Read story of longtime State employee retiring:  http://ctmirror.org/2014/12/08/mary-finnegan-three-decades-as-cts-fiscal-linchpin-coming-to-an-end/
 

The Connecticut Department of Transportation ("DOT") former Commissioner Emil Frankel pictured below at LW of Weston event.

This page begun as a result of Hartford Courant series and 2007 proposed legislation re:  reorganizing DOT.  And continued in 2015 with Transportation Finance Panel online viewing.
   

TABLE OF CONTENTS:

TOLLS at borders (new in 2009); the next step after Cambridge Systematics 500 page study, now complete, of options;  CT Toll Plazas
Reorganization of DOT

Mass Transit Department
Connecticut Transit Authority

AND NOW COMING TO THE FORE ("What, can you repeat that, I couldn't hear...") how about air traffic control?  Aircraft safety?



T.F.P. MEMBERSHIP AS APPOINTED BY GOVERNOR MALLOY

Documents produced so far from OPM and DOT


http://ct-n.com/ondemand.asp?ID=11547


GOVERNOR'S TRANSPORTATION FINANCE PANEL ("TFP")
Monday, May 18, 2015 at the L.O.B.  (First meeting was in April)
 
The meeting got started at 9:30am Legislative time - please note the link to this body is off the Governor's webpage.  The initial press release:http://www.governor.ct.gov/malloy/cwp/view.asp?Q=563272&A=4010 .
        

The Governor’s Transportation Finance Panel is a nonpartisan working group comprised of experts in transportation, finance, and economic development.
Republican Alternative First up, when we tuned in right at the beginning, was Sen. Fasano.  He asked that.General Obligation Bonds be used, and that it was necessary to prioritize bonding - tighten our belts, in effect.  "Lock Box" restoration part of his "Blue Print."  Transportation Strategy Board reinstatement suggested during Q&A.  He asked:  Where can we get reliable source of income?
        
"TFP" PUBLIC HEARING IN JUNE, DATE T.B.A. 
Oz Griebel asks if hearing could be held open for testimony that comes is after...Emil Frankel asks, (we thought we heard him say it) "only one MPO needed"!  Coffee break awaiting various Commissioners to testify...

EQUITY INFUSION NEEDED FROM PRIVATE SECTOR
No written testimony - mentions off-shore investments - PUBLIC-PRIVATE partnerships
Broadband arena must be included.  Simplify execution (right).  Staff asked to explain stuff.  What's the 5-yr ramp up?

BINGO!
Emil Frankel asks to have an analysis by type of projectJuly meeting(after public hearing) will have review of technical stuff.  Website (?) should help structure questions.  Competing statutes:  One requires "special transportation fund" and yet the General Fund is being raided.  Commissioner Redeker responds.

Waiting for Co-Chair. of Legislature's Transportation Committee.
But he arrived (many competing events at the Capitol) and shared his thoughts, below.

REP. GUERRERA FAVORS TOLLS
"Lock Box" not there anymore if it ever was.  Gas tax no looking as solid as once was because cars get better mileage. Rep.  Guerrera drives F-350 and says gas tax is never going to cut it for funding source because even the F-350 gets great mileage - quotes Cambridge Systematics' study
.  

Discussion muted but we thought we heard that there would be in interim meeting Tues May 26 at 2pm" work session" in Hartford and then...


JUNE 23rd date for PUBLIC HEARING in New Haven, 10-2, location T.B.A. - invited guests will find out first, of course..."don't tell Mike Riley (joking)" voice off camera.



  
First meeting:  http://www.ctn.state.ct.us/ctnplayer.asp?odID=11474






Look familiar?


PILOT PROJECT FOR  BOOTHLESS TOLLS
 

Study: State could rake in $62 billion in highway tolls

By Bill Cummings, CT POST
Updated 3:05 pm, Saturday, June 27, 2015

HARTFORD - Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is backing away from a state commissioned study which concludes that slapping electronic tolls on all of Connecticut’s highways could generate more than $62 billion in revenue over 25 years.

...James Cameron, founder of the Commuter Action Group, said the governor cannot propose a “$100 billion wish list of projects across the state” and back away from tolls, which Cameron said is an obvious method to pay for improvements.

“Tolls have never been popular but will be absolutely necessary,” Cameron said.

“The governor’s $100 billion plan is not a plan. It’s an un-vetted hodge-podge of unprioritized projects, ranging from the long-overdue to the dubious and doubtful,” Cameron said.

Puglia said immediate funding for Malloy’s five year 2.8 billion “ramp up” plan was secured by diverting one half percent of the state sales tax to the Special Transportation Fund, which was approved by the General Assembly last month.

The ramp up plan calls for widening sections of I-95 between Greenwich and Bridgeport, increasing service on Metro-North’s New Haven Line and improving branch lines in New Canaan, Danbury and Waterbury.

Other work involves retooling the Waterbury intersection of Route 8 and I-84, known as the “Mixmaster,” improving the Hartford I-84 Viaduct, completing a commuter line between New Haven and Springfield, Mass. and expanding pedestrian and bike paths.

Puglia said the governor’s transportation funding panel is being encouraged to consider all options for long-term funding of additional improvements.

“The panel has an obligation to consider every possible funding source in order to do a comprehensive job to fund a 30-year vision and its members are going to use all information available to accomplish that task,” Puglia said.

“Now it will be the panel’s job to plan for decades far, far down the road,” he said.

Cameron said none of the funding options for Malloy’s transportation plan will be popular.

“But the governor absolutely has to “man up” and admit that he is as responsible for those painful revenues as he is proud of his transportation plan,” Cameron said...story in full:  http://www.ctpost.com/news/article/Study-State-could-rake-in-62-billion-in-highway-6351714.php





Connecticut Approved For Federal Highway Toll Pilot Project
Hartford Courant
March 2, 2015

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The Federal Highway Administration has approved Connecticut for a pilot program installing an electronic toll system.

The pilot program for so-called value-pricing bypasses a federal ban on federal highway tolls by offering an exemption that allows certain types of electronic tolls.

Value-pricing, or congestion pricing as it's sometimes called, assigns values for trips at different times and places for different motorists to encourage driving at different times and places to reduce congestion....story in full:  http://www.courant.com/politics/capitol-watch/hc-connecticut-approved-for-federal-highway-toll-pilot-project-funds-20150302-story.html

...
ALL YOU NEED IS A FOURTH LANE?  A "LOCK BOX" AND ELECTRONIC TOLLS DISCUSSED AT THE TRANSPORTATION COMMITTEE...
Forget traffic jams
on the Turnpike or at toll booths?  Will the crush of cars exiting/entering around tolls mean...more car-truck accidents on I-95?  Ready for congestion pricing?






NTSB Report: Pilot Could See Airport Before Crash

The Hartford Courant
By CHRISTINE DEMPSEY
11:50 AM EDT, August 20, 2013

EAST HAVEN — The pilot of a plane that flew upside down into two houses, killing four, had reported that he was able to see the airport two minutes before the crash, according to a preliminary report released Tuesday.

The report, released from the National Transportation Safety Board, is not the final word on the crash, said Peter Knudson, NTSB spokesman. Full reports average about a year to complete, he said.

According to the preliminary investigation, the pilot told a tower controller at the Tweed-New Haven Airport in New Haven at 11:19 a.m. Aug. 9 that he was headed for runway 20. The controller cleared him to land, the report states...

Story in full:  http://www.courant.com/



Had Survived Crash Landing In 2009
The Hartford Courant
Staff report
11:44 PM EDT, August 9, 2013

Bill Henningsgaard, identified as the pilot of the plane that crashed Friday into two houses in East Haven, worked for Microsoft for about 14 years and later became heavily involved in local social service and philanthropic efforts.

Henningsgaard was traveling to Connecticut with his son, the Daily Astorian newspaper of Oregon reported, quoting Astoria Mayor Willis Van Dusen.

Social Venture Partners, a Seattle-based organization of nonprofits and philanthropists with which Henningsgaard was affiliated, issued a statement saying that Henningsgaard and his son, Maxwell, were on a trip to visit colleges in the East...story in full: 
http://www.courant.com/




Tweed 1971 crash
(Updated 10 a.m. Saturday) A Seattle pilot visiting colleges with his 17-year-old son missed the Tweed airport runway and crashed into two homes, leaving two families mourning in the wake of a fatal flight.
New Haven Independent:  http://www.newhavenindependent.org/index.php/archives/entry/plane_crashes_in_east_haven/
August 10, 2013

The disaster struck at 11:22 a.m. on Friday, when a private plane plowed into two homes at 64 and 68 Charter Oak Ave. in East Haven, just north of Tweed New Haven Airport. The airport reopened late Friday after temporarily closing due to the crash investigation...another version.




As transit funds grow shorter, the call for tolls grows louder
Neena Satija, CT MIRROR
December 10, 2012

Transportation advocates and officials across Connecticut gathered in the state capitol Monday to face a sobering fact: In an age of soaring deficits on both the state and national levels, the funds available for transit improvements are shrinking fast...

"In two years, our federal [funding situation] could be a disaster," said Jim Redeker, commissioner of Connecticut's Department of Transportation. "There's a real sense that we have to look very quickly at what the options are."

Like many other states, Connecticut is left with major transportation projects that have little or no source of funding at the moment -- including a badly needed overhaul of the Aetna Viaduct, a three-quarter-mile elevated stretch of Interstate 84 over Hartford, and the modernization of Metro-North's New Haven rail line, which carries upwards of 38 million passengers between Connecticut and Manhattan each year.

"These are multi-billion-dollar projects ... and the state does not have the funds to do them," said Emil Frankel, a former commissioner of Connecticut's Department of Transportation who is now with the Bipartisan Policy Center. "We have to look at other revenue sources."

Those sources must include tolls, he said, and was echoed by many others at the forum -- touching what had long been considered a "third rail" in Connecticut politics. Since a fiery crash at a toll barricade in 1983 killed seven people, Connecticut has eliminated all of its tolls and relies mostly on gasoline taxes and federal funding for transportation...

Story in full:  http://ctmirror.org/






Funding for Long Awaited Transportation Projects Approved
CTNEWSJUNKIE
by Christine Stuart | Jul 26, 2013 3:05pm


The state Bond Commission approved $537 million in borrowing to finance a series of road construction and maintenance projects, including repaving 250 miles of state highway...

“This is a year where we’re able to fund the long awaited I-84 widening project,” Redeker said. “So in 2014 we’ll be able to go out to bid for that. That’s a major accomplishment, long awaited, and this funding brings that to fruition.”

The state will spend about $33 million of the $537 million to rehabilitate or replace 30 existing bridges, another $115 million on the Fix-It-First state bridge program, and another $127 million on the resurfacing of state highways.  But there are also billions of road and bridge projects  that have yet to be funded.

“For years the backlog of maintenance was growing. That is now diminishing,” Redeker said. “The bridges that need to be repaired are being repaired.”

There are more than $8 billion of highway bridge construction projects that are unfunded at the moment, including projects like the I-84 viaduct in Hartford and the “Mixmaster” on I-84 and Route 8 in Waterbury. 
Redeker said there’s a schedule of work that needs to get done and will get done in a specific order. The three major bridges on I-95, including the Moses Wheeler, will be done first. Followed by the viaduct in Hartford and then the Waterbury “Mixmaster.”

The highway bridges get rated on a regular basis and that’s what drives the maintenance and replacement schedule, Redeker said. The program is updated on a regular basis so there will always be transportation projects that aren’t funded.  Redeker said the department is doing its best to address the projects in a timely fashion, but can only do so when it has the funding.

Asked if the gas tax the state is collecting to help fund these projects will be enough, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said “the answer is yes.”

“We are putting more state money into transportation than we’ve ever put before,” he said...

Story in full: http://www.ctnewsjunkie.com/




"Our goal is to have the same or a shorter commute time," Redeker said.
DOT chief says garage project is misunderstood
Redeker:: Parking, commute time misinformation at issue
Stamford ADVOCATE
Updated 11:05 p.m., Sunday, September 30, 2012

State Transportation Commissioner Jim Redeker says he wants to set the record straight.

He says he understands that commuters are suspicious of the state's plan to hire a private developer to replace the Stamford rail station's deteriorating garage and develop the site.  He acknowledges that fears may be fueled by a similar outcry over the financial details of a public-private partnership that gave a Milford-based company a 35-year deal and most of the profits of the state's 23 highway rest stops in return for an overhaul. Redeker said he hopes efforts to get input from residents of Stamford and nearby towns using the station will help squelch concerns.

"It comes down to can the state DOT be trusted to make the right decision?" Redeker said. --¦ But unlike with the rest stops, these are my daily customers, my taxpayers, and if they feel somehow that we don't care, that's a problem."

Redeker said the project got a harsh reception due to misinformation that the DOT was willing to boost commute times for users to draw interest from developers.  Two impressions provoked much of the controversy: that the DOT had ruled out proposals to maintain commuter parking on the current Station Place site and that parking was likely to be moved a quarter-mile away to accommodate development, Redecker said. The quarter-mile is a maximum distance requested in the proposal, he clarified...Story in full:  http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/



Responding to commuters, Malloy and DOT create 'advisory panel' for garage
Neena Satija, CT MIRROR
September 28, 2012

Speaking at the Chamber of Commerce in his hometown of Stamford yesterday, Gov. Dannel Malloy announced that the state Department of Transportation would form an "advisory panel" to counsel the agency on plans to replace an aging parking garage at the city's train station, the state's busiest...

In an interview, DOT Commissioner James Redeker said the five-member advisory panel would include representatives of commuters, Stamford residents and businesses. Redeker said he decided to create the panel as "a follow-up to our commitment to open up communication and make sure that customer interests come first."

"It is a practice that has been used by other similar-type projects for public-private partnerships," Redeker added, referring to the state's new approach, in which the private sector will have an unprecedented role in designing the garage and suggesting a mix of retail, office and residential developments nearby. The significant design role is the reason Redeker says developers' identities and proposals must remain secret, in order to protect their competitive advantage.

The advisory panel will get to review portions of the developers' proposals as they counsel the DOT, Redeker said. While financial bids will be sealed, panel members should be able to see where the developers have decided to locate the new, 1,000-space garage that will replace the current 727-space parking deck. The location of the garage has been of the greatest concern to commuters, since the state issued guidelines earlier this year allowing developers to suggest locating the garage as far as a quarter-mile from the station.

"Occasionally, I have commuted with crutches, with a cast, and I see a lot of people struggling with double-strollers, children ... and everybody's always carrying something," Stamford resident Esther Giordano testified at the hearing last week. "So walking a quarter-mile, forget it. That's outrageous..."  Story in full: 
http://ctmirror.org/

.




Link to OLR backgrounder

Next congressional crisis: The federal gas tax?
Deirdre Shesgreen, CT MIRROR
August 23, 2011

WASHINGTON -- Talk about a bumpy road ahead. When Congress gets back to Washington next month, lawmakers face a possible legislative pile-up over the federal gas tax, an important source of funds to Connecticut and every other state with transportation infrastructure needs.

That 18.4-cent levy on every gallon expires on Sept. 30. And it could quickly become a focal point for a fresh fight over taxes and spending, as lawmakers rev up the debate over debt reduction this fall.

At the end of last year, President Barack Obama's bipartisan fiscal commission recommended a gradual 15-cent hike in the federal gas tax starting in 2013. Other debt-reduction groups have similarly looked at ways to shore up funding for the federal Highway Trust Fund, which currently does not take in enough revenue to cover the nation's transportation spending levels.

But raising the gas tax is a non-starter in this Congress, where House Republicans, filled with Tea Party fervor, have opposed any tax increases. And indeed, some conservative groups have even signaled that they would like to see the gas nixed all together, and they see the looming deadline as an opportunity to move in that direction.

"In general, we support the concept of eliminating the federal gas tax and letting the states fund transportation," said Barney Keller, a spokesman for the Club for Growth, an influential conservative group.

Keller said the Club has not taken any position on legislation to extend the current gas tax yet, because they first want to see what kind of long-term transportation bill Congress comes up with. That legislation will map out federal highway spending for the next several years, to be paid for by any extension of the gas tax.

Meanwhile transportation advocates are scrambling to shore up support for the gas tax and nervously eyeing the crunched congressional calendar.

"There are 11 legislative days in September before the current extension expires," noted Tony Dorsey, a spokesman for American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials (AASHTO). "That gives you a sense of the urgency of this. They've got to move."

Donald Shubert, a spokesman for Keep CT Moving, a transportation advocacy coalition, said he's asked Gov. Dannel Malloy's administration to consider pushing for a "safety valve" provision at the state level that would increase Connecticut's gas tax to compensate in case the federal gas tax lapses.

He noted that Tennessee has a statute on its books that automatically adjusts the state tax upwards if the federal tax declines or ends, so the state can maintain its transportation revenue stream.

"I'm hoping our governor's office will consider something like this," Shubert said, in case Congress deadlocks over the tax.

But a 3-cent-per-gallon increase proposed by Malloy shore up the state's own special transportation fund in his original budget proposal in February eventually was abandoned in the face of hostility by the state legislature.

Emil Frankel, a transportation commissioner for then-Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. and now director of transportation policy at the Bipartisan Policy Center in Washington, said there's probably a clear majority in Congress that favors renewing the gas tax.

"But that's not to say that majority will be able to work its will," he said. "There will be some kind of a battle over it. How serious is it, I don't know...  But one could imagine that there will be difficulties and obstruction and hurdles to the extension."

He pointed to the recent shut-down of the Federal Aviation Administration, after lawmakers failed to agree on a short-term extension of that agency's key programs. For about two weeks, 4,000 federal workers were furloughed and 75,000 construction workers were idled, and the FAA was unable to collect more than $28 million a day in airline taxes.

In addition to the gas tax, lawmakers also have to reauthorize the underlying federal highway and transit programs; the law to keep those programs operating also expires on Sept. 30. And the disputes over a long-term highway bill are at least as complex and contentious as the ones that jammed up the FAA reauthorization.

"In this context, with the Tea Party, the unseemly battle over the debt ceiling, [and] the FAA shutdown... it strikes me as fraught with danger that both [transportation] program authority and the funding sources are ending on the same day," Frankel said...story in full: 
http://ctmirror.org/




Malloy revives planning for completion of Route 11

Legislators mull transportation fixes in Malloy budget
Martin B. Cassidy, Greenwich TIME Staff Writer
Published 09:05 p.m., Sunday, February 20, 2011

STAMFORD -- Echoing Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's call to create more jobs as part of his recent state budget address, state Rep. Gerald Fox III, D-Stamford, said obtaining funding for transportation projects will help attract business...story in full:  http://www.greenwichtime.com/






INTERSECTIONS
Link to design solutions for more local types; above a big intersection if you miss the signs for the Merritt coming home from Hartford!

The high cost of congestion

Keith M. Phaneuf, CT MIRROR
September 3, 2010

Connecticut's congested transportation network does more than try motorists' patience: It costs businesses and residents at least $670 million a year, according to a new draft report prepared for the state's Transportation Strategy Board.  The position paper, one of several that ultimately will comprise the board's 2011 update to its statewide transportation strategy, says lower productivity, higher operating expenses, weakened worker recruitment efforts and other problems associated with clogged highways and limited alternatives contribute to the rising price tag.

