Wednesday, January 28, 2015
By Jim CameronSpecial to WestportNow
Be careful what you wish for. After years of pleading, we finally have Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s full attention on the problems of transportation. But his recently announced plan for the state sound like he’s been reading from the book of Moses—Robert Moses, the New York City planner who never met a highway he didn’t like.
Malloy has announced that he wants to widen our interstate highways. All of them, everywhere! “Look at New Jersey,” he said recently. “They were smart enough to build parallel highways to existing highways,” evoking images of the six-lane wide New Jersey Turnpike where cars and trucks run in their own lanes.
Great, perhaps, for the swamps of Secaucus, but Malloy says he wants to replicate that on all of I-95 from Rhode Island to New York, adding lanes that would eat into some of the most expensive real estate in the country.
Imagine the decades of construction and the billions of dollars in cost. The exit 14 widening on I-95 in Norwalk alone cost $41 million, and it’s still not done.
And once built, would adding an extra lane or two really solve congestion or would it just encourage more traffic? Wouldn’t a six lane I-95 actually potentially reduce ridership on Metro-North? Sorry, governor, super-sizing I-95 is not the answer.
Widening our highways is not viable environmentally or economically. It’s a nonstarter that will see years of lawsuits while a better long-range solution sits right in front of us.
What we need to do is better utilize Metro-North, the railroad line that parallels I-95 for its entire length. We need to turn it into a suburban “subway” line.
If we increased train service from twice an hour off-peak to trains running every 10 to 15 minutes, you wouldn’t need to worry about a timetable. Just show up and catch the next train.
Why not take the billions you could waste on highway widening and instead add more trains and build more parking at the stations, cutting the 7- to 10-year wait list for permits, giving riders better access to the truly rapid-transit? We have already invested billions into Metro-North, so why not finish the job?
Instead we are going to hear the governor’s grandiose dreams of paving the state as the construction companies and unions see dollar signs in their eyes. The projected costs will be staggering. Many will love the ideas, but nobody will like the few painful alternatives to pay for them.
There will be the inevitable debate about tolls and where they should be placed—at our borders or state-wide. Some will suggest we raise the gas tax. Maybe even offer privatized toll roads (or “Lexus lanes.”) Those are the wrong discussions. Instead of widening I-95, we should be widening use of an existing resource, our rails. Let’s build the Fairfield County Subway.
Posted 01/28/15 at 01:54 PM Permalink
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Well, trains are great, but they just get you between stations. Unfortunately, there are not a lot of destinations close to the train stations. It can work for some, and Jim’s suggestion may help, but to make it work really well, we also need some kind of transit service from each station.
I think Malloy must have visited CO and gotten some souvenirs from that state.
Adequate transportation systems are vital to the economic health of the region. Our infrastructure in SW Connecticut is little changed since the 1950s. However, future plans should carefully consider the new transportation technology that is rapidly becoming available.
Automated vehicles able to travel closer together at higher speeds will become a reality during the implementation time frame of the governor’s plan. This technology will allow a single traffic lane to handle many more vehicles per hour and with fewer accidents thereby reducing the need for expanded highways. However, automated vehicles may result in many more trips when travel no longer represents time lost sitting behind the wheel. Thus those expanded lanes may be needed after all.
But building new lanes without considering automated vehicles would be a serious mistake. The most basic design questions should be “Will automated vehicles be segregated from traditional driver-controlled vehicles?”
There are many more questions and careful study and policy adoption will be critical to determining the success or failure of our future transportation systems and therefore the economic vitality of Connecticut.