The Hartford Courant reports today that the State of Connecticut has become an active proponent of transit expansion, with a focus on improving commuter rail. The state Transportation Commissioner, Joseph Marie, has been working under Governor Jodi Rell (R) to expand connections between lines and to improve transit within cities.
For years, the state has been considering how to implement a new commuter rail line from New Haven to Springfield, via the state capital in Hartford, but only recently has the state put aside funds to make the project happen. In addition, the government is considering reactivating a line between Hartford and Waterbury, which would allow for faster trains between the capital and New York City, as well as a line from New London to Providence, via Norwich. The Metro-North railroad line that currently terminates in Danbury may be extended to New Milford and the Shore Line East line that ends in Old Saybrook may be expanded to New London.
One project that may be abandoned is the bus rapid transit line proposed on an abandoned rail right-of-way between Hartford and New Britain, because the rail connection between Waterbury and the capital would require the use of the same corridor. This may ultimately be good news if it means the commuter rail system can be implemented, because the BRT system would have been unfit for the corridor, as its density is too low for a mass transit line. In addition, the BRT line failed repeatedly to receive funds from the Federal Transit Administration, so a new plan might make sense.
But perhaps most interesting about the state’s strategy is its focus on improving transit within the state’s biggest cities. Light rail or streetcar lines within New Haven and Stamford, both along the Long Island Sound, have garnered state support after years of efforts by those cities’ mayors to get the projects built. Each city is relatively dense by American standards and each has been experiencing extensive downtown renewal over the past fifteen years. Streetcar systems connected to the well used Metro-North commuter lines to Manhattan would expand dense development in those cities’ cores and attract expanded transit ridership. As a former resident of New Haven, I can tell you that a streetcar line downtown would be a good project.
A light rail line from Hartford to its airport in Windsor Locks is also under consideration. I have my doubts about the usefulness of such a line – most of its path would go through rural areas, and the service would already be provided by the New Haven to Springfield line. Perhaps a line connecting East to West Hartford, via downtown, would make more sense.