And though the problem is worst in the Stamford-to-Bridgeport corridor in Connecticut's southwestern corridor, major congestion costs also plague the Hartford and New Haven areas, leaving the state at an increasing business disadvantage.  The report's findings are bolstered by a new national study that ranks Connecticut among the worst states for urban highway congestion.

"The impact is enormous and undoubtedly affects business growth in the state," reads the report, prepared by board staff, adding that congestion in Fairfield County "threatens to choke off economic growth throughout the state."

Businesses report that the $670 million cost projection is tied to a wide array of problems.  Not surprisingly delivery costs, both for goods coming into Connecticut companies and for those being shipped elsewhere, continue to rise. The report estimates more than 32 million hours of shipping delays affect state businesses each year.

Inventory costs increase as deliveries become less reliable and more products must be stored on site. In some cases, companies increased fleet sizes to compensate for the reduced number of trips each vehicle can make through Connecticut on a daily basis.  Because traffic congestion, particularly along Interstate 95 and the Merritt Parkway in the southwest corner "is pervasive and affects much of the corridor over an extended period of the day," some deliveries have to be carefully planned and attempted during a limited time frame.

The report, which calculated congestion costs using a methodology developed in 2009 by the Texas A&M University, estimated $350 million of the annual expense is tied to southwestern Connecticut, with $203 million connected to the Greater Hartford area and $117 million centered on New Haven.

"Everybody will tell you that if they can't get their products where they need to go in a timely fashion, they lose money," said former Monroe First Selectwoman Karen Burnaska, a member of the Transportation Strategy Board. "It's a bleak picture."

"The efficiency of highways is critical to business," said, Donald J. Shubert, spokesman for spokesman for Keep CT Moving, a transportation advocacy coalition composed of construction labor and business groups, adding about three-quarters of the goods imported and exported from the state move by truck. "Mobility is everything."

But the costs of congestion stretch well beyond shipping-related expenses.

Employee recruiting is hampered by Connecticut's bumper-to-bumper traffic. "The extent and duration of such severe congestion makes it very difficult for commuters to reach jobs," the report states, adding that "businesses might need to offer higher wage rates to attract employees."

Other congestion-related factors that eat away at a company's bottom line, the report adds, include employees arriving late and extra time needed for travel to business meetings.  Congestion particularly hinders the hiring of executives and other high-level workers, though recruitment problems are limited to the top echelon of employees, said Eric Brown, associate counsel for the Connecticut Business and Industry Association.

"Having employees - not just the product you're trying to put out or pull in - stuck in traffic is a serious concern," Brown said, adding this is a common complaint among Fairfield County firms. "We're setting ourselves up as a state to be cut off from major economic corridors."

Though complaints about Connecticut's transportation network have persisted for decades, concerns about the cost are relatively new.  From 1985 through 1991 the projected congestion cost ranged between just under $100 million to about $150 million, the report states.  By 1995 the cost had cleared $200 million and began a series of sharp increases. Between 2000 and 2007 - the last year of data used to calculate costs in this report, the price jumped 60 percent, from about $420 million to $670 million.

And the study also warns that this last number is "a very conservative estimate" that could be adjusted upward for several reasons:

Smaller urban areas, including those surrounding Danbury, Waterbury and New London, were not analyzed.  It relies on national averages regarding compensation, and therefore does not reflect the generally higher wages paid here to offset a higher cost of living.

"Unfortunately, none of this is too surprising," said Rep. Tony Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill, co-chairman of the legislature's Transportation Committee. "When transportation stops you are going to kill business, and we still haven't found a way to fix the problem."

Guerrera says the legislature and Gov. M. Jodi Rell have taken steps to ease the congestion, but he concedes that the problem has grown for decades and that countermeasures were undermined somewhat.  Rell and the legislature dedicated $2.3 billion in total state funds, primarily financed with bonding, in 2005 and 2006, for transportation initiatives. That represented the largest transportation investment in two decades, but only about one-quarter of the level recommended by the strategy board.

Further complicating matters, state government is hard pressed to cover the debt service on its transportation program, let alone add new projects. That's because despite increasing the state's wholesale fuel tax from 5 to 7.5 percent between July 2005 and July 2007, Rell and lawmakers have spent nearly 60 percent of the roughly $1.5 billion collected from that tax since 2005-06 on non-transportation programs, according to budget records.

The strategy board drafted a report in late July warning that Connecticut will face annual gaps of $300 million to $500 million through 2014 between the cost of maintaining its transportation network, and its likely available funding.  And if Connecticut wants not only to maintain its transportation network, but improve it, the annual gap moves closer to $1 billion.



Report shows age is catching up with Connecticut's transportation network
Keith M. Phaneuf, CT MIRROR
July 28, 2010

Connecticut's transportation network is facing its own perfect storm of aging infrastructure, heavy usage and harsh weather conditions - all compounded by a slumping economy and shrinking government funding, according to a draft report from the state's Transportation Strategy Board...story in full: 
http://ctmirror.org/






Commissioner Redeker, CTDOT
State eager to weigh in on federal Northeast corridor plan
August meeting a chance to offer input on high-speed rail options
Stamford ADVOCATE
Martin B. Cassidy
Published 10:59 p.m., Sunday, August 5, 2012


STAMFORD -- This month, Connecticut residents and officials will get a once-in-a-lifetime chance to offer their views on how to shape the state's current and future rail lines to improve economic competitiveness and quality of life, Connecticut Department of Transportation Commissioner James Redeker said.

"This is an opportunity that frankly has never occurred in that there is a process in place to shape a multigenerational investment in high-speed rail which has the potential to completely reshape the region we call the Northeast corridor," Redeker said. "High-speed rail can connect in a far more economically expansive and dynamic way because it links major centers much more quickly than you could in any other way."

Redeker and Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and others said they plan to have their say at an Aug. 14 hearing in New Haven, one of a series being held in the middle of this month by the U.S. Department of Transportation and Federal Railroad Administration to gather opinions as they craft a blueprint for increasing the capacity and speed of rail travel between Washington, D.C. and Boston to meet the economic needs of the region for the next 30 to 40 years.

The New Haven meeting is set from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m., Aug. 14, at the Shubert Theater, at 247 College St., New Haven.

Federal transit officials project that population and economic growth will remain strong in the coming decades and challenge railroads such as Metro-North's New Haven Line and other transit systems to find solutions to meet increased ridership demand and shorten trip times...

A well-thought-out spending plan to improve rail service in Connecticut in coming decades needs to include necessary signalization and other upgrades to increase train speeds and passenger capacity on the New Haven Line, that would speed up rail trips from New Haven, Norwalk, and Stamford, into Grand Central Terminal, Floyd Lapp, executive director of the South Western Regional Planning Agency.

Lapp said draft plans published this summer by the U.S. Department of Transportation to improve the Northeast rail corridor fail to address improvements to the New Haven Line despite the heavy reliance of Amtrak trains on the system and importance as a public transit corridor.

"How come the Stamford station which has the second-highest ridership after Grand Central Terminal isn't prominently mentioned in the plan," Lapp asked. "When you look at the New Haven Line it is important because it rivals New Jersey Transit as a growth segment."

Jim Cameron, chairman of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council said that he felt positive about some of the already discussed details of Amtrak's plans to expand rail infrastructure, including adding a third track between New Haven and New London on the Shoreline East line.

Most important, Cameron said the federal government must give proper weight to the economic importance of cities like Stamford, Bridgeport, and New Haven as business destinations and consider service expansions.

Cameron said it is puzzling that Amtrak's Acela Express doesn't offer a stop in Bridgeport; a noticeable lack for those who are working for Bridgeport's economic vibrance.

"Stamford is a very important stop on Amtrak and in terms of the international business we attract and the quality of service on the line is very important to our economic vitality," Cameron said...story in full: 

http://www.stamfordadvocate.com/



Valley Forge Bridge monitoring related to this?

Rell Concedes DOT Chief Resigned After Allegation
By EDMUND H. MAHONY, emahony@courant.com
8:23 PM EDT, July 7, 2010

HARTFORD —Gov. M. Jodi Rell acknowledged Wednesday that the abrupt resignation a week ago of state Transportation Commissioner Joseph F. Marie was precipitated by a complaint of "inappropriate behavior" against him by a department employee.

"My office was contacted by a person representing a DOT employee who had alleged inappropriate behavior by the Commissioner," Rell said in a statement issued by her staff late Wednesday. "Legal counsel for the Governor's Office conducted a preliminary inquiry into the allegation."

"No formal complaint of any kind was ever filed and no formal investigation was ever conducted," the governor said.

"However, at the conclusion of the preliminary inquiry, Commissioner Marie was offered an opportunity to resign and he did so," Rell said. "He also signed a stipulated agreement that required him to return all state equipment, including computers, cellphones and cars; restricted his access to all state facilities; and barred him from contacting or criticizing any state employees or administration officials."

Marie could not be reached Wednesday. Neither could the woman who colleagues said brought the complaint nor the lawyer the colleagues said represents her.

Rell issued her statement and her administration released a copy of the stipulated agreement a day after a formal request by The Courant for records showing the nature of any complaint against Marie and how it had been resolved.

The agreement says that Marie was allowed to resign as an employee in good standing as long as he complies with a number of conditions, including a promise not to criticize the governor.

"In the event Mr. Marie in any way criticizes, verbally or in writing, the Governor of the State of Connecticut or any member of the administration or employee of the State of Connecticut, such resignation in good standing shall be changed to a dismissal indicating that the services of Mr. Marie no longer pleased the Governor due to inappropriate behavior by Mr. Marie," the agreement said.

The governor's explanation of the resignation Wednesday was in sharp contrast to her remarks a week ago, when she and her staff attempted to portray Marie's June 29 resignation as routine.

A week ago, Rell said: "I thank Joe Marie for his service to the state of Connecticut and wish him well as he pursues other opportunities. Joe made a significant contribution to DOT over the last two years and his leadership will be missed."

She said Wednesday: "I moved expeditiously in seeking this resignation — first and foremost, to end any alleged inappropriate and unacceptable behavior, and also to resolve the situation in a way that was respectful to the employee involved and all of the people affected, including innocent family members."

In her first statement, Rell said Marie had chosen to "pursue long-term employment opportunities and spend more time with his family." But within hours, the governor's characterization was questioned by legislators and administration officials puzzled by the apparently hurried series of events connected to the resignation.

On the afternoon he was apparently pressed to resign, Marie told colleagues that he had received a telephone call asking him to attend a meeting at the Capitol with a senior administration official. Not long after leaving DOT headquarters in Newington to attend the meeting, another administration official said that Marie's access to his state e-mail account was blocked and his key card access to transportation headquarters and Bradley International Airport was deactivated.

Although Marie resigned June 29 and is effectively barred by the stipulated agreement from visiting state offices and speaking with state employees, he is being allowed to continue to collect his $170,000 salary until July 29, the effective date of his severance.

Rell praised Marie's appointment two years ago, predicting that he could refocus a department afflicted by construction blunders and allegations of corruption on public transportation initiatives. Marie had been an administrator of a public transit system in Phoenix, Ariz.

The governor replaced Marie with Deputy Transportation Commissioner Jeffrey Parker.

The terms of Marie's resignation are outlined in the legal agreement he signed with Linda Yelmini, a labor relations specialist with the state Office of Policy and Management. It says he agreed to "resign from state service in lieu of dismissal" and will be considered to have "resigned in good standing."

He agreed not to "contact any current or former employee" of the state without specific authorization of the Governor's legal counsel. Marie acknowledged that he resigned voluntarily and agreed not to sue the state.

Until his abrupt separation from state government, Marie was credited with turning the focus of one of the largest and most expensive components of state government from road-building to mass transit, a policy initiative that Rell has embraced. As commissioner, he bought new rail cars and buses, fought cuts in commuter rail service to New York, supervised nearly $1 billion in improvements to the state's New Haven rail yard, and aggressively pushed for commuter rail connecting New Haven, Hartford and Springfield.

He also prioritized expensive transportation projects in a way that could increase fiscal discipline over planning and spending,


Questions raised over sudden departure of state's transportation commissioner
Keith M. Phaneuf, CT MIRROR
July 1, 2010

Gov. M. Jodi Rell's administration remained largely quiet Wednesday over the abrupt departure of Transportation Commissioner Joseph F. Marie, who left the job Tuesday afternoon, but will continue to earn his nearly $170,000-per-year salary for four more weeks.

Marie submitted a two-sentence letter of resignation following a meeting at the Office of Policy and Management Tuesday. Details of that meeting were not disclosed, but sources said he did not return to Department of Transportation headquarters in Newington.

Rell issued a written statement Wednesday reporting Marie had left "to pursue long-term employment opportunities and spend more time with his family." The governor also announced that Deputy Commissioner Jeffrey Parker would head the agency effective immediately.

The governor's office confirmed that Marie - who earns $169,745 annually according to the comptroller's office - would remain on the payroll through July 29 but declined further comment. Marie could not be reached for comment Wednesday, and the DOT indicated it could not forward messages to him.

Marie told colleagues Tuesday that he had been summoned to a meeting with a senior administration official, the Hartford Courant reported late Wednesday. Not long after, Marie's access to his state e-mail account was blocked and his key card access to DOT facilities was deactivated, the Courant said.

Marie's unusual exit raised questions Wednesday with the Senate chairman of the legislature's Transportation Committee and with the union representing transportation engineers, planners and analysts.

Sen. Donald J. DeFronzo, D-New Britain, co-chairman of the legislature's Transportation Committee, said Wednesday that Marie's sudden depareture raises questions.

"The circumstances under which this transpired, the abrupt nature of the departure, leaves me with a lot of concerns," DeFronzo said, adding that with limited state and federal funding available for crucial transportation projects, leadership at DOT is crucial. "If this were happening under normal conditions, I don't think it would be as big of a deal."

DeFronzo noted that Marie "has really been the point man, not just for Connecticut but for New England," in pursuing federal aid for a proposed $800 million commuter rail line initiative designed to serve communities between New Haven and Springfield, Mass. Connecticut already has secured about $40 million in federal aid and applications for a second round of funding are due in August, DeFronzo added.

In a report issued earlier this year, the transportation department projected a $926.4 million gap between the cost of planned highway, bridge and transit projects for the next five years, and the level of anticipated funding available.

Further complicating matters, nearly 60 percent of the roughly $1.5 billion state government has collected from the wholesale fuel tax since the 2005-06 fiscal year has been spent outside of the Special Transportation Fund, according to budget records. A $1.1 billion component within an overall state budget of $19.01 for new fiscal year that starts today, the fund is backed largely by state fuel tax revenues and federal grants, and is a primary source of funding for transportation network maintenance and new construction.

The legislature's nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis projected in a May report that the fund would fall into deficit by the 2011-12 fiscal year. That same report projected the general fund, which represents more than 90 percent of the total budget, faces a $3.37 billion built-in shortfall in 12 months.

Local 2001 of the Connecticut State Employees Association/Service Employees Union International, which represents about 1,000 DOT engineers, planners and analysts, has been sparring with Marie and his predecessors over several management issues.

The most recent dispute has centered on the DOT's decision to hire private-sector bridge inspectors without first preparing an analysis of whether the work could be done more effectively and for less money by state employees. Under Marie, DOT insisted this was allowed, and merely continuation of an existing practice, while the union charged it violates new requirements of the state's "clean contracting" statute.

"We're concerned about the future of the agency but we're concerned about the present as well," Local 2001 spokesman Matt O'Connor said. "His departure in the midst of this series of contracting questions left unanswered is certainly cause for concern."

Marie took over the Connecticut DOT in April 2008 on the heels of two crises.

The first involved massive flaws found in private contractor work performed on drainage systems, bridges, guard rails and lighting on Interstate 84 in Cheshire.

The department also was taking heat from the General Assembly after the administration revealed cost estimates for a new rail car maintenance yard to be developed in New Haven had quadrupled from about $300 million in 2005 to $1.2 billion. Since Marie became commissioner, reductions in project scope have driven the cost estimate for that rail maintenance facility closer to $600 million.

"I thought he addressed some significant problems fairly quickly," DeFronzo said.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont of Greenwich issued a statement Wednesday praising the outgoing commissioner.

"Joe Marie helped reenergize the effort to bring high speed rail and better transit options to our state," Lamont said. "His resignation is a great loss for Connecticut.

The DOT is one of state government's largest agencies with nearly 3,400 employees and a $516.9 million annual budget. It is responsible for the construction and maintenance of major Connecticut roads, highways and bridges, and the state's public transit system. The DOT also oversees commuter and freight rail lines, shoreline ports and piers, ferries and Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks.

The General Assembly's Program Review and Investigations Committee launched a study earlier this summer to identify ways to get state transportation projects done quicker and under budget.

Marie has more than 24 years of transit industry experience in both the public and private sectors. He was director of operations and maintenance for a regional public transit system in Phoenix, Ariz., when hired by Rell. He previously held senior transit posts for the states of Pennsylvania and Massachusetts and had been assistant general manager for a metro transit operation in Minneapolis.

Parker, a Newington native, joined the DOT in 2008 after a successful tenure as senior director of transportation operations at the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority. A graduate of Northeastern University of Boston, Parker also worked for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority where he oversaw project management, safety and operations control.

"Deputy Commissioner Parker brings a wealth of experience in mass transit and commuter rail to which we are committed. I fully expect a seamless transition at DOT as we move forward with our goals," Rell said.


DOT Commissioner Joseph Marie resigns to spend more time with family, Rell reports
Keith M. Phaneuf, CT MIRROR
June 30, 2010

State Department of Transportation Commissioner Joseph F. Marie resigned today, and will be replaced by Deputy Commissioner Jeffrey Parker, Gov. M. Jodi Rell announced this morning.

In a written statement, the governor's office indicated Marie resigned "to pursue long-term employment opportunities and spend more time with his family."

"I thank Joe Marie for his service to the state of Connecticut and wish him well as he pursues other opportunities. Joe made a significant contribution to DOT over the last two years and his leadership will be missed," said Rell, who is not seeking re-election and whose term ends in early January. "I have full confidence that Jeff Parker will continue moving the DOT in the dynamic new direction that I have set."

Rell announced Marie's hiring in April 2008, hailing his more than 22 years of transit industry experience in both the public and private sectors. Marie was director of operations and maintenance for a regional public transit system in Phoenix, Ariz., when hired by Rell. He previously held senior transit posts for the states of Pennsylvania and Massachusetts and had been assistant general manager for a metro transit operation in Minneapolis.

During his tenure Marie has overseen an embattled transportation department struggling with limited state and federal funding amid a global recession.

Headquartered in Newington, the DOT is one of state government's largest agencies with nearly 3,400 employees and a $516.9 million annual budget. It is responsible for the construction and maintenance of major Connecticut roads, highways and bridges, and the state's public transit system. The DOT also oversees commuter and freight rail lines, shoreline ports and piers, ferries and Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks.

In a report issued earlier this year, the department projected a $926.4 million gap between the cost of planned highway, bridge and transit projects for the next five years, and the level of anticipated funding available.

Further complicating matters, nearly 60 percent of the roughly $1.5 billion state government has collected from the wholesale fuel tax since the 2005-06 fiscal year has been spent outside of the Special Transportation Fund, according to budget records. A $1.1 billion component within an overall state budget of $19.01 for new fiscal year that starts Thursday, the fund is backed largely by state fuel tax revenues and federal grants, and is a primary source of funding for transportation network maintenance and new construction.

