The hid­den cost of slower, less re­li­able rail ser­vice

The ar­gu­ment that we can fix our prob­lems with bond­ing just doesn’t hold wa­ter.

The News-Times - - OPINION - By Michael Critelli Michael Critelli is the re­tired Pit­ney Bowes CEO, for­mer chair of the 2008 Gover­nor’s Com­mis­sion on Re­form of Connecticu­t DOT, and Connecticu­t Com­mit­tee Co-Chair of the Re­gional Plan As­so­ci­a­tion.

Length­en­ing a per­son’s daily com­mute by 20 min­utes has the same job dis­sat­is­fac­tion ef­fect as re­duc­ing their pay by 19 per­cent, ac­cord­ing to one study of 26,000 com­muters. The stress caused by longer, less pre­dictable com­mutes neg­a­tively im­pacts rid­ers’ health and pro­duc­tiv­ity. What’s more, ex­tended trip times lower prop­erty val­ues in im­pacted com­mu­ni­ties.

This prob­lem has crept up qui­etly but un­mis­tak­ably in south­ern Connecticu­t along the New Haven Line. As a Darien res­i­dent, who has been a fre­quent com­muter to New York for nearly 40 years, I re­call when a trip be­tween Grand Cen­tral and Darien was 51 min­utes in 1981. To­day, as I sit on a train from Darien, it will be a 66-minute trip. From New Haven to New York, the trip has been length­ened by more than 30 min­utes.

Why does this time dif­fer­ence mat­ter so much for Connecticu­t? Long com­mutes into New York City and within Connecticu­t mean our state is a less at­trac­tive place for peo­ple to live. Peo­ple who travel into New York of­ten drive and park at a train sta­tion and then get on sub­ways or buses or walk to a work­place. As a re­sult, their com­mute can now be close to two hours in each di­rec­tion, four hours daily. Com­mu­ni­ties like South Norwalk, West­port, Fair­field and Bridge­port, which used to be within rea­son­able com­mut­ing dis­tance of New York, are now out­side a rea­son­able daily com­mute. And com­mute times within Connecticu­t — from New Haven to Green­wich, for ex­am­ple — are also much less vi­able.

The Connecticu­t Depart­ment of Trans­porta­tion and MetroNorth are work­ing to de­liver on the prom­ise of on-time per­for­mance, but are un­able to re­duce travel times due to main­te­nance and re­lated safety is­sues along the line. Speed re­stric­tions are in place in many lo­ca­tions where in­fra­struc­ture is old and un­re­li­able, where there are sharp curves and where there are bot­tle­necks caused by lim­ited track ca­pac­ity. Along sharp curves and cen­tury-old move­able bridges, trains must slow to be­tween 30 and 45 miles per hour to en­sure safety.

Th­ese are all prob­lems that we can solve by in­vest­ing in our rail in­fra­struc­ture. Rev­enue gen­er­ated from elec­tronic tolling is cru­cial to mak­ing this hap­pen.

We need to em­bark on a ma­jor pro­gram to up­grade our rail sys­tem and we need new fund­ing sources to make it hap­pen. The ar­gu­ment that we can fix our prob­lems with bond­ing just doesn’t hold wa­ter. Bond­ing is a tool that we’ve had ac­cess to for decades, yet Connecticu­t now ranks 46th in the na­tion on both in­fra­struc­ture and fis­cal sta­bil­ity, ac­cord­ing to US News and World Re­port — down from 41st last year.

We have to ask our­selves: Is it fis­cally re­spon­si­ble to kick the can fur­ther down the road to ad­dress this cri­sis with $11.2 bil­lion in bonds, which we will be re­spon­si­ble for re­pay­ing? And if we were to de­cide to go all in on bond­ing to meet our trans­porta­tion in­fra­struc­ture needs, what other needs in our state will go un­met?

With tolling we can col­lect user fees from the out-of-state driv­ers who cur­rently get a free ride on our high­ways — 40 per­cent of tolling rev­enues are ex­pected to be col­lected from out-of-state driv­ers. Tolls can also help us re­duce con­ges­tion and lower ve­hi­cle emis­sions. There is no other prac­ti­cal way to achieve th­ese goals and to se­cure the rev­enues we need to im­prove our com­muter rail sys­tem ser­vice.

Many res­i­dents may not sup­port tolling be­cause they are con­cerned about tolling rev­enues be­ing di­verted away from trans­porta­tion needs to ad­dress other items in the state bud­get, a prac­tice that has oc­curred far too fre­quently in the past. But fed­eral laws and reg­u­la­tions that al­low for toll col­lec­tion re­quire that monies col­lected along a cor­ri­dor be spent on trans­porta­tion im­prove­ments in that same cor­ri­dor. In ad­di­tion to that pro­tec­tion, once th­ese funds are al­lo­cated to the Spe­cial Trans­porta­tion Fund, the Connecticu­t “lock­box” con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment ap­proved last year makes di­ver­sion ex­cep­tion­ally dif­fi­cult.

Gover­nor La­mont is tak­ing bold ac­tion mov­ing tolling leg­is­la­tion through the state leg­is­la­ture. It’s ex­actly this kind of lead­er­ship that got him elected. His col­leagues should sup­port this move and get Connecticu­t mov­ing again.

Hearst Connecticu­t Me­dia file photo

A Metro-North train pulls into the Union Sta­tion pas­sen­ger plat­form in New Haven.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.