Conn. transit study begins as money issue looms

With money a key issue, Conn. reviews transportation problems to find solutions, boost growth

Associated Press

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- Once again, Connecticut is studying its transportation systems in an effort to address issues like pollution and highway traffic jams.

The state Department of Transportation has launched a website to solicit opinions from residents and businesses about all forms of transportation: highways, rail and airports.

"It will help shape a common vision on what transportation can be 20 years from now," said Tom Maziarz, chief of policy and planning at the state agency.

The online suggestion box is part of a broader effort by the state, which will schedule public meetings, focus groups and surveys to engage businesses, elected officials, transportation advocacy groups and others about how to improve transportation.

A state committee previously spent several years examining Connecticut's transportation woes, spurred by complaints from commuters and businesses that the state's highways were choked and rail transportation left something to be desired. The study concluded that the most critical needs would cost $7.5 billion over 10 years.

Ideas and suggestions will mean nothing without financing to fix the state's transportation problems, said Oz Griebel, who headed the strategy board.

"It's all great, but without money nothing is going to happen," he said.

Adding to the demand for enormous funding, transportation experts say improving motor vehicle mileage allows motorists to buy less gas, cutting into the state's gas tax revenue.

Connecticut lawmakers have considered, but rejected, legislation over the years establishing electronic tolls to raise revenue. Connecticut eliminated its highway tolls in 1985 after a fatal tractor-trailer crash at a Stratford toll booth.

Connecticut is being squeezed by rising demand for work as decades-old bridges and roads require repairs as revenue from the gas tax is diminished, said State Rep. Antonio Guerrera, co-chairman of the legislature's Transportation Committee. "That is what we're going up against," he said.

Maziarz said the state review will identify new revenue sources because the gas tax is not a viable long-term source of revenue.

Griebel said transportation officials have already made improvements. New commuter rail cars operate between Connecticut and New York City, new overhead lines that power the trains are being installed and a bus-only corridor is being built in central Connecticut.

"There's been more than just planning and thinking going on," he said. "There's been a fair amount of action."

David Elder, project manager for the agency's study, says the website drew more than 500 ideas in the first day. Some suggested tolls, banning 18-wheelers during rush hour and hiring "more state cops on the highways to arrest the idiots."

Soliciting directly for ideas from the public is "outside the mold of what we typically do," said Transportation Department spokesman Kevin Nursick.

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