The legislature's nonpartisan Office of Fiscal Analysis projected in a May report that the fund would fall into deficit, about $42.2 million, by 2011-12. That same report projected the general fund, which represents more than 90 percent of the total budget, faces a $3.37 billion built-in shortfall in 12 months.

The General Assembly's Program Review and Investigations Committee launched a study earlier this summer to identify ways to get state transportation projects done quicker and under budget.

A spokesman for the union representing about 1,000 unionized engineers, planners, safety analysts and inspectors at the department, Matt O'Connor, recently called the DOT "ripe for reform."

Parker, a Newington native, joined the DOT in 2008 after a successful tenure as senior director of transportation operations at the Metropolitan Atlanta Rapid Transit Authority. A graduate of Northeastern University of Boston, Parker also worked for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority where he oversaw project management, safety and operations control.

"Deputy Commissioner Parker brings a wealth of experience in mass transit and commuter rail to which we are committed. I fully expect a seamless transition at DOT as we move forward with our goals," Rell said.



COG learns ins and outs of stimulus funding
DAY
By Karin Crompton
Published on 8/20/2009

Norwich - When the state's ombudsman for federal stimulus projects handed local municipal officials 2˝ pages charting potential funding opportunities, he warned them not to think “there's this big pot of discretionary money out there.”

”There isn't,” said the ombudsman, Office of Policy and Management Undersecretary David LeVasseur.

Instead, he said, projects have to fit into federal guidelines, or a “niche.” Those guidelines, as many towns have already discovered, eliminate projects from consideration - a sore point among small-town first selectmen in particular, who told LeVasseur they have pricey, ready-to-go projects that aren't being considered for stimulus funds.

LeVasseur was the guest speaker at Wednesday's Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments meeting.

The bigger issue he wanted to speak about, LeVasseur said, was prevailing wage requirements for federal projects.

The Davis-Bacon Act, which sets wages for public works projects costing more than $2,000, applies to the federal stimulus projects. LeVasseur said the guidelines in the law have been a main reason for discrepancies between town and state estimates.

Waterford and New London have already learned about that, as two projects there will cost much more than original town estimates.

COG expects to use federal transportation grant money to cover the shortfall, but those funds are part of a federal surface transportation bill that hasn't yet been authorized and requires a local match, which, in New London's case, is $228,000.

The federal Department of Labor will be hiring additional inspectors for the projects, he said, warning that contractors must keep particularly detailed records.

”You could see projects come to a screeching halt,” LeVasseur said.

LeVasseur said the state Department of Transportation would conduct training on the Davis-Bacon Act in about a month.

He said other reasons for the estimates' discrepancies are because the state estimated a higher price per ton of asphalt and the intricacies of Federal Highway Administration guidelines.

For example, LeVasseur said, the life of a federal highway project is longer than municipal projections: The highway department insists on a road life of five or more years versus the two to four a municipality might budget, he said.

In Waterford, estimates for an intersection-improvement project increased by a little more than $325,000, and in New London, estimates for the first phase of a Montauk Avenue repaving project tripled, from $560,000 to $1.7 million.

COG last month asked the state DOT for permission to use federal transportation grant money allocated to southeastern Connecticut to cover those shortfalls.  Although the region had about $1 million still available to it in the federal grant, the state DOT informed the council that final designs would need to be submitted by Wednesday.

Neither project met the deadline. Waterford's final design will be completed later this week, First Selectman Daniel Steward told the council, while New London's is about 60 percent complete, according to City Manager Martin Berliner.

In a letter to the council's executive director, James Butler, the DOT said the deadline would not be extended and it appears the money cannot be carried over, but that the council can use its anticipated 2010 funds instead.

Although Butler said he's hoping for the same $2.5 million as this past year, it is unclear how much money the region will receive in fiscal year 2010, nor what other regional projects might not receive money because of the gap funding for Waterford and New London.



State's transportation study finished, but no decisions made 
DAY
By Karin Crompton 
Published on 5/22/2009

Hartford - A transportation advisory board officially accepted the final copy of a million-dollar study on tolls Thursday morning but made no recommendation on whether to implement any of the ideas contained in the voluminous report.  Instead, members of the Transportation Strategy Board discussed several options they individually preferred and agreed to focus on those as the board prepares to update a document intended to guide the state's transportation policy.

Board members also said the public needs more education about the latest tolling technologies, which vary greatly from the older-style toll booths to electronic tolling using GPS and technology akin to the E-ZPASS system. Too many people automatically harken back to the deadly toll booth crash in 1983, members said, not understanding that modern technology can charge drivers without them needing to stop on the highway.

Cambridge Systematics Inc. administered the $1.2 million study for the strategy board and offered nine variations of tolling in the study.  Copies of the report have been forwarded to Gov. M. Jodi Rell and the leadership of the legislature's Transportation Committee.  Strategy board members who spoke Thursday morning largely concentrated on two concepts they want to learn more about: charging drivers for vehicle miles traveled (VMT) and putting tolls on all limited-access highways.

The VMT approach charges drivers based on the number of miles they drive.  Members largely rejected the concept of border tolls as unfair to inter-state commuters. Members also questioned whether tolls could adequately mitigate congestion, one of the goals often cited.

Board chairman Kevin Kelleher summarized the group's next steps as continuing to educate itself on the VMT concept, and spending more time educating itself and the public on “boothless tolling.”

Member Karen Burnaska pointed out that the consultant had urged the board and the state to first consider what it wants to achieve by installing tolls before seriously debating the matter, namely whether it is congestion mitigation or revenue.

”I'd like to think it's both,” Burnaska said, adding later that state residents have made it clear that any tolls revenue should remain in the transportation coffers, not sent into other areas as currently happens.

”They want to see some benefit, not just get taxed again,” Burnaska said.

Member Lyle Wray said the electronic technology is not new, but the question of how to implement it nationally is. Wray said tolling is likely easier to do on a national level than state by state.  Wray called the VMT concept the way of the future.

”The question is, what are we going to do in the meantime?” he asked.

Member John Filchak said VMT makes the most sense and said he is not yet convinced whether congestion pricing would work in Connecticut.

”Clearly, we have to do more study,” Filchak said.

Kelleher defended the price tag of the study during the meeting and when asked about it later.

”I think we spent well and wisely to understand the practical application of what can be used in Connecticut,” Kelleher said.

In “Talking Transportation,” a regular column in his self-published transportation newsletter, Jim Cameron last week lashed out at the strategy board for failing to make a recommendation on the study.

”After commissioning a $1 million, 500-page study of the issue, the TSB is expected to say that the idea of 'value pricing' our interstates needs, you guessed it, yet more study!” Cameron wrote. Cameron later suggested that the board “wanted the plan to die.”

Cameron is also chairman of the Metro-North Commuter Council - sometimes called the Metro-North Shore Line East Commuter Council, though it focuses only on Metro-North - but writes the column independent of that role. Cameron favors tolling.  When asked about Cameron's criticism and the lack of a recommendation on a high-priced study, Kelleher reiterated board members' assertions that they need more information.

”That's the cost of doing studies today,” Kelleher said, adding that the board on Thursday defined the next step.

”That study was meant to be a contextual basis by which we could make further decisions,” Kelleher said, “and I think the decision that we made is that there is a level of appreciation around this as an application in Connecticut, (of using) cashless, boothless tolling. But we don't know enough about what we don't know to move forward, so we're at the next level of, 'Let's dig in now.'”

The strategy board was originally expected to receive the study in February and then forward a recommendation to the legislature.  Instead, the legislature's Transportation Committee held a public hearing on tolls in February and, despite the support of its chairmen, none of a handful of bills introduced this session made it out of committee.

The report is available online at www.ct.gov/opm/tsb.



Are streetcars a viable transit option for Stamford?  Firm will study potential of 3-mile route
Stamford ADVOCATE
By Elizabeth Kim, Staff Writer
Posted: 04/20/2009 11:14:54 PM EDT
Updated: 04/21/2009 07:35:03 AM EDT

STAMFORD -- Will a bygone transit system propel the city into the next phase of economic growth?

An engineering firm has started to evaluate development potential along a proposed 3-mile streetcar route from Bull's Head to the South End. The firm, URS, is looking at U.S. Census and market data and interviewing land-use experts.

"We're looking to find out whether there is a level of economic development in a city of this size that makes a project like this worth pursuing," said Josh Lecar, the city's transportation planner.

In other municipalities, light-rail systems have been credited with increasing property values, spurring private investment and revitalizing neighborhoods. Supporters say streetcars, unlike buses, provide a permanent infrastructure that attracts more commuters and investors.

Portland, Ore., installed streetcars in 2001, which created more than $3.5 billion in property investments within two blocks of the line, according to Portland Streetcar Inc., which operates the cars. It began as a 2.4-mile loop that cost about $57 million, but the line was extended three times and now is 8 miles long.

In Tampa, Fla., $800 million in private investment projects sprang up along a 2.4-mile streetcar route after it opened in 2002, according to the Tampa Downtown Partnership. The initial cost was $48 million.

Lecar said a "starter system" in Stamford would make about eight stops and cost under $50 million. The city is interested in adopting a version that would subject the streetcars to the same right of way and traffic rules as cars. Though some city representatives are concerned about safety, it would not "dramatically change the operation of local streets from a traffic standpoint," Lecar said.

City officials mostly are enthusiastic about the plan. Kip Bergstrom, director of the Urban Redevelopment Commission, said he considers the project a high priority.

"Stamford's future is in being as transit-oriented as it can be, and this will be a key piece of that," Bergstrom said.

Land Use Bureau Chief Robin Stein said the city's decision will hinge on the results of the report by URS, expected in the next two months. Jeromie Winsor, an urban planner at URS, is responsible for the economic analysis.

Last week, Lecar escorted Winsor on a tour of the route between the train station and the South End.

As they walked through a neighborhood undergoing construction, Winsor snapped pictures and took notes. In the afternoon, he met with a group of stakeholders that included Jeffrey Neuman, an executive vice president of W&M Properties, and Jack Condlin, president of the Stamford Chamber of Commerce.

"As a consultant, I need to speak to people who are living here every day," Winsor said.

Indications are that Stamford will continue to be among the fastest-growing cities in the region.  Royal Bank of Scotland recently opened a 12-story office building on Washington Boulevard and construction is under way at Harbor Point, a $3 billion mixed-use development in the South End with 4,000 units of housing, office buildings and a hotel.  Light rail is the trend, said David Kooris, a director at the Regional Plan Association.

"Stamford is one of the dominant cities of the metropolitan region," Kooris said. "If it's going to continue in prosperity, job growth and attractiveness, it's going to have to find solutions to the challenges of increasing mobility without increasing automobiles."



Rail freight tunnel gathers steam
Greenwich TIME
By Martin B. Cassidy, STAFF WRITER
Posted: 03/28/2009 08:23:28 PM EDT

While hashing out transportation stimulus funding for the region this winter, U.S. Rep. Jim Himes pushed for a freight rail tunnel under New York Harbor.

With traffic clogging Interstate 95 and other roads throughout the region, the long-deferred idea of a tunnel between New Jersey and New York should be prioritized for its promise to move millions of tons of freight off trucks and onto rail cars, said Himes, D-Greenwich.

"I've always believed that it is a very important project, and I've always believed it is on way too slow a burn," he said. "It is a very high priority for me. And the people in Fairfield County pay too high a psychological and economic burden from congestion in the state."

This summer, Himes and

U.S. Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., who represents Manhattan's Upper West Side, plan to join forces to seek funding for the tunnel when legislators hammer out a new version of the five-year Surface Transportation Infrastructure Reauthorization Act, which expires in September.

Both point to a 2004 environmental impact statement commissioned by the New York Economic Development Corp. that found the underwater route could eliminate up to 1 million vehicle trips from New York City's roads a year, and similar numbers in Connecticut and Long Island, N.Y.

"There is basically 50 years of catching up to investment in rail freight in the whole area that needs to be done over a period of time," Nadler said. "Clearly, in terms of congestion on I-95, it would be very important to Connecticut, but it won't help much if some one in Connecticut doesn't look at what the options for a rail freight terminal up there are."

With the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey putting millions into the century-old idea of the tunnel, Connecticut officials said they hope the renewed push will fast-track the project,.

The Port Authority recently started a $15 million environmental impact study on the project out of $100 million federal appropriation. The study includes an analysis of expanding freight rail to carry commercial goods in the region.

Of the goods now moved between New York and New Jersey, 95 percent travels by truck. That freight movement in the New York-New Jersey region will increase by 70 percent in the next 20 years, said Steve Coleman, a Port Authority spokesman.

To jump-start an effort to expand freight movement across the harbor, last fall the Port Authority spent $16 million to purchase a Jersey City, N.J., facility that is capable of launching barges loaded with freight-filled rail cars, Coleman said.

"Freight movements is a critical issue that we consider to be a matter of common sense," he said.

A route linking Connecticut to the nation's rail system is long overdue and moving a large share of freight traffic from trucks to rail cars is one of the most plausible solutions to congestion, said Joan McDonald, commissioner of the state Department of Economic and Community Development.

McDonald, who was transportation vice president for the New York Economic Development Corp. until 2006, said population growth will worsen commercial traffic on all area highways.

Population growth in New York City alone is expected to grow by 1 million by 2030, McDonald said, causing a potentially crippling spike in freight traffic into the city's road system.

"Building a tunnel under New York Harbor would relieve a lot of the truck traffic, particularly on I-95," said McDonald. "I think it is a great project for the entire region."

The proposed tunnel route would link the Greenville Railyard in Bayonne, N.J., to Long Island Rail Road terminals at either 51st or 65th Street in Bay Ridge in Brooklyn, N.Y.

From there, trains could travel north on the LIRR's Bay Ridge line over the Hellgate Bridge, meeting spurs of Metro-North Railroad's New Haven, Hudson, and Harlem lines, according to a plan for the study.

Currently, efforts to convert truck to rail freight are hampered by the lack of a convenient rail connection, said Floyd Lapp, director of the Southwest Regional Planning Agency, which coordinates transportation planning for 14 Fairfield County towns. The closest rail crossing between Connecticut and the western United States is in Selkirk, N.Y., a detour of more than 240 miles, Lapp said.

Although the cost of the tunnel is daunting, Lapp said relying on trucks to carry the majority of goods through Connecticut will worsen gridlock, said Lapp, who supported the tunnel concept while a transportation commissioner in New York City in the 1990s.

"This is something I am a very big advocate of, seeing as it would remove a large number of trucks off the road which would improve and reduce congestion while improving the carrying capacity of freight," he said.

The concept of the tunnel dates to 1893, when the Pennsylvania Railroad proposed building the tunnel. It re-emerged as a major goal for the newly formed Port Authority of New York and New Jersey in 1921 but was abandoned by the 1940s.

The project gained new momentum during the tenure of former New York City Mayor Rudolph Guiliani, who worked with Nadler to get the New York City Economic Development Corp. to initiate a tunnel study.

Earlier this decade, the project met strong opposition from Brooklyn residents, and doubts about its costs compared with the benefits, Nadler said.

Connecticut Department of Transportation officials have said there is scarce room for additional freight on the New Haven Line and said many rail bridges would need to be raised to allow freight travel. Kevin Nursick, a DOT spokesman, said the agency was open to exploring the idea of rail freight but does not have an official position on the proposed tunnel.

"Wherever feasible and practical it is worth taking advantage of our rail infrastructure to ease roadway congestion not just in terms of carrying passengers but for freight as well," Nursick said. "The details are very important in any proposal."

McDonald said she recognized engineering restraints and community reluctance but said a plan could be worked out.

"Any major public works investment, whether it is a road, bridge or freight tunnel, you have to deal with the communities that it passes through," McDonald said. "There are engineering constraints but in the end it will be a huge plus to the New York metropolitan region."



And from the C.G.A. on Friday the 13th...but really, sounds more like an April Fool's joke on Fairfield County...
State committee approves study of electronic border tolls

Greenwich TIME
By Martin B. Cassidy, Staff Writer
Posted: 03/13/2009 11:31:24 PM EDT

HARTFORD -- Despite an outcry from Fairfield County legislators, members of the state's transportation committee Friday approved a bill proposing that the state's planners consider ways to install electronic tolls at state borders in municipalities such as Greenwich, Danbury and Brookfield, to fund transportation projects.

In an hour-long discussion, legislators from Greenwich, Norwalk, Stamford and Stratford spoke against the bill prior to the legislature's transportation committee voting 22-13 to approve it and send it before the legislature for consideration.

"I'm concerned that this is a study on where the state will put tolls, rather than a further discussion of them," Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, said. "My vote will be 'no,' to highlight the concerns I have."

The bill's sponsor, Sen. Donald DeFronzo, D-New Britain, chairman of the transportation committee, asked Fairfield County legislators for support, arguing that a state report on border tolls would also reveal the feasibility and negative effects of reintroducing tolls and help address financial, legal, and environmental issues. 

A recent $1 million study, completed for the state Transportation Strategy Board, that considered numerous options for tolls raised complex issues that need further exploration, DeFronzo said.  

"Our discussion today seems to reverberate with that old political saying that all politics are local," DeFronzo said. "While Fairfield County would be impacted by tolls, they would also probably be the biggest beneficiary of mass transit improvements if we could get tolls in place."

The state Department of Transportation would be asked to complete the report on border tolling by next June, according to the bill's text.  Sen. Robert Duff, D-Norwalk, vice chairman of the transportation committee, said the legislation was premature, because the study has not been fully evaluated. He said the state's railroad system and bus service should be improved and upgraded before imposing road use fees on Interstate 95 in Fairfield County.

"I don't think we're quite ready yet to move forward on this concept," Duff said. "After many years of neglect, the state should focus on getting new rail cars in place, parking lots for commuters. "We don't have a great intermodal transportation system."

After several rounds of comment on the bill, the committee voted 22-13 to refer the proposal to the General Assemby for debate.  Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, said the proposed law's focus on border tolls, rather than various other options, seemed like a piecemeal approach that would make it harder to expand tolls into other state areas.

"If you just consider border tolling, it will become very hard to go back and expand it to consider other parts of the state," McDonald said. "This is blatantly trying to hit Fairfield County in particular, and it is a poor policy."

Last month, the Transportation Strategy Board received the results of the study on the possible use of electronic tolls to improve roads and reduce congestion. The study concluded that tolls could raise billions of dollars, but those gains could be offset if the fees harmed the state's business climate and drove traffic onto local streets.  The study found a $5 toll on all traffic crossing Connecticut's borders could raise $19.5 billion over 30 years but would result in an undetermined but significant number of cars using Route 1 in Fairfield County to elude the fees.

Rep. Alfred Camillo, R-Greenwich, who voted against the bill, said he supported further consideration of toll proposals, but the review should include other options in the study.

"The spirit and intent of this is a good thing," Camillo said. "I do think we need to be very considerate about it and consider the other options."

The Transportation Strategy Board is to meet next week to consider whether to recommend any specific tolling methods to the state legislature. The study said that in order to reduce congestion in Fairfield County using tolls, the state would have to charge high fees of up to $1 a mile.  The study's proposals include converting high occupancy vehicle lanes on interstates 84 and 95 into tolled lanes, charging drivers 10 cents a mile on I-95 from Branford to the Rhode Island state line and charging motorists for all miles they travel on state roads, which the study's consultant said posed major privacy issues.

