of Rell's
plan, House Speaker James Amann said it does not go far enough.
The state, he said, needs to spend at least an additional $1.5 billion
to combat the longstanding problems of traffic gridlock and bottlenecks.
"I think that is the minimum,"
Amann said Tuesday night. "We need to do a lot more than the
nickel-and-dime way we've been doing it over the past decade. We
need to do something serious."
The state needs to be bold, Amann said,
in the tradition of Democratic Gov. William A. O'Neill, whose $1
billion transportation plan after the collapse of the Mianus River
Bridge in Greenwich in 1983 would be the equivalent of spending
about $6 billion today. Rell's proposal for $1.3 billion last year
"wasn't really a bold or creative initiative," Amann said.
Some state and local officials have
been clamoring for the New Haven-to-Springfield commuter line for
years, but the plans have been studied and then stalled.
"It's extremely expensive,"
said Sen. Biagio "Billy" Ciotto, a Democrat, and the co-chairman
of the legislature's transportation committee. "It's never
happened because of the cost - money. It's not a new idea."
The Rell administration has not briefed
Ciotto and other top Democrats on the proposal. Rell spokesman Judd
Everhart said Tuesday that no further details about the costs would
be released until Rell's budget address to the legislature on Feb.
8. The plan requires selling bonds, and the interest on the bonds
would be included in the final costs.
Some lawmakers believe Rell has a better
chance of gaining approval because all 187 legislators are up for
re-election this fall, and they want to be seen as solving problems.
Ciotto said he favors the broad outlines of Rell's proposal and
predicted the ideas would be supported by some legislators in the
same way that they voted last year for Rell's $1.3 billion first-phase
"She appears to be going in the
right direction," Ciotto said.
Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams,
the highest-ranking senator, said he supports the commuter rail
line, adding that the Hartford-to-New Haven section is the most
important portion for commuters heading to their jobs. The Senate
Democratic caucus, which holds a 24-12 advantage over the Republicans,
is particularly interested in trying to improve transportation in
order to create jobs, he said.
Concerning the New Britain busway,
Williams said, "It's something we should look at, but it's
not going to solve all the problems."
Like Ciotto, Williams said he had not
received any briefing or documentation from the Rell administration
for a plan that will need legislative approval.
"I haven't seen anything,"
Williams said Tuesday. "We'd all love to have some additional
The plan would be funded with money
from the petroleum gross receipts tax. The tax is derived mainly
from gasoline sales but also is collected on other petroleum products.
The tax is currently 5.8 percent, and is scheduled to increase to
6.3 percent on July 1.
Deputy Senate Republican leader John
McKinney said he did not have concerns about paying for the program
because the public is keenly aware of the problems, and businesses
have been complaining for years about transportation bottlenecks.
He noted that Rell had used her political capital to help pass the
first phase in the legislature, and he sees that happening again.
"I think the fear was, in an election
year, if people were going to be worried about spending this kind
of money or committing these kind of resources," McKinney said
Tuesday. "I think the debate has shifted, where people know
that we need to make these improvements in our transportation system."
Last year's initiative covered improvements
on highways around the state, but the bulk of the money was targeted
at improving the Metro-North commuter rail line in an effort to
help Fairfield County. More than $650 million was earmarked for
342 new rail cars, and another $300 million was earmarked for a
rail maintenance facility in New Haven.
This year, Rell's plan focuses on bus
and commuter-train improvements in central Connecticut.
"Currently, we have a natural
job development corridor - New Haven to Hartford to the Massachusetts
border - with no commuter-friendly rail service," Rell said.
"And we have a major airport with no bus or rail link. These
are serious economic drawbacks, and it is time to address them head-on."
As a result, Rell is calling for a
bus line to connect the Windsor Locks train station with Bradley
International Airport. She also intends to rehabilitate nearly 40
rail cars on the Metro-North line.
Everhart declined to disclose any details,
such as the price for a ticket from New Haven to Springfield or
the number of potential riders. A state Department of Transportation
study in late 2004, however, projected 2,400 riders per day and
a $9.50 one-way ticket from New Haven to Springfield. The study
said that projected passenger fares would generate only 12 percent
of the operating costs, requiring the state to contribute an annual
subsidy of $8.8 million or more than $14 per ride.
The 62-mile line would cut through
17 towns in two states, adding new stations to the current Amtrak
stops in New Haven, Wallingford, Meriden, Berlin, Hartford, Windsor,
Windsor Locks and Springfield.
Christopher Cooper, a spokesman for
the state DOT, said state officials have been working on the design
for the New Britain busway since the project received a "not
recommended" designation in February 2005 from the Federal
"They didn't block it based on
the concept or the merits, but that it wasn't far enough along in
the planning stages," Cooper said. "We fully expect it
to go forward."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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