There was a time, not long ago, when there was little political will to make mass transit a serious part of Connecticut’s transportation system. Cars were king. Trains were seen as, well, a relict of a bygone era. The smart money was on building bigger highways and letting our neglected train system take a back seat.
A few of us took every opportunity to point out that a modernized, efficient and workable mass transit system would both boost our economy, encourage business development, and help our environment by making it possible for more people to leave their cars at home.
Fortunately, former Governor M. Jodi Rell heard us and sought new transit-oriented leadership at the Department of Transportation (DOT). Due to her leadership, the improvement and modernization of Connecticut’s mass transit system finally took off.
Now, DOT considers our bus and train system to be equally important as our highways.
Consider the Rell-era investments in mass transit and highway, including:
- $667 million for 300 new rail cars for use on the New Haven Line
- $300 million for new rail maintenance facilities
- $103 million for a new train station in West Haven
- $187 million for operational improvements and congestion mitigation measures for Interstate 95 between Greenwich and North Stonington
- $150 million for improvements to other state and interstate roads
- $7.5 million for new transit buses.
Other transportation enhancements during the last five years include; station improvements on Shore Line East, the purchase of 24 new M-8 rail cars for use on Shore Line East and redevelopment of the service plazas on Connecticut’s highways through a unique public/private partnership. Also, close to home the development of new rail station parking in Stamford and a new “511” traveler information system.
There has also been the creation of separate Engineering and Highway Operations Bureaus within DOT and a reorganization of the Bureau of Finance and Administration.
The replacement of manual signals along the Danbury branch line with modern remote-controlled computerized signals is nearly finished. This much-needed project had been stalled – and its state and federal funding jeopardized as a result – for more than a decade.
This will make it possible to make other much needed improvements, such as electrification, which would make the Danbury branch line compatible with the main line and make it possible to add seven more trains to the morning and evening commutes.
We need to continue efforts to make our mass transit system more efficient, more modern, and more commuter-friendly. After all, a sound transportation system is an economic imperative in revitalizing our great state.