Rep. Anthony Guerrera, a co-chair of the transportation committee, said the legislature needed to be realistic about how it would raise money for many proposed transportation projects, including the $1.3 billion New Haven Railyard and other railroad improvements, without tolls.

"We've been talking about this for many years now, and the legislature is going to have to get serious," said Guerrera, who represents Newington. "Somehow we have to pay for these transportation projects or start deciding which priorities we want to downgrade or scale back."


The Mianus Bridge and state DOT
Stamford ADVOCATE

Article Launched: 06/26/2008 01:00:00 AM EDT

With the anniversary of the Mianus River Bridge collapse 25 years ago this week, it is important to respectfully remember the individuals who were killed, and how people from all sectors responded to the tragedy and its aftermath. Three people died and three were injured, while Greenwich and the region traumatized when the Interstate 95 bridge's design and lack of maintenance caused a 100-foot section of the northbound lane to fall away on June 28, 1983.

A package of stories in The Advocate last Sunday effectively recounted the shocking scene, the resulting traffic detours that choked surface roads in area municipalities and the changes in bridge maintenance programs shortly thereafter.

But in remembering that time, we cannot avoid hearing echoes from the disaster in some of the problems the state Department of Transportation still has to this day.

Following the Mianus collapse, it emerged that the DOT's bridge oversight program was not properly staffed, leading to brief, hit-and-miss inspections, as well as some that were reported done even though they weren't. Also at some points prior to the event, lack of money was officially used as the excuse for the fact that repairs recommended for the Mianus span were not being undertaken.

Compare that with the situation just last year, when it was revealed that the DOT had "quietly cut back on bridge inspections across the state" as a way to save money. Inspections had gone from every two years to every four, though the governor quickly countermanded that change after knowledge of it became public.
To be sure, a federal official said that Connecticut qualified for an exemption to inspection guidelines because its bridges met certain criteria. One expert said in most cases there would be little change in the condition of a bridge over four years, as opposed to two. But other experts maintained that the new schedule could have long-term consequences, and that it could allow deterioration to take place unnoticed. There are sound reasons for the federal standards, they maintained.

Then there was the debacle with widening done by contractors on a stretch of Interstate 84.

According to news reports, an independent audit last year found faulty catchbasins and drainage pipes, defective light poles, an improperly installed bridge and other problems in a project being supervised by the DOT for a 3.5-mile stretch from Waterbury to Cheshire. Inspections that should have caught at least some of the flaws either were not performed, or failed to point out inadequacies, the auditors said. After a storm knocked the arm off a light pole, defective brackets were found on 70 poles, which the DOT was told posed a risk to motorists.

Among other DOT shortcomings recounted in hearings, an agency worker said she was not given authorization to work some extra hours on one problem she discovered.

Yet the effort to overhaul this dysfunctional agency continues to sputter.

As reported by Staff Writer Brian Lockhart, the state Legislature "adjourned May 7 without funding new positions or budgeting money to study Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell's proposal to split the DOT into two agencies."

There's that money issue again.

There can be no doubt that the state has to respond to financial realities. Its revenue stream continues to slow because of energy costs and economic troubles nationwide. The prospect of substantial deficits has impelled even Gov. Rell to agree on putting off major DOT reform efforts for now, as well as order significant spending cuts across the board.

Additionally, it must be noted there is no indication that Connecticut is in immediate danger on the order of the Mianus Bridge tragedy - though that event was not expected either.

But while contemplating what occurred 25 years ago and why, we think it would be a lot better for public safety and peace of mind in Connecticut if the DOT didn't in some ways seem still stuck in 1983.




Design errors found in '07 bridge collapse 
DAY
Published on 11/14/2008

Washington - Safety investigators on Thursday singled out undersized steel plates as the chief cause of last year's deadly collapse of a highway bridge in Minneapolis.

But contractors working on the bridge had stockpiled construction material on the center span over the Mississippi River, and that additional weight contributed to the collapse that killed 13 people and injured 145, they said.

Federal investigators told the National Transportation Safety Board that the collapse on Aug. 1, 2007, of the Interstate 35W bridge was unavoidable once gusset plates in the center span failed. When that happened, it dragged other sections of the bridge and rush-hour commuters into the water. The plates helped connect the bridge's steel beams.

Board members criticized Minnesota transportation officials for allowing the storage of 287 tons of construction materials for lane-widening on the bridge. The materials were stored above the gusset plates that fractured. But board members said it was not possible to determine if the materials alone - or factors such as weather and traffic, combined with the added weight - pushed the plates to a breaking point.

”Had the gusset plates been properly sized, this bridge would still be there,” said Bruce Magladry, director of the NTSB's office of highway safety.

Investigators said the half-inch thick plates were inadequate to handle traffic and other stress factors and did not meet engineering guidelines when the bridge was built in 1967. The safety board, as far back as January, had identified design flaws in the plates as a critical factor in the collapse. The board's final ruling was expected Friday.

In July, the House passed legislation authorizing an additional $1 billion next year to rebuild structurally deficient bridges on the national highway system. The bill would require states to come up with repair plans for troubled bridges.

The bridge was called “fracture critical.” That meant a failure of any number of structural elements would bring down the entire bridge.

Safety board investigator Jim Wildey said there is “nothing inherently dangerous” about this type of bridge, as long as each structural element is designed to withstand the expected stress loads.

From the start, the investigation has been laced with politics. Democrats in Minnesota heaped criticism on the state's Republican governor, Tim Pawlenty, and Democrats in Congress said the accident showed the nation's roads and bridges were crumbling.

Board members pledged to keep politics out of their deliberations.

”We are here, not to protect other agencies or other organization, we are not here to point fingers or to lay blame, or find fault. ... We are not here to push personal agendas. We're here to seek the truth,” board member Robert Sumwalt said.

In January, Rosenker, who is a Republican, said that design error was a “critical factor” in the collapse. He also said there was little chance that state bridge inspectors would have noticed undersized gusset plates.

Pawlenty took that as a measure of vindication because the initial focus had been on his administration's program for maintaining bridges.

Rosenker's comments angered Rep. Jim Oberstar, a Minnesota Democrat who heads the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee. Oberstar said the early pronouncement committed the safety board to a finding that might not bear out with further investigation.

In St. Paul, Minn., a group of collapse survivors gathered at a National Guard armory to watch the NTSB presentation via the Internet. Michele McLane, 41, said the hearing was “the last door to close for me.”

McLane was able to drive her car safely off the northern end of the span. But she said she was emotionally traumatized. “I finally get it now,” she said. “I finally understand.”

During Barack Obama's campaign for the White House, he cited the bridge collapse and called for spending more on crumbling highways, bridges and tunnels.

The Senate has yet to act on the bill. If no action is taken during a lame-duck session that starts next week, lawmakers would have to start anew on the legislation in January.

HTTP://WWW.NTSB.GOV/
 



Rail cars to get more bike space 
New Haven REGISTER
By Mary E. O’Leary
Posted on Wed, Jun 11, 2008 

NEW HAVEN — Ask and you shall receive.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell, at the request of New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr., has ordered that the 380 M-8 rail cars on order for use on Metro North be modified to allow for increased bicycle storage.

After viewing a mock-up of the rail cars in late May, the mayor asked for the revision to the cars, as well as a change in Metro-North policy which currently does not allow bikes on rush-hour trains.

Rell, in a letter to the mayor, said she had similar concerns about limiting bicycles on trains, which commuters now use to ride to a train station and use again to make the last leg of their commuting journeys.

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 Rell told the mayor that since the first of the new cars are not scheduled for delivery until 2009, “there is sufficient time to modify the design without delaying the scheduled delivery.” The proposed changes will be made by the state Department of Transportation.

Rell said new bike racks also have been installed at stations and the state DOT will review its policies on bicycle access.

But the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council feels that until there are enough train cars to allow all paying passengers to sit, bicycles should not be allowed to take up space.

“Everyone is tired of standing. How can you accommodate a bike without blocking the aisle?” asked James Cameron, council chairman.

He said the council does support more bike racks at train stations as a low-cost solution to help commuters, who now have a four-year wait for parking permits.

On the other side of the issue, cycling advocates point to successful programs in other states, particularly California.

Richard Stowe, of the New Canaan Environmental Group, has taken on Cameron in his blog, pointing particularly to price of oil as a reason to act.

“With the price of oil cresting 120 dollars per barrel never has there been a better time for Metro-North to accommodate bicycles during peak hours,” Stowe wrote. He also criticized Cameron’s defense of keeping bar cars, but not accommodating bikes.



Jersey exec named to DOT post
Stamford ADVOCATE
By Martin B. Cassidy, Staff Writer
Posted: 12/30/2008 02:45:37 AM EST

The state has hired a longtime New Jersey Transitexecutive to run Connecticut railway and bus lines, including construction of the New Haven rail yard and a planned expansion of mass transit.

James Redeker, 55, vice president of technology services for New Jersey Transit, will become chief of the Bureau of Public Transportation next month. The bureau oversees Metro-North Railroad; manages CTTransit, the statewide bus service; and supports ridesharing programs.  Department of Transportation Commissioner Joseph Marie said Redeker's experience in New Jersey prepares him to handle rail and bus improvements in Connecticut.

"Only with safe, reliable and convenient public transportation will we transition people from their cars to the bus, train or van pool," Marie said. "Jim Redeker will help us deliver on that commitment. His long experience with transit issues in the tri-state area will serve us all well."

The job pays $145,000 a year, DOT spokesman Judd Everhart said.

Redeker joined New Jersey Transit in 1978. He oversaw capital planning efforts, including new stations and parking facilities, and introduced computerized technology, according to the DOT.  Technological improvements included digital video and audio information systems for passengers and computerized ticket sales by machine and the Internet, according to Redeker's resume.

Redeker could not be reached for comment yesterday. In a statement issued by the DOT, he said it is possible to improve Connecticut rail and bus service even in the fiscal crisis.

"My career has been devoted to the customer, and I am confident that, even under difficult financial pressures, Connecticut can enhance commuter ridership and boost customer satisfaction," Redeker said in the statement.

Rail advocates and legislators said they hope Redeker will improve planning, because equipment needs have gone unidentified and the agency does not maintain enough employees to finish critical projects.  Jim Cameron, chairman of the Metro-North Commuter Rail Council, said Redeker's experience with New Jersey Transit's efforts at "transit-oriented" development - providing residential and commercial buildings within walking distance of rail and bus hubs - could help Connecticut planners pursue the concept.

The DOT is seeking developers to build residential, office and retail space around the Stamford train station as part of a project to replace the run-down parking garage.

"New Jersey Transit has taken sleepy little train stations and developed vibrant communities and retail around those stations," Cameron said. "He's coming from a system with a very good reputation for transit and doing a lot of things right."

State Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, who sits on the legislature's Transportation Committee, said Redeker will find it difficult to fund projects because of the budget deficit.  McDonald said he is uneasy about the status of the New Haven rail yard project, which DOT officials say remains a priority, though cost estimates quadrupled to $1.2 billion since 2005.  The rail yard is vital if the DOT is to maintain 342 new rail cars that should begin to arrive in 2010, McDonald said.

"I'm very fearful the department, even though it seems to be making some progress now, is likely to curtail many initiatives," he said. "I'm encouraged they are bringing somebody on, but am worried that he and the bureau will be set up for failure."

State Rep. Carlo Leone, D-Stamford, said Marie has sought top officials with rail and other mass transit experience to overhaul Connecticut's infrastructure.

The DOT in the past focused on big road projects, not rail and bus service improvements, he said.

"My only hope is that the DOT chief is trying to bring in more rail-oriented thinking," Leone said. "We'll have to watch carefully in the coming years because transportation improvements are critical for the state, especially southwestern Connecticut."



Commissioner: DOT must embrace change
Stamford ADVOCATE
By Martin B. Cassidy, Staff Writer

Posted: 12/14/2008 02:41:52 AM EST

STAMFORD - Choosing good leadership, cooperating with cities and towns, and creating plans to improve rail, bus and other mass transit in Connecticut are areas the state Department of Transportation needs to improve, Commissioner Joseph Marie told local business leaders Wednesday.

"We have many hardworking employees at the DOT, and there are things we are doing well," Marie said. "If we are going to fundamentally change the DOT into a 21st-century organization, we need for the institutional bureaucracy to embrace that challenge."

Next month, an official DOT report will be released dealing with efforts to reform the agency to be more efficient and move toward a greater focus on rail, bus, and other modes of transportation, said Marie, who took leadership of the agency this summer.  He spoke at a meeting of the board of directors of MetroPool, a regional nonprofit corporation funded by the DOT to encourage increased use of mass transit, carpooling and vanpooling, and other transportation options for employees of area companies.

"A good organization that gets better does a lot of soul-searching," Marie said.

Last year, a commission appointed by Gov. M. Jodi Rell issued a report calling the DOT an insular agency that needs to be more transparent, accountable and accessible.  Marie said the department faces a financial crisis in the coming years because of the state's budget deficit. The issue is complicated by a drop in tax revenue from gas sales to fund construction because people are driving less.

Marie said he was working with Metro-North Railroad to resolve a request from the Metropolitan Transit Authority to cut four off-peak trains on Metro-North's New Haven Line, or other cost-saving measures.  A plan proposed by the MTA to institute bridge tolls into Manhattan and a "mobility tax" on payrolls could generate billions and avert service cuts, Marie said.

"We are trying to manage this as much as possible," he said.

Marie said his agency was trying to finalize a list of ready-to-build highway and transit projects to put forward for federal funding next year as part of President-elect Barack Obama's infrastructure program .

"We are spending every waking hour pushing ourselves to get projects 'shovel-ready' so that if that legislation is passed we are ready, and Connecticut doesn't miss anything," Marie said.

Without additional funding, the state's current budget deficit will force the DOT to complete fewer projects. Those that could be delayed include a $1.2 billion project to renovate the New Haven Railyard into a train maintenance facility and another project to replace aging catenary wires on the New Haven line.

John Lyons, president and chief executive officer of MetroPool in Stamford, said that higher gas prices earlier this year and changing attitudes have continued to increase use of MetroPool services by area companies and their employees.  In 2008, employees of companies taking part in a corporate challenge conducted by MetroPool traveled 6.8 million fewer "vehicle miles" by use of carpooling, using shuttle services and riding trains, Lyons said.

"Even after the gas prices came back down, we didn't see the behavior change," Lyons said.

Several members of the MetroPool board of directors said they had confidence in Marie's leadership, based on his extensive experience running public transit systems in Arizona and Minnesota.

"We now have a professional in charge," said Floyd Lapp, executive director for the South Western Regional Region Metropolitan Planning Organization. "We have a very able administrator here, and now is the time to support him and try to get things done."


DOT appointee brings mass transit expertise
Stamford ADVOCATE
Brian Lockhart
Article Launched: 04/24/2008 02:44:20 AM EDT

HARTFORD - Lt. Gov. Michael Fedele did not suggest that his boss, Gov. M. Jodi Rell, pick Joseph Marie of Arizona to run Connecticut's Department of Transportation.

But Fedele's glad she did.

Fedele spearheaded the national search for a new DOT chief after Ralph Carpenter retired in December.

Fedele helped whittle down the list of candidates from 30 to two - Marie and "another gentleman from down South." The names were submitted to Rell a few weeks ago.

Fedele said he wanted Marie to get the job but shared his opinion with Rell only after she made up her mind.

"He not only had public service experience but also comes from private industry, so he brings the best practices of both those areas," said Fedele, a Stamford resident.

Lawmakers are expected to hold a confirmation hearing Monday.

A Massachusetts native, Marie, 45, is director of operations and maintenance for the Phoenix regional public transit system. He has held senior transit positions in Minnesota, Pennsylvania and Massachusetts and worked for rail equipment manufacturers.

Fedele said Marie's background fits the administration's goal to focus on mass transit.

"We want to maintain our roads and bridges but also create an environment that promotes mass transit," Fedele said.

Marie has a lot of energy and looks forward to taking over an agency at a crossroads, Fedele said.

Earlier this year, Rell said the DOT was "broken" and suggested it be split to focus more on mass transit.

Lawmakers likely will vote to create a committee to study the proposal. Marie and all finalists had ideas about splitting the department and about simply reorganizing it, Fedele said.

"He brings some very good managerial skills, and I think he's very open-minded and is a people person," he said. "He's not afraid to roll up his sleeves and get the job done."

Marie has worked in different states, which should make it easy for him to interact with the administration and General Assembly in Connecticut, Fedele said.

Many lawmakers have praised Rell for breaking a tradition of hiring commissioners from within the DOT or other departments.

Two DOT employees were in the running, including acting Commissioner H. James Boice, according to department sources.

"When you have an outsider and insider, there's pluses and minuses," Fedele said. "What we were looking for is who could do the best job with the organization that is there today, and work with the governor and legislature to move the transportation agenda forward."

Fedele said Marie will move his family back to the Northeast and hopes to start in June.

Asked whether Marie plans to remain at the job for any length of time, Fedele said the appointment is secure only until the next gubernatorial election in 2010.

The DOT has had significant turnover in management in recent years.



Train cars stay on track despite rail yard delays
Stamford ADVOCATE
By Brian Lockhart
Article Launched: 05/30/2008 01:00:00 AM EDT

BRIDGEPORT - State transportation officials assured the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council on Wednesday night that problems with the upgrade of the New Haven Rail Yard will not delay arrival of 300 new M8 train cars or interfere with their maintenance.

"We have confidence that, working with Metro-North, the cars will be maintained to the appropriate standards," Eugene Colonese, the state Department of Transportation's rail administrator, told the council during a meeting at the Bridgeport railroad station.

Colonese and other DOT officials briefed the council on the rail yard project, which came under fire in April, when state lawmakers learned the $300 million budget approved in 2005 had ballooned to $1.2 billion.  Gov. M. Jodi Rell is reviewing bids from three contractors for an independent cost analysis of the design.  The rail yard upgrade and the $1 billion purchase of the train cars are hallmarks of Rell's 2005 transportation bill.

Lawmakers on the General Assembly's finance and transportation committees last month grilled the DOT on the higher costs. They are trying to schedule another meeting with Metro-North Railroad.  The commuter council questioned the DOT on Wednesday about the cost overruns.

Asked why the project was under-budgeted, Al Martin, a deputy DOT commissioner, said, "Keep in mind that initial estimate was a concept without an awful lot of the necessary engineering being done."

Council member Jeffrey Maron of Stamford asked why commuters should have confidence in the DOT's $1.2 billion estimate.
"You can rest assured we're very close to being right on," Martin said.

But council Chairman Jim Cameron had doubts.

"I think all bets are off," he said after the meeting.

The project has been divided into three phases, with construction scheduled to begin in April 2009 and lasting through 2020.

"How can you possibly plan out 10 years from now, given the inflationary and unpredictable environment we're in?" Cameron said.

The Rell administration determined that the rail yard had to be upgraded to maintain the high-tech rail cars, which are being designed in Japan.  The DOT is shopping around a mockup of the rail car interior to commuters. It was on display yesterday in Stamford, and there are plans to bring it to Grand Central Terminal in New York City.  The cars will begin arriving in mid-2009. The rest of the fleet will be built in Nebraska and shipped from there at the rate of about 10 cars per month.  It is more expensive to split the project into phases but it had to be done because rail yard operations must continue during construction, Martin said.

