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Tied into Transit

March 21, 2005

With housing prices beyond the reach of many of Connecticut's working families, state Treasurer Denise L. Nappier's proposal to create a $100 million fund to help thousands of residents buy homes or rent apartments is more than welcome.

High housing costs strain family budgets and make it hard for businesses to attract workers. Lack of affordable housing is driving people to live far from where they work, adding to highway congestion and its attendant ills. The fund proposed by the treasurer would be financed by bonds backed by millions of dollars from unclaimed bank accounts and other assets held by the state. It would help nonprofit agencies build subsidized homes and apartments.

This is a good idea, considering the need. But it could be a great idea with one refinement: Require that the new housing be built around stops on transit lines. In other words, make it a fund for transit-oriented development.

The post-World War II era has been the age of automobile-induced sprawl in Connecticut and the rest of the country. But as someone said of progress, it was fine for a time and then it went too far. The relentless march of highways, subdivisions and strip malls chews up land, increases fuel consumption, damages air quality, makes it more difficult and expensive to deliver services and disfigures the landscape that's defined the state for centuries.

One response to this set of ills has been to concentrate new development around transit hubs. From Washington, D.C., to San Diego, communities have built high-density, multi-use projects around bus and train stations. In addition to providing housing and access to transit, most of these projects are pedestrian-oriented, lively and safe.

For years, the knock on better public transit in Connecticut was that the state didn't have the density to support it. Transit-oriented development would help rectify that situation. It would help revive cities in transportation corridors and take development pressure off the remaining open space.

Transit-oriented development isn't a foreign concept; it's included in many regional plans around the state and is highlighted in Connecticut's Plan of Conservation and Development. Some communities will have to make zoning changes to implement it, but that's hardly insurmountable. Bloomfield, for example, prepared an excellent transit development plan for the proposed Griffin Line project, which the state declined to support.

If Connecticut is to balance growth with preservation of the countryside, it should take a page from the old urbanism and build around fixed-path transportation -- a 19th-century concept with a 21st-century application. Ms. Nappier can lead the way.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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