Sunday, January 4, 2009

Johnson advocates river rail line in Courant

Middletown's noted city planner, architect and Planning and Zoning Board member appears in the Opinion section of the Hartford Courant today with an idea to revive the river train line between Middletown and Hartford.

It's a perfect idea for the time, but considering the mindset of local, state and federal leaders, it's a bit like spitting into the wind.

The Connecticut Department of Transportation has, for year, favored road construction, road improvement and road repair over all forms of mass transit. Even when faced with what can only be called a huge success in the recently-revived Waterbury to Bridgeport line, the legislators are dragging their feet and expressing doubt about improvements.

According to the Hartford Courant:

Given the national economic downturn, some of the big-ticket improvements — adding overhead catenaries for electric service, or laying down a second set of tracks — seem very improbable in the near future, Senate Pro Tem Donald DeFronzo, D- New Britain, said Wednesday. No current figures are available for the Waterbury line, but a recent study estimated that electrifying a slightly shorter Metro-North branch in Danbury could cost up to $117 million, while double-tracking the Danbury route would run $270 million to as much as $1.1 billion.

Given the payback, it's seems a no-brainer that investing in rail would be appropriate, and totally fit the goals of infrastructure investment, progressive transit, and alternative transportation that the Obama administration is advocating.

On a local level, a plan to build a trolley on Main Street is on the table in Middletown, but is not one of the "shovel-ready" projects the town is proposing to get potential funds for infrastructure development in town. Once upon a time, the trolley provided good, cheap and timely trasportation throughout the town. While the town is proposing needed road and sewer upgrades, the trolley is among the most progressive of plans in town. Still, the trolley is not "shovel-ready" with permits and plans and state (DOT) approvals needed to proceed.

But these are extraordinary times. The incoming presidential administration is asking states and cities to propose progressive infrastructure projects that will have future paybacks. One needs to question whether the Middletown proposals have such a payback, or are merely a matter of backfill.

We've seen the town fathers swing into action when a developer with big-money and big-ideas rolls into town with a pie-in-the-sky proposal. It's time to see if these same political and municipal leaders will act with alacrity and grasp the opportunity progressive alternative transportation provides, or whether they'll rely on their tried-and-true tactic of moving slowly, pursuing reliably backward-gazing, hidebound solutions and spending taxpayer dollars on infrastructure projects which aren't an investment in the future.

One of the most telling lines in Johnson's piece is a question:
Could we build this by ourselves? Could we take the gas and car taxes from the region and establish a fund, which included private money, and start building it ourselves?

Perhaps Johnson is onto something. Maybe the time has come to put all our creative thought into how to get around all the obstacles that the state, federal and municipal bureaucracies have placed in front of progressive solutions to difficult problems.

Time to take the trolleys out of the museums and get them back on the streets.


Anonymous said...

It would be very useful to have a trolley from the village district to the Stop and Shop.

Anonymous said...

Oh to have trolley service from downtown to other useful locations...I can live on hope.