The DOT is seeking funds to complete the first phase, which includes new tracks to store the M8s, a facility to maintain the wheels, a multilevel maintenance shop that can handle 13 cars and office space.  The initial phase costs $432,000. The DOT is expected to ask Rell and the General Assembly to come up with the extra money when the 2009 legislative session begins in January.  The state plans a gradual fare increase to pay for the new cars.

"We believe we will have the dollars to complete (phase one) on schedule," Martin said. "We understand the riding public and taxpayers in general are very much concerned about how we're going to do this."

The second phase includes a central parts warehouse and car washer. A paint shop, parking garage and pedestrian bridge for workers is planned for the final phase.

"Know we are going to do it in a fashion that does not put a burden on the taxpayers," Martin said.

Cameron and Andrew Todd, a council member from Norwalk, asked DOT officials to forward details about the warrantee on the M8s.  Cameron said he is concerned that if the upgrades fall behind, the state will not be able to maintain the new cars, invalidating the warrantee.  But Colonese said that is not a concern.

"We feel pretty confident we have a plan that will accommodate the existing and new fleet," he said. "It's like a new car. You buy a new car you're not going into the shop that often."

Terri Cronin, a council member from Norwalk, said she was not satisfied with the answers about how the rail yard will be funded.

"I'm just so concerned they're going to raise ticket prices," Cronin said.

But Cameron was optimistic.

"I don't think they're going to stick it to the commuter."


Lawmakers decry additional $250M for rail yard
Norwalk HOUR
April 16, 2008

State lawmakers were bent out of shape Wednesday after questioning the state Department of Transportation on its cost estimates for a new rail yard in New Haven.

The project is necessary to maintain a fleet of new rail cars for Metro-North Railroad's New Haven line that will arrive in late 2009. Lawmakers approved $300 million for the rail yard in 2005, but the cost has ballooned to $1.12 billion because of inflation and additional design aspects.

To keep the project on schedule, the legislature must appropriate an additional $252 million for the project's first of three phases by next March, according Office of Policy and Management secretary Robert Genuario.

The revelation didn't sit well with the legislature's finance and transportation committees, which pressed the agencies for an explanation Wednesday in Hartford.

"I feel like I'm going through the three stages of grief here," state Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-27, said. "I've been through shock and anger, and I'm still wallowing in despair, and I haven't gotten to acceptance."

McDonald primarily wanted to know why he and his colleagues hadn't been informed sooner.

Genuario said he first found out in 2006 that the rail yard would cost more than expected, and at that point, he didn't entirely believe it. He ordered the DOT to re-evaluate their estimates during 2007, but didn't get the information to lawmakers until a week ago.

Repeatedly, he said the late notice was an error on his part.

"If I had to do it all over again, I would have brought you into the loop earlier, and I take responsibility in that regard," he said.

State Sen. Bob Duff, D-25, majority whip, laughingly calls the issue "Traingate."

"We've heard rumblings about the overruns since about four months ago, but we were never getting straight answers," Duff said after Wednesday's meeting.

Scott Hill, the DOT's project manager, said the department's original request for $300 million was based on a preliminary estimate. When DOT engineers actually began designing the project, they added a parking garage, a pedestrian bridge for workers, a storage yard and several other new features.

They also realized the city of New Haven wanted the surrounding property for economic development, meaning the new yard needs to be built on the existing yard's 70-acre plot. Builders, then, have to work around existing operations there, adding time -- and greater inflation costs -- to the project, Hill said.

Transportation Commissioner H. James Boice said it's typical for DOT projects to vary in cost from original estimates, and sometimes they even cost less, but lawmakers were still taken aback by how much more money taxpayers will have to pony up.

"While the department's tried to keep everything up to date, it is clear a better job could have been done," Boice said.

State Rep. Toni Boucher, R-143, said Wednesday's forum underscores the need to split the DOT into two entities -- one for highways and one for mass transit -- because it shows the agency's inability to plan major rail projects.

"This is more than just about this project," she said.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell has also shown concern.

On Monday, she ordered a review of all DOT capital projects either under construction or planned to break ground in the next five years.

"Especially now, money is tight -- but even if the financial picture were brighter, we have a responsibility as stewards of taxpayer dollars to ensure that every penny is spent in the most efficient and effective way possible," Rell said in a statement.

She also called for the Office of Policy and Management to hire an independent analyst to study the rail yard design and see if any money can be salvaged.

The DOT hasn't made a request for more funding yet, which is necessary before lawmakers can consider an appropriation. Genuario said there will be more conversations over the next few weeks, but did not say whether he would advise the legislature to appropriate more funds this session or hold a special session before March 2009, when construction is supposed to begin.

Either way, Genuario said the 300 new rail cars will arrive on time.

"This issue is not in any way, shape or form impacting the incoming fleet," Genuario said.


Transportation Key Component of State Spending Plan 
DAY
By Karin Crompton  
Published on 2/7/2008 

Hartford — Under Gov. M. Jodi Rell's proposed midterm budget, the state would reorganize the Department of Transportation, nab highway speeders through the use of radar cameras installed in the East Lyme area, and hire additional inspectors for bridge repair and maintenance.

Rell would also like people to clean their cars of snow on stormy days to spare others from the “ice missiles” they launch.

The proposed 2009 fiscal year budget includes an increase of $5 million for transportation, considered one of the year's “major initiatives.”

“To those who use this congested highway as their personal speedway, we're going to see you and we're going to stop you,” Rell said during her State of the State address.

“And it will cost you.”

In addition to the highway cameras, the budget also includes a recommendation to hire 100 state troopers over the next five years who would focus solely on highway enforcement, and to increase penalties for certain violations by teen drivers.

The camera pilot program would cost about $250,000 and begin by Oct. 1. Chris Cooper, a spokesman for the governor's office, said the violation would be treated as an infraction and the presumption would be that the car's registered owner is driving, though that can be challenged.

The law would require that a summons be mailed no later than 14 days after the violation and include a photo. The law only pertains to speeders and is not affiliated with red-light cameras, which spot violations at traffic signals, Cooper said.

State Rep. Steve Mikutel, D-Griswold, vice chairman of the legislature's Transportation Committee, said after the address that he has “mixed feelings” about the cameras.

“I'm not jumping on board that,” he said. “It may be that there are other ways we can deal with aggressive drivers without (them) being photographed. ... I'm concerned about personal privacy. I'm just concerned about Big Brotherism.”

State Sen. Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford, said she likes the pilot program.

“I've been a proponent of that kind of oversight of the highways for a while because I know they do it in other states and it is rather effective,” said Stillman, chairman of the Public Safety and Security Committee. “I think it's a good idea to do it. ... I applaud (Gov. Rell) proposing some things that I believe the delegation had requested — not just the cameras, but certainly more patrol on the highways.”

State Rep. Ed Jutila, D-East Lyme, said he is leaning toward supporting the idea.

“The feeling always is that public opinion doesn't support it, that people don't want cameras taking pictures of them, and they don't feel comfortable with that,” said Jutila, a member of the Transportation Committee. “I think right now people are upset enough with the carnage out there on the highways that they might be ready for it, and I might be.”

Jutila said he drafted a letter, signed by the local delegation, that asks the Transportation Committee for a public hearing on a variety of highway safety initiatives, from reduced speed limits to highway cameras and restricting truck traffic to the right lane. Jutila said the delegation is not yet advocating for the ideas but “we all agreed they should be on the table.”

The governor's proposal surprised many in its $2 million recommendation to split the state DOT into two separate agencies: the Department of Highways and the Department of Public Transportation, Aviation, and Ports.

The reorganization would take effect Jan. 1, 2010, and would create a position of chief operating officer, who would report to the DOT commissioner. Rell's budget chief, Robert L. Genuario, said the division into two agencies was not intended as a cost-saving move but to provide focus.

Genuario said that, aside from the new chief operating officer position, he doesn't believe the split would result in more employees.

It was unclear Wednesday how the proposed move could affect the search for a new DOT commissioner. Acting commissioner Emil Frankel said he expects to serve until the middle of March, a term he understood to be set by statute.

In a phone interview, Frankel demurred when asked whether he thinks the idea to split the DOT into two agencies is a good one.

“She's a lot closer to this, and I respect her judgment about this,” he said of Rell, “and we're going to do everything we can to make this successful. We'll come up with some models and kind of analyze what the best way is to do it. ... There are a lot of institutional patterns that can be followed, and we're going to try to analyze and come up with (ideas), and as long as I'm there, I'll be of whatever assistance I can.”

Rell's proposal to divide the DOT came a couple of weeks after she received a report on proposed reforms for the department. Her recommendation to divide the department surprised many, however, because that was not a conclusion reached in the report but the governor's own suggestion.

Other recommendations in the proposed budget include:

•A law requiring people to clean their car roofs after snow storms to prevent “ice missiles.”

•$700,000 to add 10 commercial-vehicle inspectors within the Department of Motor Vehicles as part of a “crackdown” on unsafe trucks and trucking companies.

•42 inspectors and maintainers for bridge repair and maintenance to ensure bridge inspections occur every two years.

•An additional 50 DOT engineers for more “in-house design and oversight of transportation projects”; there was no budget adjustment, according to the proposal, because the positions “are funded 80 percent federal projects and 20 percent capital projects.”

•The creation of a “Responsible Growth” Cabinet to advise on responsible growth policies and initiatives and to coordinate funding and permitting for “developments of regional significance.”

•$500,000 in the capital budget to finance a master plan for the state's deep-water ports.


State searches for new DOT chief
Stamford ADVOCATE
By Mark Ginocchio
Published January 13 2008

The state is moving aggressively in its nationwide search for the next commissioner of the state Department of Transportation and will stop accepting applications for the post before the end of the month.

Commissioner Ralph Carpenter stepped down last month after a little more than a year with the agency. Applications will be accepted until Jan. 25, about six weeks after the job was first advertised, said Chris Cooper, a spokesman in Gov. M. Jodi Rell's office.

From there, the state Department of Administration will begin conducting interviews and narrowing the list of candidates.

Former DOT Commissioner Emil Frankel of Westport is expected to start serving as interim commissioner before the end of the month, according to state officials.

The Department of Administration posted an advertisement in newspapers, job sites and transportation trade and industry groups such as the American Association of Highway & Transportation Officials, the American Society of Civil Engineers and the American Council of Engineering Companies.

Qualified applicants are expected to have at least eight years of top-level management experience.

The ad describes the state's long-term transportation strategy as focused on smart growth and transit-oriented development.

It also mentions the DOT reform group, a committee created by Rell last year to change the culture and structure of the agency after it was revealed that the department had mismanaged a $52 million drainage installation project on Interstate 84 in Waterbury.

The state is still awaiting the committee's report, which was originally slated for release last month.

It has been delayed as the group, led by Michael Critelli of Pitney Bowes in Stamford, continues to comb through its research and input from transportation advocates, residents and DOT employees.

Some lawmakers said they are disappointed that the nationwide search is being conducted primarily through state government instead of hiring an outside firm or consultant to find top-level talent.

It's appropriate to hire a consultant or a committee to help with a national search," said state Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk. "There are a number of stakeholders" in the state who would be interested in getting involved with the search process, he said.

The state's current method of promoting the position "isn't exactly the way to beat the bushes for a national expert on transportation," said state Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, a member of the legislature's Transportation Committee. "It's just one element of what's needed to be done."

Other lawmakers said they are less concerned by the process and are instead pleased to hear the state is pushing ahead with its search in a timely fashion.

"I'm waiting for the resolution and relying on the governor's national search to find someone who is equipped to handle a major transition" for transportation policy in Connecticut, said state Sen. William Nickerson, R-Greenwich. "We need to find someone who brings stability, leadership and imagination."


Time For A Transit Chief
Hartford Courant editorial
December 13, 2007

The retirement of state Department of Transportation Commissioner Ralph J. Carpenter presents an opportunity the state must embrace. Gov. M. Jodi Rell must appoint a transit advocate, a transportation professional committed to using all appropriate modes of transportation to improve the state's commerce and quality of life, to head the department.

For decades, the department's heavy emphasis has been on highways. Mr. Carpenter, an exemplary public servant, had begun the process of broadening the department's vision. A former state police lieutenant colonel and Department of Motor Vehicles commissioner, Mr. Carpenter came to the DOT in 2005. The department was then beset with scandals and lack of focus.

Mr. Carpenter, other state administrators and members of a reform commission appointed earlier this year by Gov. Rell have together made substantial improvements. They're reorganized redundant and failing administrative processes, established stronger oversight of construction projects and improved bridge inspections.

The DOT reform commission, headed by Pitney-Bowes Chairman Michael Critelli, is scheduled to report Monday on how to reform the 3,200-employee department. A big part of providing the state with the transportation it needs must be leadership.

Gov. Rell said the state has embarked on a national search to find a new commissioner, and has enlisted the capable Emil Frankel, DOT commissioner under Gov. Lowell Weicker from 1991 to 1995, to serve as interim commissioner while the search is in progress.

National search or not, history suggests there will be strong pressure to promote a highway engineer from inside the department, as so often in the past. This time, we must find someone with a technical background, to be sure, but also a broad view. We need someone who will put the T in DOT, who is as committed to trains, buses, bikes and ferries as to highways, someone who will encourage development around transit stations. There are such people out there, such as former New Hampshire transportation commissioner Carol Murray and former New Jersey transportation commissioner Jack Lettiere.

Gov. Rell has committed the state to a plan of responsible growth and transit-oriented development. The right appointment at DOT can bring the state a lot closer to these worthy goals.




Border toll hearings' sites concern area lawmakers;  New Haven, Waterbury to host public hearings
Stamford ADVOCATE
By Martin B. Cassidy, STAFF WRITER
Updated: 04/26/2009 06:40:53 AM EDT

Fairfield County's state legislators want hearings scheduled in the southwestern part of Connecticut to let area residents have their say on a recently touted proposal to collect fees at the state borders on Interstate 95 and the Merritt Parkway.

"To me, to not have a meeting in at least the border areas seems blatantly unfair when there is this whole issue about tolling on the borders," said state Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk. "This, to me, seems that the Transportation Strategy Board is not serious about this issue and gaining public input from people who might be affected."

On Thursday, the board announced two public hearings on the results of a $1 million Electronic Tolling and Congestion Pricing Study, completed by Massachusetts-based Cambridge Systematics. The study considered options for using tolling to ease traffic flow or raise money for transportation projects.

The first hearing is scheduled for 6 to 9 p.m. Wednesday at Gateway Community Technical College, 60 Sargent Drive, New Haven. A second hearing will be 6 to 9 p.m., Tuesday, May 5, at the University of Connecticut's Waterbury campus, 99 E. Main St., in multipurpose rooms 113 and 116.  The full TSB is scheduled to meet May 21, when it could recommend to Gov. M. Jodi Rell and legislators what type of tolls should be implemented and which highway locations are best suited for them.

TSB Chairman Kevin Kelleher and Philip Smith, undersecretary for the state Office of Policy and Management, which oversaw the study, did not return calls for comment.  Jill Kelly, a member of the TSB from Fairfield, said she was concerned that the New Haven and Waterbury meetings will not receive enough publicity to draw crowds and an appropriate amount of public input.  Without enough comment, she said, she would be reluctant to approve any recommendations.

"We have to start some place, and a public education effort is needed," Kelly said. "It may turn out that if border tolling per se becomes the lead concept, they would have to hold hearings in Enfield or the lower Fairfield County area. I'm more concerned if we can get the information out to the public."

A half dozen state legislators from Stamford, Norwalk and Greenwich who oppose border tolling have expressed disappointment that no local hearings were slated. Legislation proposed this year seeks a $500,000 feasibility study to implement tolls at or near the state border in Fairfield County and other areas of the state. They said the board should plan hearings near Greenwich, Stamford and Norwalk, where tolls most likely would be installed.

"It's completely baffling that the TSB would not hold a hearing on tolling in southwestern Connecticut, which would receive the brunt of the initiative under a border tolling proposal," said state Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford. "I don't know if this oversight is the result of an intentional snub or the product of political tone-deafness."

State Sen. L. Scott Frantz, R-Greenwich, and state Rep. Lile Gibbons, R-Greenwich, said a meeting should be held closer to Greenwich where town residents could express their concerns about border tolling.  Frantz said he expected Kelleher would plan another hearing in Fairfield County, particularly if the TSB planned to indicate support for border tolling.

"Chairman Kelleher is an outstanding leader, and I'm sure if the subject matter of the meeting included solely border tolls, it would certainly be an issue for constituents down here," Frantz said. "Chairman Kelleher is a very responsible person, and I think if he suspected that the board would recommend border tolling, he'd plan hearings in North Stonington, Enfield and Fairfield County."

Gibbons said she would support an electronic form of tolls, such as EZ-Pass, if it would help mitigate congestion and were not placed only in Fairfield County. She said the timing of the hearing also was a problem given that legislators who want to attend might be busy in Hartford in the next two weeks.  Gibbons said that having more hearings over diverse parts of the state would help educate residents who are unaware of more up-to-date tolling technology that allow fees to be collected without slowing traffic. More hearings would help the public shape a better-informed opinion about tolling, she said.

"We need a public hearing on it because not everybody agrees with me," Gibbons said. "There definitely has to be a hearing in Greenwich or Stamford because if we ever end up with electronic tolls, you can be sure one will end up in Greenwich or our area."

The Cambridge report outlined options that include creating tolled lanes parallel to highways that would allow drivers to drive faster; charging drivers statewide based on miles traveled; and introducing tolls onto highways that need repairs and using revenue to complete needed work.  Other options in the report are:

"˘ Tolling all "limited access" highways in the state, including the Merritt Parkway, I-95, Interstate 91 and Interstate 84.
"˘ Tolling all traffic on I-95 north of New Haven and I-84 east of Danbury, or tolling specially created express lanes to fund expansion of those corridors.
"˘ Tolling only truck traffic.
"˘ Converting highway shoulders into so-called HOT lanes, allowing drivers to pay to use lanes reserved for carpoolers or buses.

State Sen. Andrew Maynard, D-Stonington, said he would like additional hearings in his district because of the potential impact on the Connecticut-Rhode Island border.  Many employees of Electric Boat, which is located in Groton, travel from homes in Rhode Island, and border tolls would impact that business.

"It is assumed that tolling would be a slam-dunk in terms of revenue for the state, but I'm not sure it would be," Maynard said. "I doubt we will get people who are able to drive to Waterbury or New Haven with all the responsibilities they have these days, whether it is working two jobs or caring for their families."

The Transportation Strategy Board, made up of state business leaders, transportation advocates and elected officials, was established in 2000 after a summit in Stamford determined the state was at risk of economic stagnation without more deliberate strategies to develop the state's highway and mass transit infrastructure.


SUMMARY OF FINDINGWheels turn on tolls: State panel weighing 9 options, all electronic, to raise revenue
By Ed Stannard, New Haven Register Metro Editor
Friday, February 20, 2009 6:43 AM EST

HARTFORD — The state needs to bring in more money, and it wants to reduce traffic jams, and so the Transportation Strategy Board is looking into whether to bring tolls back to Connecticut.  The TSB received a presentation Thursday from Jeffrey N. Buxbaum of Cambridge Systematics Inc. of Cambridge, Mass., which did a $1 million study looking at toll options. Right up front, Buxbaum wanted to make one thing clear:

"I don’t want anyone to walk away from this room thinking that in any way, shape or form we’re talking about putting tollbooths back on Connecticut highways," he told the board. All the options presented involve electronic tolls, in which a camera photographs license plates or a device sends a signal to an overhead receiver.

