Connecticut Post (Sunday)
Train would turn all Conn. into Fairfield County
If you had to sum up Connecticut’s appeal to other states, it might come down to what we don’t have.
No, we don’t have any major cities, which even in this post- pandemic world are expected to be the major drivers of the world economy, but take a look at that map — we’re right near two of them!
That explains the eternal fascination with reducing commuting times to Boston and, especially, New York, what Senate President Martin Looney called the “holy grail” of transit. If it’s easy to get important places but you can still enjoy a house and a yard, it’s a win for Connecticut, and the reason why lower Fairfield County remains one of the most desired landing spots on the planet, if real estate prices are any indication. Extending that status to the rest of Connecticut is apparently our wildest dream.
So news of the latest iteration of a highspeed train running through the Northeast corridor has again inspired hope for the future. This version of the plan would run under Long Island Sound and emerge in the New Haven area, cutting travel time to New York and Boston by hours.
It’s nice to dream. Big picture, there’s no reason why other countries should have a functioning high- speed rail system and we don’t. It ought to be easy to hop on a train to get to, say, Philadelphia or D. C. in a few hours, and it should cost less to take a family by train into Manhattan than to drive and find parking, though it doesn’t. Why shouldn’t we be able to build these sorts of mega- projects that would carry our economy into the next century, or at least catch us up with this one?
Realistically, though, Milford Mayor Ben Blake spoke for a lot of people when he gave his take on the proposal, which would emerge from the Sound in his city. “This is not something that will ever happen,” Blake told Hearst Connecticut Media’s Luther Turmelle.
We don’t build projects like this anymore. It’s too expensive and there are too many stumbling blocks among the dozens of states, municipalities and other jurisdictions that would have to approve it. Environmental hang- ups alone would probably be insurmountable. “A massive tunnel could disrupt and destroy precious wildlife and habitat,” U. S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who might have been expected to support such a plan, said. One assumes the English Channel has some precious wildlife and habitat, though they still managed to build a tunnel under it.
But we do need to improve our infrastructure. Forget about Boston to New York, people complain about the commute from Woodbridge to New Haven. And even if we’re not going to build $ 105 billion supertrains, we could make fixes on a smaller scale that would improve quality of life, and maybe create a situation where we weren’t always looking to outside cities for salvation.
For instance, sidewalks. It’s old news now, but Gov. Ned Lamont’s plans on how to spend all the money we were going to raise from tolls near the start of his term was criticized for its heavy focus on roads. That’s understandable, given how most people get around in this state, and plenty of highways and bridges are due for an upgrade.
But it was also a backwards way of taking on one of our biggest challenges. We need to improve transportation, but if we only focus on what we have now we can never create something better. Sidewalks won’t cut your commute time, but they might improve quality of life in your neighborhood, getting people out of their houses and connecting those who would otherwise never cross paths.
We’re not going to change the fundamentally sprawled nature of development in Connecticut, but any steps we could take to improve our cul- de- sac of a state should be taken. And all the small- bore moves together would cost less than a train under Long Island Sound.
It’s good to think big on transportation. We should be asking why major projects are all but impossible. But that shouldn’t stop us from making changes in the meantime on the neighborhood level that would bring improvements in people’s lives and not require a decade’s worth of environmental review.
Either way, big picture or short term, the focus should be on something other than cars.