Connecticut removed its tolls in the 1980s, in part as a result of a 1983 crash on Interstate 95 in which a truck plowed into a line of cars at the Stratford toll station, killing seven. The federal government also threatened to withhold transit money if the state did not remove the tolls.  Saying technology has removed that safety concern, Buxbaum presented nine options for the board to consider, ranging from charging vehicles to use high-occupancy lanes near Hartford to charging drivers for every mile driven in Connecticut. All had positives and negatives, he said.

The positives are bringing in more money to the state treasury. One plan, putting tolls on major roads at eight state border crossings, would target out-of-state drivers coming into Connecticut. A $1 toll could raise $3.8 billion over 30 years, and a $5 toll could bring in $19.5 billion, according to the study.

Another potential benefit would be to reduce the number of vehicles on already-jammed highways.  But there are several negatives, which vary depending on the option. The border tolls might crowd local streets with cars that leave the interstate to avoid the toll.

"What might be a few, relatively small percentage share on the interstate is a fairly large impact if you put it on the city streets," Buxbaum said.

An option to use shoulders as toll lanes likely would not work because too many bridges would have to be widened. And there are privacy concerns when every vehicle that passes is photographed.  The system chosen, if tolls do come back, may limit how the state could use the revenue.

"If you put a toll on the interstate system, current rules dictate that that money has to be used on the highway from which it is collected," Buxbaum said.

And if Connecticut residents were somehow exempted from a border toll, by a tax credit or other means, that could violate the Interstate Commerce Clause.  The reduction in gas tax revenues, because of more fuel-efficient cars, was a concern for some.  State Rep. Antonio Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill, co-chairman of the General Assembly’s Transportation Committee, said he is in favor of border tolls.

"Obviously, more people travel through the state of Connecticut and don’t pay anything and don’t fill up in our state," he said.

"We cannot rely on our gas tax anymore," Guerrera said. "How are you going to get that same amount of moneys when you know that these cars are going to be getting 50 to 60 miles per gallon?"

State Sen. Antoinette Boucher, R-Wilton, ranking Republican on the Transportation Committee, said of bringing back tolls, "I, right off the bat, do not like it. However, we can’t go in with a closed mind."

Boucher said the border toll would be most palatable, but said, "The question remains, are we adding another tax onto our residents to get to work?"

Michael J. Reilly, president of the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut, said he opposed tolls and that truckers would be unfairly targeted.

"Making them pay for the privilege of crossing the border in this state ... lays an unfair burden on them," he said. Truckers make only 2 to 4 cents a mile in profit, he said.

Reilly said Connecticut should not charge drivers more, but instead use the gross receipts tax on fuel for transportation needs.  The Tri-State Transportation Campaign issued a statement saying electronic tolls would reduce congestion and pollution.

"Congestion in Connecticut causes residents and business to lose over $500 million a year in excess fuel consumption, loss of productivity and delays," it said.

TSB Chairman Kevin J. Kelleher said he hopes the board will come up with a recommendation on whether to bring back tolls, and what system to use, at its next meeting and to present it to the assembly this session.

Ed Stannard can be reached at estannard@nhregister.com or 789-5743.

Report on highway tolls pending 
DAY 
Published on 1/1/2009

BRIDGEPORT, Conn. (AP) _ A government panel is expected to receive a report later this month on whether tolls should return to Connecticut's highways.
Cambridge Systematics, a transportation research group, is scheduled to present its results to the state Transportation Strategy Board on Jan. 15. Jill Kelly, a board member, tells the Connecticut Post the report will lay out many options.

The strategy board, an independent group created by state officials to help guide Connecticut's transportation policy, suggested in 2003 that the state study the idea of toll roads to help ease traffic congestion.

Prices would be raised during rush hour and lowered when there's less volume.

It's uncertain whether the strategy board will support the idea of tolls after receiving the report.


From the road: No tolls in Connecticut
Stamford ADVOCATE
By Brian Lockhart
Posted: 12/03/2008 02:45:27 AM EST

Gov. M. Jodi Rell is looking for ways to close the state's budget deficit but does not count highway tolls among the potential solutions.

"I don't want tolls back in Connecticut," Rell said by phone Tuesday while returning from a conference of the National Governors Association in Philadelphia.

The route took her through New Jersey, which, Rell noted, imposed higher highway tolls as of Monday.  Connecticut's toll booths were dismantled 20 years ago after an accident between a truck and three cars killed seven people at the Stratford toll plaza for Interstate 95.  The revenue, used to help fund transportation initiatives, was replaced by gasoline taxes.

The state Transportation Strategy Board is doing a $1 million study on installing electronic E-ZPass style booth-less tolls along the state's main thoroughfares. The study is due in February, in time for the General Assembly to consider it during the 2009 budget session.

For years, strategy board members have said E-ZPass tolls would capture additional revenue for infrastructure projects and decrease congestion by charging higher amounts during rush hour to encourage motorists to use mass transit.  Rell traditionally has opposed reviving the tolls, but she acknowledged Tuesday the state could use the revenue.

Rell and the legislature are faced with crafting a new budget for fiscal years 2009-10 and 2010-11 that addresses an estimated two-year more than $6 billion deficit. Some of that shortfall is due to the sudden drop in gas prices, which has resulted in a $100 million shortfall in the amount of gross receipts taxes the state collects on the sale of petroleum products.
 
"I understand we're looking at a budget deficit not only in our regular general fund but the transportation fund," Rell said.

But she said she continues to oppose tolls as part of the solution.

"I always hate to draw a line in the sand, but that is not an option for me," Rell said.

Floyd Lapp, executive director of the South Western Region Metropolitan Planning Organization, the organization that recommends transportation policy to the state leaders, supports the concept of tolls and congestion pricing.  Lapp said that based on previous statements he knew Rell was not in favor of tolls, but he said he wishes critics would keep an open mind pending the transportation strategy board's study.

"I would respectfully recommend that we wait, see the results and be guided accordingly," he said. "We remain open. . . . Maybe for whatever reasons, it doesn't work. But I wouldn't at the outset reach a judgment, pro or con."

But Lapp said restoring tolls would not be a quick fix for Connecticut's budget woes.

"What I learned . . . is the initial investment in infrastructure . . . is such you really don't realize a big bang for investment," Lapp said. "I think it would be a false advocacy for enthusiasts like me to say, 'You have a revenue source we don't have now.' . . . Initially, it's a slow investment."



Toll roads study on schedule for legislative debate in '09 
DAY
By Karin Crompton    
Published on 9/27/2008 

Newington - The company hired to study tolls and congestion pricing in Connecticut is sticking to its schedule and appears likely to finish in time for the matter to be debated during the 2009 legislative session.

Cambridge Systematics Inc., a Massachusetts-based company, met with the state Transportation Strategy Board on Sept. 18 and a group of “stakeholders” on Thursday to update them.

Proponents are suggesting the state reinstall tolls as a means to generate revenue for transportation projects in a way that charges the people who cause the wear and tear to roads and bridges. Tolls are also being suggested as a potential replacement to the existing gas tax, where a tax on fuel is meant to go into the state's Special Transportation Fund.

Critics question the need for tolls and point out that the state diverts more than half of the gas tax money into the general fund and away from the Special Transportation Fund. They also question some of the technology, such as the use of highway cameras, and whether highway tolls would result in more local traffic as people duck off the highway to avoid tolls.

No one, however, should envision an old school tollbooth, said Jeff Buxbaum, a principal with Cambridge Systematics.

Buxbaum reminded the audience during a presentation Thursday that current technology is fully automated and set up to allow vehicles to continue driving the same speed. There are no booths set up in highway lanes.

According to Cambridge, there are more than 5,200 miles of toll roads, bridges and tunnels in 35 states. Connecticut and Vermont are the only states in the Northeast without tolls; the next closest state without tolls is Tennessee.

The study will not make any recommendations, Buxbaum said, and will only present pros and cons. It will look at various technologies, locations, the amount of money that might be raised, and who would pay.

Buxbaum said people tend to prefer tolls to taxes, viewing them as a more equitable way to pay for transportation projects. However, support wanes when public-private partnerships - where private companies manage the tolls - are introduced, projects become more complex, and the public is less clear about where the money goes.

Buxbaum also reiterated that tolls and congestion pricing are separate, though related, entities.

Congestion pricing refers to adjusting the price of tolls depending upon the amount of traffic. It is meant to sway drivers from driving into a high-traffic area during peak times.

The study will also look at where the tolls might be located. The study will look at tolling:

■ All lanes of state and interstate highways;

■ High-occupancy vehicle lanes that are converted into toll lanes;

■ At the state's borders;

■ On road shoulders that are converted to toll lanes during busy times; and

■ Every road in the state.

The study will also look at pricing, implementation and the funding motivation behind tolling.

During a question-and-answer session after the presentation, audience members reminded Cambridge representatives of the cynicism many Connecticut residents feel about tolls.

”There is absolutely no way under God's blue sky that citizens will allow tolls, unless and until all the money by highway users is put into highway use funds,” said Michael Riley, president of the Motor Transportation Association of Connecticut, which represents the trucking industry. “Keep it in the pot where it should be.”

Riley later added: “You can't have the highest fuel tax in the country and think people will let you put tolls on top of that.”

Others suggested putting tolls in Bridgeport and New London, where cars come into the state off of ferries; questioned the fairness of border tolls on people who live at the state's borders and drive across the line to their jobs each day; and questioned whether congestion pricing would reduce traffic because many people in rush-hour traffic are on their way to work and can't drive the road at a different time.

The state Office of Policy and Management is administering the $1.2 million study for the transportation board.

--------------

RECENT TECHNOLOGY

Radio Frequency Identification: Like the E-ZPass system, which includes transponders and cameras.

Video: Cameras capture images of license plates and vehicle owners are billed.

Mileage-based pricing: Wireless reader in gas pump reads GPS signal in vehicle.

Truck Tolling Only: An onboard unit tracks a vehicle's driving, and a toll collection center charges transport company's account. 







Panel is in the driver's seat of transit reform
Stamford ADVOCATE
By Mark Ginocchio, Staff Writer
Published November 24 2007

Reforming the state Department of Transportation has been eye-opening for Michael Critelli.

As the head of Gov. M. Jodi Rell's 11-member commission to reorganize the DOT, the executive chairman of Pitney Bowes in Stamford has had to sift through information from four public hearings and dozens of comments submitted through the group's Web site.

When the commission submits its recommendations to the governor next month, they may not be perfect, but they should reflect the vast amount of data gathered by the group charged with developing a better DOT, Critelli said.

"We have to zero in on fundamental issues here," said Critelli, a former member of the state Transportation Strategy Board. "We can't come at it with a laundry list of recommendations. We don't want to spend a lot of time trying to find the silver bullet solution, because there isn't one."

The commission was formed in April after revelations that an Interstate 84 widening project in Waterbury was riddled with flaws.  By interviewing DOT employees, the commission got an insider's look at what is causing some of the problems, Critelli said.  Public hearings have helped commission members learn about the amount of interaction DOT must have with towns, other states and other Connecticut agencies. Consider the commuter who drives to a train station, parks in a garage there and rides the train into New York, then takes a subway, Critelli said.

He learned the DOT is not overstaffed, he said. It was downsized under former Gov. John Rowland and has yet to rebuild, despite an increase in projects and demands, Critelli said.

"It was so severely downsized, it has not come back to the level it needs to manage the ambitious agenda Governor Rell and the legislature agreed upon," Critelli said.

Since 2005, more than $3.5 billion in state money has been allocated to transportation, including the purchase of new rail cars for the New Haven Line and road improvements on Interstate 95, Interstate 91 and I-84.  Some of the problems plaguing the DOT are nationwide, Critelli said.

Revenue generated by the state gasoline tax is decreasing because high pump prices are forcing people to drive less or buy more fuel-efficient cars.  Inflation costs for construction materials and other commodities are skyrocketing as projects remain in design phase or under public review.

With these problems, the commission must find ways to "mitigate the impacts," Critelli said. "There needs to be different strategies . . . and we need to create a culture of collaboration" with other agencies and states.

Transportation advocates have criticized the commission, particularly its public hearing schedule.  It's good the group had four hearings and hosts a Web site where comments can be submitted, but the timing and promotion have not always been convenient, said Karen Burnaska, who represents coastal Fairfield County on the Transportation Strategy Board.

"The meetings have not been well publicized, but they are doing a thorough job," Burnaska said. "They wanted an extension (to submit their report) because there's more work to do. That's a plus."

The commission was criticized earlier this year when a hearing in Stamford was publicly announced only two days in advance. The commission added a second hearing in Fairfield County in Bridgeport.  Jim Cameron, chairman of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council, said public hearings sometimes were frustrating because speakers repeated the same ideas from forums held years ago.

"I was coming away saying we're right back at square one again," said Cameron, who met with Critelli earlier this year to discuss the commission. "I was very pleased he reached out to me and others and listened to our arguments."

Critelli said he hopes residents are able to communicate with the commission and DOT after a report is submitted.

"The process of getting public input doesn't stop with the publication of this report," he said.

One of the commission's goals is to find more ways for residents to be heard, though they must be careful not to contribute to a "culture of fear" at the agency, he said.

"DOT employees were afraid to make decisions because, if something went wrong, there would be a public investigation," Critelli said. "You need transparency because you're spending public money . . . but we need to figure out a process without the public hanging issue."



Stop the presses!  Silvermine residents may say otherwise (June 2008)!!!
Route 7 dispute settled
Stamford ADVOCATE
By Chris Gosier, Staff Writer
Published March 17 2008

The state and the Merritt Parkway Conservancy have reached an agreement in their long-running dispute over how to redesign a busy interchange in Norwalk.

The state Department of Transportation has settled on a "cloverleaf" design for the interchange of Route 7 and the Merritt Parkway, the plan favored by the conservancy.

The conservancy, in turn, has accepted state proposals to replace the historic bridge over Main Avenue near the interchange, as long as its character is maintained.

Those are the elements of one proposal that will be aired at a public hearing at 7:30 p.m. tomorrow at Norwalk City Hall, preceded by a one-hour open house.

Five proposals for rebuilding the interchange will be offered. The DOT will present the cloverleaf design as the preferred option but will get public input before deciding, said Thomas Harley, manager of consultant design with DOT.

It has been about two years since a federal judge blocked the DOT's plans after a lawsuit by the conservancy. Since then, the two sides have been meeting, with Gov. M. Jodi Rell urging them to reach an agreement.

"This really is a collaborative effort," Harley said. "Both sides have conceded issues in this process. We are going to this meeting with an alternative that both parties can feel comfortable with."

More than 10 years ago, the state proposed reconfiguring the congestion-prone interchange. The DOT is trying to finish the interchange so it's accessible to traffic from all directions, Harley said. The redesign will let Route 7 traffic travel north on the Merritt Parkway, and drivers heading south on the Merritt will be able to exit at Route 7.

The state also wants to replace the Main Avenue Bridge to expand Main Avenue from two lanes to six lanes. The conservancy agreed to that because of assurances from state officials that they will replicate the bridge's stone construction and historic character.

"We really want to see historic character of the parkway be maintained," said Jill Smyth, director of the conservancy.

The state backed off its earlier proposal to build elevated on- and off-ramps that would loom 20 feet to 30 feet above the Merritt, although that option will be displayed tomorrow night, Harley said.

Another option is to bring the ramps down to the level of the Merritt Parkway, but they still would be imposing, Harley said.

"As you drive along the highway, you'll have more ramp on either side of you," he said.

The cloverleaf - named for its appearance from above - has one lane northbound and southbound where drivers merge on and off the parkway. The DOT generally tries to steer clear of cloverleafs because the interweaving traffic makes them harder to manage, Harley said.

Construction would not start for about four years, after permitting and environmental studies are complete, Harley said.



Norwalk firm to get $671K for Merritt, Route 7 projects
Stamford ADVOCATE
By Mark Ginocchio, Staff Writer
Published November 20 2007

NORWALK - The state Department of Transportation has reached an agreement with a contractor to remove rubble on the Merritt Parkway exit ramp at Main Avenue in Norwalk and the rock wall at the end of the Route 7 connector.

M. Rondano Inc. of Norwalk was the low bidder and was awarded the contract for $671,550, DOT officials said.  Work will begin shortly and is expected to continue during the winter, said Kevin Nursick, a DOT spokesman. Construction should be complete at both sites by the spring, he said.  Norwalk officials have been clamoring for the projects for years.

The Merritt rock pile was left behind after a federal judge halted construction at the parkway and Route 7 interchange last year.  Initially, the DOT left the pile and other construction materials with the hope that an agreement could be reached with parkway preservationists and work would resume. But the project remains stalled.

The Route 7 wall, which dead-ends the highway connector at Grist Mill Road, has been the scene of many automobile accidents since the road opened in 1992.  The wall was left intact because the state believed the spot would be a temporary terminus for the connector, which was to extend to Danbury as part of the controversial Super 7 highway.  A lack of state funding - and strong opposition from Wilton, Ridgefield and Redding - has prevented completion.

The DOT agreed about four years ago to drill and blast the rock ledge and build a 100-foot-wide slope stretching 40 to 50 feet back from the road.  At least six fatal crashes have occurred at the Grist Mill Road wall since 1992. Most recently in March, a 19-year-old North Stamford man crashed into the wall in what was believed to be a suicide.

The DOT decided to bid the projects together to save money.


State's Highway Cameras See But Don't Tell
DAY
By Julie Wernau   
Published on 11/11/2007

As the investigation continues into a multi-car crash on Interstate 95 in East Lyme that killed three people Nov. 2, police will be using measurements, eyewitnesses, photographs and other tools to find out how a tanker truck drove through the center barrier and into oncoming traffic, striking a southbound tractor-trailer and four cars.

The one tool they won't be using is video footage.

“Unfortunately, statute doesn't allow us to use cameras for enforcement,” said Lt. J. Paul Vance, spokesman for the state police.

The state highway system is equipped with more than 300 cameras — a fiber-optic network of teardrop-shaped eyes that can turn 360 degrees, zoom out and zoom in (close enough to read a license plate in some cases) — but the Connecticut Department of Transportation cameras do not record, said DOT spokesman Kevin Nursick.

“We do get a lot of (Freedom of Information) requests,” Nursick said, “folks asking for the 'quote -unquote' recordings. But there aren't any recordings.”

Nursick said there would be dozens of obstacles to having the cameras record and making the footage available to law enforcement, not the least of which is a statute that disallows such use.

“Certainly there are members of the public who would have a problem with Big Brother looking down on us,” Nursick said.

•••••

At the DOT operations center in Newington, Rick DeMatties, highway operations crew leader, maneuvered a joystick on his keyboard Thursday to turn and zoom in on a stranded motorist.

In front of him, 20 small TV monitors surrounded a large screen — covering the length and height of a wall. One monitor displayed the news, while the others showed cars and trucks on interstates 91 and 84.  It was about 2 p.m., and, so far, the roads looked clear.  From his chair, DeMatties has direct access to about 130 cameras, a radar system that indicates congested traffic areas using a color-coded speed tracking system, weather conditions and other highway management tools.

DeMatties said, for the most part, the DOT is clued in to major incidents from their eyes and ears on the ground, including state and local police and the DOT crews that roam the highways. Alerted by their reports, said DeMatties, he can bring up the camera assigned to that area, if there is one, and conduct “incident management.”

Switching the large screen to view Exit 28 on I-91 — the entrance to the Berlin Turnpike — he explained that if an accident were to occur in that area, he could turn on highway message signs to detour motorists onto the turnpike, all from his office chair.

“We're part of what we call an incident management team,” he said. “...We're not just called in for sand anymore.”

The operations center can dispatch a team to handle anything from a dead raccoon to a major traffic accident to a tree down on the roadway, he said. But just two operators are watching the screens at any given time, and it is impossible, he said, to watch all the cameras at once.

In Bridgeport, the state's other operations center controls about 200 cameras that monitor I-95 and I-395, including 23 cameras viewing I-95 between Old Saybrook and Stonington and I-395 through Montville and Norwich.  Operators of each center can view what the other is seeing on their big screens, said Nursick.  At Troop G in Bridgeport, state troopers are able to view the cameras, said Lt. Louis J. Fusaro Jr., commanding officer at Troop E in Montville. Fusaro said he has spoken to the DOT about hooking Troop E into the cameras as well.

State troopers cannot control the cameras; they can only view what the DOT is seeing.  Fusaro said Troop G does not record the footage and neither would Troop E.

“We can certainly do our investigations without it. Would it be a useful tool? It might be,” he said.

•••••

Fusaro said the cameras are not a part of an investigation into the Nov. 2 I-95 crash. To his knowledge, no one was watching a camera near the exit where the crash occurred at the time of the incident.

“It's going to be a long investigation. I know people want to see it. But it's going to take a long time. It's going to take months,” he said.

Nursick said the department's position on using the cameras for law enforcement is “neutral.”

Some of the cameras, because of their placement, cannot zoom in to the license plate level, he said. And at any given time, he said, there is no telling where a camera will be pointed, meaning that even if a camera could have recorded the Nov. 2 crash, it might have been facing the wrong direction at the key moment.

The system, which started with just two cameras in 1995, is still dozens of cameras away from fully covering every stretch of the highway system, said Nursick, and the cameras cannot see in the dark.

Recorded footage would also require extra time and money for DOT.  The department would have to save and store the footage and answer what Nursick said would be a “flood” of FOI requests from attorneys and others to view the footage.  The employees at DOT's two operations centers are not trained in law enforcement and if law enforcement personnel were allowed to operate the cameras, the two agencies could have conflicting interests.

“We would want to make sure that from an incident management perspective we remain as effective as possible,” he said.

Additionally, the federal government, which paid for the cameras, allotted the funds to be used for incident management only, meaning if the cameras were going to be used for law enforcement purposes, the agreement would need to be renegotiated, Nursick said.

“In Connecticut, you couldn't just take a snapshot of a driver's license plate and mail them a ticket. The statute would need to be changed to do that,” he said.



Advocates say DOT scheduled Stamford hearing hastily
Stamford ADVOCATE
By Mark Ginocchio, Staff Writer
Published September 5 2007

The public has not been given enough notice to attend a hearing in Stamford about the reorganization of the state Department of Transportation, advocates said yesterday.

Details about the hearing - which will be at 2 p.m. tomorrow at Pitney Bowes' Elmcroft Road headquarters - were posted on the DOT's Web site yesterday afternoon, about 48 hours before the meeting.

"If they are trying to not get public input or involvement, they're doing a great job," said Jim Cameron, chairman of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council who will attend the hearing.

"This is extraordinarily short notice," said state Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, who will not be able to reschedule a previous commitment and attend. "This is emblematic of the problems that have plagued the DOT historically and even today."

It was unclear yesterday who was responsible for communicating the commission's meeting schedule with the public.  The Commission on the Reorganization of the DOT, led by Pitney Bowes Executive Chairman Michael Critelli, first mentioned the possibility of a Sept. 6 meeting in Stamford at its meeting last month in Hartford.
But the date was never finalized and posted on DOT's Web site until yesterday afternoon, and legislators were not formally notified before then, McDonald said.

In a statement last month, Gov. M. Jodi Rell announced that DOT's Web site would be used to gather public comments and to keep state residents informed about future meetings.  Rell's press office did not return calls seeking comment yesterday afternoon.

During the meeting, the 11-member panel, which must give recommendations to Rell by December on ways to improve the culture and efficiency of the DOT, will hear presentations from the agency's bureaus of Public Transportation, Engineering and Highway, and Aviation and Ports.  The commission will then open the floor to public comment.

Rell initiated the panel earlier this year after revelations that an Interstate 84 widening project in Waterbury was riddled with flaws and inadequacies.

"This is too bad," said Stamford Chamber of Commerce president Jack Condlin, who was unaware of the meeting. "It's one of their first meetings and (the commission) is already not doing what they said they're going to do" and keep the public involved and notified.

State Sen. William Nickerson, R-Greenwich, who was aware of the meeting but will not be able to attend, said there will still be plenty of time for lower Fairfield County residents and transportation advocates to give feedback to the panel.

"It's in the preliminary stages," Nickerson said. "But they are headed in the right direction."

Others said it would have been better to give more than two days notice of a public hearing.

"Good etiquette is an important part of public policy," said Joseph McGee, vice president of public policy for the Business Council of Fairfield County. "If you're going to have a public process, you got to give me more than two days notice."



Rell Begins Changes To DOT; Units Will Issue Audits And Enforce Compliance 
DAY
By Ted Mann    
Published on 8/18/2007 


Gov. M. Jodi Rell won't be waiting for the findings of her own task force to make changes in the structure of the state Department of Transportation.

In a press release issued Friday afternoon, the Republican governor announced the formation of a new Office of Project Oversight and Quality Assurance within the department, which will conduct annual audits and enforce compliance with agency regulations on major transportation projects.

The announcement is Rell's latest in response to calls for change at the DOT, which have stemmed largely from revelations of major flaws in a reconstruction and improvement project on Interstate 84 near Waterbury.

The flaws were discovered in 2006 when a large sinkhole opened up on the highway, which inspectors later determined was the result of improperly installed or simply nonexistent drainage systems. A subsequent audit revealed the project to be rife with errors, including improperly installed bridge bearings, “defective” street light poles, and payments for work never completed by contractors. The audit also found that the flaws were not detected by the firms hired by the state to oversee the $65 million project.

“Obviously we saw some of that neglect, if you will, on the I-84 work that was done,” Rell said, in an audio clip recorded in her office and sent to reporters Friday afternoon. “So now we want to make sure that all inspection requirements are being complied with at all times, and auditing the major projects at least once a year, so that we know that the money that is being invested in this project is not only being well-spent, but spent in the way that it was originally intended to be.”

Earlier this week, Rell announced new internal paperwork requirements in the department, including daily inspection reports for in-progress projects, and “certificates of compliance” to be signed by consultants and designers affirming that their work complies with the terms of state contracts.

In announcing the DOT policy changes, however, Rell seemingly pre-empts the work of a state task force she appointed to consider the potential reorganization of the department. The task force, led by the chairman and former CEO of Pitney-Bowes Corp., Michael J. Critelli, began hearings just last week, and isn't scheduled to issue its findings until Dec. 1.

“Governor Rell looks forward to reviewing all of the reform panel's recommendations, but the governor has made it clear that on an ongoing basis she would be implementing helpful and useful recommendations contained in the J.R. Knowles/Hill International report she received in May,” said Adam Liegeot, a spokesman for the governor, referring to the audit conducted into the I-84 drainage problems, in an e-mail message.

“The governor's goal is clear: she wants a more responsive and more responsible DOT. The governor has approved an investment of billions of dollars in our transportation system, and the governor believes that the agency — and taxpayers — will immediately benefit from additional quality control and fiscal review staff.”

The newly created office will focus primarily on overseeing the department's financial controls on major projects, and on “quality assurance,” Rell's statement said.

The new office will contain two divisions, the Quality Assurance unit and the Project Oversight/Constructability unit, and will be located within the department's existing Bureau of Engineering and Highway Operation. Among the responsibilities of the new office:

• Reviewing designs and plans for projects costing $10 million or more, and reviewing cost estimates, plans and other specifications.

• Making annual quality-control inspections of a sample of smaller-budget projects.

• Reviewing any engineering cost estimates that increase by 10 percent or more during the design phase.

• Maintaining a database of cost overruns on DOT projects.

Rell's statement said staffing for the office would be provided from within the 150 new DOT positions included in the new state budget, and that “planning for the hiring process has already begun.” The department currently employs about 3,200 people.

The reform task force, formally known as the Governor's Commission on the Reform of the Department of Transportation, is also accepting public input as it begins its deliberations. The commission can be reached through the department's Web site: www.ct.gov/dot.



Governor's panel begins studying possible DOT reorganization
DAY
By SUSAN HAIGH, Associated Press Writer
Posted on Aug 9, 3:42 PM EDT

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- A panel reorganizing the state's transportation department was warned Thursday that a "culture of fear" exists among employees who worry about making decisions that might put them in prison.  That fear is slowing down the decision-making process on state road construction projects, according to Donald Shubert, executive secretary of the Connecticut Road Builders Association.

"Over the past several years there has been a culture of fear that has basically challenged the confidence of even the best employees at the Department of Transportation," Shubert told members of Gov. M. Jodi Rell's new commission on reorganizing DOT.

He said it's not unusual for DOT workers to avoid making decisions in the field.

"They say, 'I'm not going to jail for this. You're going to have to wait for a decision up top,'" Shubert said. "That sort of stuff costs the state a tremendous amount of money."


DOT employees, in recent years, have been snagged by scandals ranging from corrupt bid-rigging to accepting illegal gifts from contractors during former Gov. John G. Rowland's administration. Federal and state investigators are now looking into the botched I-84 widening project, where hundreds of storm drains were installed incorrectly, to see if there was any wrongdoing.

Rell's commission was formed in the wake of the I-84 problems. The panel, which held a public hearing at the Legislative Office Building, expects to present its recommendations to the governor by the end of the year.

Jay Doody, a DOT engineer and a union member, said he believes DOT employees were more fearful about losing their jobs if they spoke out during the era of the Rowland administration. At that time, he said, the agency's in-house bridge design unit was decimated and replaced by more expensive, hired contractors.

Doody said the attitude of the Rowland administration was, "we can't have people in-house designing bridges when consultants need work."

Rowland resigned in July 2004 amid a corruption scandal.

Michael J. Critelli, the commission chairman, said the state's reliance on outside consultants and contractors will be examined in the coming months. The panel will also look at whether portions of the agency are understaffed, as union members claim, because of state employee layoffs and early retirements.  They also plan to examine ways the state can better attract young, qualified engineers to work for the department.

Critelli said it is too soon to determine how extensively DOT should be reorganized.

"We need to understand all of what DOT is asked to do," he said, adding that the agency must abide by numerous state and federal mandates. "Let's look at everything it's asked to do and whether it has the resources and the structure to do that."




Rell, DOT differ on problem bridges
New Haven REGISTER
Gregory B. Hladky, Capitol Bureau Chief
08/04/2007

-HARTFORD — Depending on which experts you talk to and which definitions they use, the number of problem bridges in Connecticut is either as high as 34 percent or less than 10 percent of the total number of spans.

State Department of Transportation officials say the most accurate estimate is based on the federal government’s National Bridge Inventory, which only counts bridges of 20 feet or more in length.

Connecticut has 4,256 bridges that are counted in this year’s federal inventory and DOT officials say 341 of those are rated as "structurally deficient," which is just more than 8 percent.

The federal definition of a structurally deficient bridge is one that has at least one major structural component (like the deck or superstructure) rated as poor or worse, or that the span isn’t able to carry all legal loads.

Bridges in the structurally deficient category, such as the highway bridge in Minneapolis that collapsed last week, are in need of some kind of substantial rehabilitation, repair or maintenance work or even replacement.

Federal officials say such bridges "may be able to provide several years of safe service" before the defects become dangerous.

But some transportation watchdog groups, such as the Tri-State Transportation Campaign or the Reason Foundation, claim Connecticut’s total of problem bridges is far higher.  Tri-State officials cited a 2005 federal survey in warning that 33 percent of bridges in this state were deficient, a significantly higher rate than the national average of 26 percent.

The Reason Foundation’s Annual Highway Performance Report used the same 2005 data to rate Connecticut as having 34.2 percent of its bridges with deficiencies.

But both of those groups appear to be including in their statistics a second category of bridges designated in by federal officials as "functionally obsolete."

A functionally obsolete bridge isn’t necessarily unsafe, say DOT officials.  Bridges are placed in this category if traffic flows are more than it was originally designed to handle, the roadway approach to the bridge is poor, or that it’s too narrow by modern highway standards, or is too low over the body of water the span crosses to allow for modern boats to pass.

According to Connecticut’s DOT, this state has another 1,026 bridges of more than 20 feet in length that fit in this category.

To make things even more confusing, DOT records list another 109 bridges that are shorter than 20 feet that are considered structurally deficient, and an additional 153 functionally obsolete bridges of less than 20 feet.

To top the confusion off, it appears the DOT and Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s office can’t seem to agree whether there are 5,354 bridges in Connecticut (Rell’s figure) or 5,532 as the DOT claims.

"We do get conflicting totals on the numbers of bridges depending on how bridges are counted," said DOT spokesman Judd Everhart.



411 Conn. Bridges Carry "Poor" Rating
The bridge over the West River in New Haven is rated in 'poor' condition.
By MATTHEW KAUFFMAN | And THOMAS KAPLAN Courant Staff Writers
August 3, 2007
 
More than 100,000 motorists a day rumble across the Housatonic River bridge on I-95 in Stratford, making it one of the busiest spans in the state.

It is also one of the spans most seriously in disrepair, with a deck deemed to be in "poor" condition and a bridge structure in even worse shape.

The I-95 bridge is one of more than 400 in the state that inspectors have rated as poor or worse in at least one of three critical areas, according to state bridge-inspection records. And in each of those three areas, the Stratford bridge is rated in worse condition than the I-35W span in Minnesota that collapsed Wednesday, sending dozens of motorists plummeting into the Mississippi River.

The 411 bridges with at least one poor rating account for nearly 10 percent of all active roadway bridges in Connecticut. Despite that number, Connecticut officials are confident that the state's bridges are safe.

Even a bridge with one or more ratings of poor "by no means poses an imminent danger to the public," said Judd Everhart, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation.

"If we thought for a moment that any bridge was unsafe, we'd close it immediately," he said.

Connecticut bridges also compare favorably with those in other states. A 2006 federal survey reported that 8.2 percent of Connecticut's bridges were structurally deficient - a third less than the national average of 12.8. Overall, Connecticut ranked 12th lowest out of the 50 states, Puerto Rico and the District of Columbia in the percentage of structurally deficient bridges.

The Minnesota tragedy provided a reminder of the 1983 collapse of the Mianus River bridge in Greenwich that killed three. It also put a fresh spotlight on bridge safety nationwide, and Gov. M. Jodi Rell Thursday directed the state Department of Transportation to report on recent inspections of the small number of bridges in the state - 10 or fewer, officials believe - with a design similar to the Minnesota bridge.

State bridges with that "steel arch deck truss" design include the Commodore Hull Bridge over the Housatonic River in Shelton and the Gold Star Bridge spanning the Thames River between New London and Groton. Those two bridges are currently being inspected, the governor said.

"The safety of the public is our top priority," Rell said. "The people of Connecticut can be assured that we are making every effort to regularly inspect all of our bridges and keep them safe and well-maintained."

But even before Wednesday's collapse in Minnesota, Rell had called for increased inspections of Connecticut bridges after The Courant revealed that the Department of Transportation had cut down on inspections of more than 1,000 bridges in "fair" condition or better. In order to save money, the DOT had shifted inspections of those bridges from every two years, which the federal government and bridge safety experts recommend, to every four years.

But Rell ordered the agency to resume biennial inspections, and officials said Thursday that inspectors had visited about a third of the bridges that were overdue for review. The remainder will be inspected by Sept. 30, Rell said.

Inspectors who examine bridges assign a grade to three key areas of the bridge: the deck, the superstructure under the road surface, and the supporting substructure that includes piers and footings. Thirty bridges in Connecticut received ratings of "poor" or worse in all three areas. A rating of poor indicates "advanced section loss, deterioration, spalling or scour," according to federal inspection guidelines. Spalling is flaking and cracking often caused by temperature extremes. Scour refers to erosion caused by flowing water.

Of the 411 bridges with at least one poor rating, many are smaller spans, some with as few as 100 cars a day passing over them. But others are among the state's most heavily traveled bridges, and two dozen of the spans carry portions of interstate highways, primarily I-95.

The I-95 bridge over the West River in New Haven, for example, carries 135,000 cars a day, each passing over a span with a deck rated in poor condition. The bridge's superstructure received an even lower rating of "serious," indicating that damage to the bridge has "seriously affected primary structural components. Local failures are possible. Fatigue cracks in steel or shear cracks in concrete may be present."

The I-95 bridge over Route 33 in Westport also has a deck rated poor, as does the I-95 bridge over Stiles Street in New Haven.

More than a dozen smaller bridges around the state have a superstructure or substructure rated in "critical condition," indicating advanced deterioration. "Unless closely monitored it may be necessary to close [bridges in critical condition] until corrective action is taken," according to federal guidelines.

Many bridges in Connecticut are in bad shape because the state does not invest nearly enough money in its infrastructure, said Kate Slevin, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a regional watchdog group.

Although Connecticut has spent more money in recent years on new roadway construction, there has not been a similar focus on making sure existing highways and bridges are kept in good working order, she said.

Instead of focusing on new construction, Connecticut should implement a "fix it first" policy and invest in repairing and maintaining the existing infrastructure, Slevin said.

"You don't like to use a tragedy like this, but it does make a case [for more maintenance]," she said.

Even with the biennial bridge checks reinstated after Rell's order, Connecticut's bridge inspection program is less stringent than the one in Minnesota, which has among the highest bridge inspection standards in the nation.

The Minnesota Department of Transportation inspects all its bridges at least once every 24 months, and nearly a third of its bridges are inspected more often than that, many as often as once a year, according to statistics compiled by the Federal Highway Administration.

Connecticut, on the other hand, inspects only a handful of its bridges more often than once every two years, according to the statistics.

Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty said the I-35W bridge was inspected by the Minnesota DOT in 2005 and 2006 and that no severe structural problems were noted.

The same could have been said for the Mianus River Bridge in Greenwich, which had been inspected nine months before a 100-foot section collapsed. That bridge failure ultimately spurred the state DOT to revamp its bridge inspection practices.




STATE ORDERS REVIEW OF BRIDGE RECORDS
Gold Star, Nine Others Singled Out in Wake Of Disaster In Minneapolis

DAY
By Karin Crompton      
Published on 8/3/2007

The commissioner of the state Department of Transportation has ordered a review of 10 years' worth of safety records for the Gold Star Memorial Bridge, which connects New London and Groton, and the Route 169 bridge in Norwich, plus eight other bridges in the state that are “of a generally similar design” to the one that collapsed Wednesday in Minneapolis.

Commissioner Ralph J. Carpenter, in a statement issued Thursday, directed the state's bridge-safety division staff to pull and review records of the 10 “arch deck truss” bridges in the state. Carpenter wants to know what deficiencies were found, what remedial steps were taken, and when the next inspections are scheduled.

“Once that review is done, decisions will be made to determine any immediate steps that might be necessary,” a DOT spokesman said Thursday.

Federal officials alerted all states to immediately inspect all bridges similar to the Interstate 35W bridge in Minneapolis, which buckled and fell while under repair, sending dozens of cars into the Mississippi River.

However, a spokesman for the state DOT cautioned against making comparisons between the Connecticut bridges and the one that collapsed.

“Keep in mind, (the similar design is) not a need for anyone to panic,” said DOT spokesman Kevin Nursick. “The same general design is one thing, an identical bridge is a whole different thing. Each bridge is kind of like an individual. It has its own individual characteristics.

“Each bridge has to be taken and considered in its own light. While it may have some of the same general design features, it is very much a different bridge.”

The Gold Star, which carries Interstate 95 between Groton and New London, is currently undergoing a state inspection due to end as soon as today. The span is in fact two bridges, each one carrying traffic in a single direction. The inspection is a 2- to 21/2-month process.

All bridge inspections, Nursick said, take weeks or months to conduct.

The Norwich bridge crosses the Shetucket River as part of Route 169, also known as Newent Street. Its last inspection was in June 2006, according to the state DOT.

There are 5,354 state and municipal bridges in Connecticut, all of which are supposed to be inspected at least once every two years. Of those, 156 bridges are on more frequent inspection cycles, according to the state DOT.

While the state conducts inspections, it does not perform maintenance on all the bridges, some of which are the responsibility of municipalities. The state does inspections in conjunction with private consultants.

In late June, Gov. M. Jodi Rell ordered the transportation department to reverse its decision to increase the time between bridge inspections after a story in The Hartford Courant revealed that the department planned to inspect certain bridges every four years instead of every other year.

The Courant story reported that the DOT had begun cutting back on some bridge inspections nine years ago. The department began inspecting bridges in “fair” condition or better every four years, the newspaper reported.

On Thursday, Rell announced that the DOT has recently completed inspections on 180 bridges that had been on a four-year inspection rotation. According to a press release from her office, 1,144 bridges classified as being in “fair” condition or better were on a four-year inspection schedule. Of those, 561 were identified as needing an inspection before Sept. 30. Her office said the rest would be finished by that deadline.

Rell also wrote a letter to Minnesota Gov. Tim Pawlenty to offer the expertise, equipment and personnel of Connecticut's DOT.

The Mohegan Pequot Bridge, which crosses the Thames River between Montville and Ledyard, undergoes a special inspection every year, with the last one conducted in February. Nursick said the bridge has an “identifying factor” that means the state needs to inspect the bridge annually. He had no further details Thursday.

The Gold Star's two nearly identical spans rise 135 feet over the Thames River. The northbound, original bridge is 5,931 feet long and was built in 1943. Its southbound counterpart is 6,362 feet long and was built in 1973. The spans are owned by the state.

The Baldwin, which opened in 1993, is a 2,558-foot span across the Connecticut River on I-95 between Old Saybrook and Old Lyme. It has a vertical clearance of 81 feet. Also owned by the state, it replaced a 2,448-foot span with the same clearance built in 1948.


Bridge Monitor: Connecticut 'Staying On Top' Of Conditions; Expert Says State's Spans are Mostly In Good Shape
DAY
By M. Matthew Clark        
Published on 8/3/2007

John DeWolf, a professor of structural engineering in the civil and environmental engineering department of the University of Connecticut, said Thursday the state's bridges are generally in good condition compared to those in other states.

“I think Connecticut is doing a pretty good job of staying on top of their bridges,” said DeWolf, who has been monitoring approximately 30 bridges throughout the state over the past two decades in conjunction with the research division of the state Department of Transportation.

“We do a little more in Connecticut because we have the ability to go out and actually measure these bridges and obtain real data,” he said.

Part of DeWolf's research is to find cost-effective monitoring systems that will provide continuous information on Connecticut bridges between regularly scheduled inspections.

Two of the bridges DeWolf is monitoring as part of a long-term project are the Raymond E. Baldwin Bridge that carries Interstate 95 traffic over the Connecticut River at Old Saybrook, and the Gold Star Memorial Bridge that spans the Thames River between New London and Groton.

DeWolf said the data being collected on the Baldwin Bridge, which opened in 1993, is measuring the effects of temperature on structural behavior.

The project on the Gold Star is testing a newly designed, wireless, solar-powered monitoring system. DeWolf said neither the Baldwin nor the Gold Star was being monitored for specific safety issues.

The Gold Star is “not a bridge that needs to be monitored, in my view, other than the biannual review,” he said.

A bridge's lifespan depends on a variety of factors, including the material of the decking surface, the regular maintenance performed on the bridge, and the frequency of use, DeWolf said.

“If you have a bridge with concern, you should go more often,” he said.

The Federal Highway Administration uses two categories for bridges in poor condition. The bridge that collapsed in Minnesota on Wednesday was labeled “structurally deficient,” according to a 2005 federal study, although under federal standards that classification does not necessarily mean a bridge is unsafe.

Connecticut has 351 bridges deemed structurally deficient, which accounts for roughly 9 percent of all the state's bridges, according to data on the FHA Web site.

A bridge can also be classified as “functionally obsolete,” which means the traffic volume exceeds its planned capacity or the bridge's lane and shoulder widths are insufficient for its current use.

DeWolf said a bridge can fall under the structurally deficient category for a variety of reasons, such as corrosion, wear and tear, and fatigue cracks, which are caused by areas of a bridge being stretched through tension over a course of time.

“You don't necessarily have a collapse coming, but you have something to follow,” DeWolf said. “If (a collapse) were imminent, the state would close the bridge or reinforce it, anyway.”




I-95 Northbound Up And Running;  Work Ahead Of Schedule On Damaged Span; South Side May Open Thursday
By LAURA WALSH, New London DAY, Published on 3/29/2004

Bridgeport— Construction workers whooped and cheered Sunday as a parade of cars, escorted by police, traveled on a northbound Interstate 95
overpass for the first time since a fiery tanker crash...


Northbound lanes to open soon; Rebuilding I-95 Temporary span to be rushed in
By DANIEL TEPFER dtepfer@ctpost.com 3-28-04
BRIDGEPORT - With a small cloud of dust and little fanfare, workers Saturday broke loose the last remaining chunk of the Interstate 95 overpass destroyed in a fiery crash.  The jagged chunk tumbled down to land on a huge pyramid of rubble on Howard Avenue.

"The southbound section has been fully demolished," said Art Gruhn, chief engineer for the state Department of Transportation. He said they will now begin laying a foundation for a temporary span to link the gap.  Earlier Gruhn announced some good news amid the disaster that crippled this major Northeast traffic artery. Extensive testing of the steel in the northbound lanes found them to be structurally sound. By midweek northbound traffic could be zooming past Bridgeport again.

However, he said because of the high volume of traffic that normally uses the turnpike, the reopened lanes would only be used for northbound traffic. Southbound traffic will continue to be diverted along local streets.  He said they are sticking to their original timetable that it will be one to two weeks before the whole span is open.

"It's looking very good for shorter rather than longer," he said.  Mayor John M. Fabrizi toured the construction site Saturday and said he was very encouraged by what he saw. He said he was especially happy to hear that the federal government will pick up the tab for the $11.2 million it will
cost to replace the span.  State officials estimate that 120,000 vehicles go over the section of the turnpike every day.

Traffic continued to clog local streets from Stratford to Fairfield as drivers sought a way around the closed turnpike.  State Police at Troop G in
Bridgeport reported that traffic volume on the Merritt Parkway was "extremely heavy" as motorists sought to circumvent the accident area.

"It was the equivalent of a heavy workday load all day long," Trooper Ken Damato, a spokesman for Troop G said.  "We had two small fender bender accidents on the Merritt northbound by exit 44 in Fairfield."

Compounding the extra traffic volume, state police had to contend with certain classes of drivers who apparently ignore signs on the Merritt .    "We had a serious problem with buses, tractor trailers and even recreational motor home vehicles getting on the Merritt between Stratford and Greenwich," Damato said. "First we stopped them, then we ticketed them and then we kicked them off the parkway."

The 18-wheelers are a double headache because what the drivers do to avoid shearing off the roofs of the trucks is "drive down the middle of the road," Damato said. "What they do is straddle the dotted line. If a tractor trailer does that and either hits an abutment or we observe them, then we also may issue them a ticket for reckless driving."

Scott Appleby, Bridgeport director of emergency management, said they had posted alternate travel routes on the city Web site at:
www.ci.bridgeport.ct.us

State police said an investigation is continuing into the crash Thursday night that caused all the destruction.  Despite the mass destruction caused by the crash, police said the 18-year-old Derby girl who caused it may only face a $95 ticket.  A tanker truck driven by 33-year-old Gilbert Robinson, of Galpin Street, Naugatuck, filled with more than 10,000 gallons of diesel fuel was traveling southbound between exits 26 and 25 shortly after 7:30 p.m. when it was hit from behind by a 1987 Toyota Corolla driven by Sarah Waddle, of Bank Street, Derby.

According to police and fire officials, as a result of the impact the tanker truck went out of control and slammed into the Jersey barrier on the right side. The truck slid along the barrier, ripping open the tank and spewing flaming fuel along a 200-yard path along the turnpike.  The truck came to a stop on the Howard Avenue overpass as a fireball more than 50-feet high engulfed the tank. Burning fuel poured between the cracks in the pavement igniting wooden boards on the underside.

The tremendous heat from the fire melted the steel girders under the bridge causing them to sag toward the roadway below.  The fireball melted high-voltage transmission lines stretched a hundred feet above the roadway carrying power from the Connecticut Resources Recovery Association plant.

United Illuminating spokeswoman Mary Ellen Cody said on Saturday crews began replacing the lines but they were not going to "re-energize" them until they got the OK from the crews working on the highway below.  The lines only affect power coming from the trash-to-energy plant and she said no UI customers are affected.

On Saturday, crews began laying a foundation around the gaping hole where the southbound lanes were to hold a temporary span.  The 85-foot-long temporary span, which had been held in storage in New Jersey by its manufacturer, Acrow, was being brought in pieces to the site. He said the span is three lanes wide and is made up of steel panels. The same type of span was used to replace temporarily the Mianus River Bridge after it collapsed on June 28, 1983.

"It's like a giant erector set, a lot of small pieces that have to be bolted together," he said. He said once the temporary span is put together it will be lifted onto the foundation on the southbound section of the overpass.  "It's not something we would want to use as a permanent structure, but it will be more than serviceable until we can put a permanent structure in place," he said.

He said the temporary bridge is rated to carry standard traffic and overweight vehicles will not be permitted over it.

"We are taking a project that would normally take a month to develop and doing it in a matter of hours," he said.  Gruhn stressed that this is a temporary fix and that a permanent structure will have to be built.  The original structure was under construction for three years and was nearly completed as part of a $113.2 million revamping of the highway between exits 24 and 26.  Gruhn said it could take a year and a half to replace the Howard Avenue overpass.


Bridge repair rushed;  Workers tackling damage from fire
by DANIEL TEPFER dtepfer@ctpost.com, 3-27-04
BRIDGEPORT
Delivering on a promise to work around the clock to reopen an Interstate 95 overpass destroyed in a fiery crash just 24 hours earlier, work crews Friday night began demolishing the structure.  When the buckled highway span is torn down, said Chris Cooper, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation, "We will begin erecting a temporary bridge that is being trucked here."

Where and how the bridge will be erected and when it will begin carrying traffic will probably be determined this weekend. Northbound lanes may be
reopened as early as next week, officials hope.  Gov. John G. Rowland, standing Friday morning in front of the charred and twisted overpass at Howard Avenue, declared Bridgeport a disaster area and promised $11 million in state and federal aid.

"We have 120,000 cars traveling this roadway a day so our first priority is to get it reopened," he said.

Both sides of the busy stretch of I-95 were closed Thursday night by an explosion sparked by a collision between a tractor-trailer and a compact
sedan, causing the truck to slam into a highway barrier.  About 10,000 gallons of No. 2 fuel oil erupted into 50-foot-high flames that burned about three hours, destroying the highway's surface and melting part of its supporting structure. Remarkably, there were no serious injuries.

Gilbert Robinson, 33, of Naugatuck, was driving the hauler reportedly owned by Island Transport of Connecticut and New York, south of exit 26 about 7:30 p.m. Thursday, State Police said.  The truck was struck from behind by a 1987 Toyota Corolla driven by Sarah Waddle, of Bank Street, Derby, police said.

Waddle said Friday morning she was not injured. "I'm here with the cops now and we're going over everything," she said. No arrests have been made.  The southbound lanes were so severely damaged by the holocaust they will have to be torn down, and state engineers are trying to determine whether the northbound lanes are sound enough to be repaired and reopened.

Meanwhile, thousands of vehicles clogged major roadways from Stratford to Fairfield as commuters were forced onto local streets by detours around the accident scene, between I-95 exits 25 and 27.  Numerous minor accidents resulted from the traffic jam, city police said.  Mayor John M. Fabrizi pledged that police would be deployed in force to manage the traffic onslaught.

Trucks trying to use the Merritt Parkway as an alternate route were being stopped by police and sent to Route 8 and Interstate 84.  The heat of the fire that erupted when the tanker crashed melted the heavy steel girders supporting the overpass, causing it to sag about 7 feet toward
Howard Avenue below. As it cooled, the roadbed resettled, but the underbelly of the overpass was a mass of twisted and blackened metal.

Ronald Jantzen, a state Department of Transportation engineer, said the highway buckled and the recently constructed Howard Avenue overpass
sagged several feet.  The accident scene is in the I-95 corridor construction zone through Bridgeport, a massive rebuilding of the highway that began in 1996 and is projected to cost $400 million.

DOT engineers had earlier considered filling in the area under the wrecked bridge and building a new road surface on top of it, instead of replacing the bridge over Howard Avenue.  Instead, the replacement bridge will arrive on pallets in 10-foot by 6-foot sections. "It'll be kind of like putting an Erector Set together," said Cooper.

In reconstructing how the accident ended in an immense fireball, it appeared that Robinson lost control of the truck after being hit by Waddle's car and crashed into the Jersey barrier on the right side of the highway.  Bridgeport Assistant Fire Chief Fred Haschak said the tank then broke open in
two places.  The fuel oil, which is often used as home heating oil or as diesel fuel in vehicles, was apparently ignited by sparks as the truck scraped along the barrier, leaving a flaming trail for about 200 feet before it came to rest on the overpass above Howard Avenue.

Flames erupted from the top of the truck, creating a huge fireball that melted the insulation on power lines more than 50 feet above the turnpike.
Haschak said flaming fuel poured between cracks in the overpass, igniting wood framing under the bridge.  "It looked just like wood burning in a fireplace," he said.

Bridgeport firefighters, working with firefighters from Fairfield, Norwalk and Waterbury, were at the accident scene into the early morning hours Friday. Fire crews were able to prevent the blaze from spreading to several businesses near the highway.  A Bridgeport firefighter, suffering from an upset stomach from the strong fumes, was treated at the hospital and later released.

Bridgeport Fire Chief Michael Maglione estimated the fire burned at 1,800 degrees to 2,000 degrees, noting steel begins to weaken at 1,400 to 1,500 degrees.  Maglione said cars moving past the accident scene immediately after the crash created a mist of fuel oil in the air, which probably caused the fire. Home furnaces have a device to create such a spray, he said.

"When you put this type of a fuel in a mist form, if it finds a point of ignition it will light," he said.  Some of the diesel fuel found its way south into Cedar Creek, where the state Department of Environmental Protection set up booms to keep the spill from spreading into Long Island Sound.  Two men in a boat set out absorbent mats to collect oil along the creek.

"We laid out booms in big circles and we are making the circles smaller and smaller until we contain the oil and it can be removed by Connecticut Tank Removal," said John Aceto, emergency response coordinator for the DEP. "We expect to get a majority of it and the rest will be burned off by the sun."

Fabrizi said he was told the spilled fuel caused a half-million dollars in damage to boats moored in the creek.  I-95 has been the scene of many traffic disasters over the years, including a crash last year a short distance away that killed four Yale University students and the 1983 Mianus River Bridge collapse in Greenwich that killed three people.


Before the tragedy in Minnesota...
Courant's ideas for focus noted in this series:
Transit and transit-oriented development
• A high-speed rail connection from Hartford to New York, and eventually Boston
• Keeping existing highways and bridges in good repair, a policy known as "fix it first"
• Embracing context-sensitive planning
• Taking bicycle travel seriously
• Letting directors run Bradley International Airport
* Railyard improvement project in New Haven - not in this series, but related (need the yard to repair trains).


The Right Road
State DOT - Beleaguered By Scandal, Layoffs And Loss Of Vision - Needs A Whole New Direction
Hartford Courant
July 15, 2007


The state Department of Transportation, a powerful agency that can trace its origins to the 19th century, has lost its way. For a variety of reasons - the loss of hundreds of workers, a diminished sense of mission, political interference, weak leadership, poor state planning and a departmental culture still mired in the interstate highway era - the DOT has become a sluggish, uncertain and often inept bureaucracy.

Two corruption investigations have led to arrests of DOT employees. The New Britain-Hartford busway is years behind schedule. Someone botched the paperwork needed to overhaul rail cars. A massive snafu came to light last winter involving a $60 million reconstruction project on I-84 in the Waterbury area in which hundreds of defective storm drains were installed and two bridges and an exit ramp were improperly built. The most recent revelation was a cutback in bridge inspections, an unsettling surprise to the many residents who remember the 1983 Mianus River bridge collapse.

This bureaucratic meltdown has come at a time when the state's highway-oriented transportation system is increasingly challenged by traffic congestion, fuel costs, pollution concerns and a backlash against land-gobbling sprawl development. In a 1999 report, consultant Michael Gallis said increasing congestion in the vital I-95 corridor toward New York threatened the state's economic dynamism, putting the state in danger of becoming "a giant cul-de-sac, or dead zone" in the global economic network. Since then, traffic has gotten worse.

But crisis is often a prerequisite for change, and there have been stirrings of change in the past two years. Gov. M. Jodi Rell and legislative leaders pushed for $3.6 billion in transportation funding, the largest financial commitment to transportation in two decades. Mrs. Rell named a new DOT commissioner, Ralph J. Carpenter, last year.

After more revelations about the I-84 fiasco, she announced in late April that a task force headed by Pitney Bowes Chairman Michael Critelli would lead a "top-to-bottom reorganization" of the DOT. The group is charged with "examining and redesigning the DOT, its mission, direction, business practices and organizational structure."

Thus there is a rare chance to break out of the cul-de-sac, to create a new vision and mission for the DOT that will provide the mobility the state needs for 21st-century prosperity.

"Connecticut has a huge opportunity right now," said Jonathan Orcutt, former executive director of the nonprofit Tri-State Transportation Campaign, which did a study of the DOT in 2004. But change won't come easily to a department that has done things its own way for a long time.

The Highwaymen

The DOT began as the State Highway Commission in 1895, a time when privately owned railroads dominated intercity transportation and the advocates for paved roads were bicyclists.

The commission, later called the Department of Highways, moved ahead, paving the old turnpikes and post roads that crisscrossed the state. Traffic congestion started becoming a problem in the 1920s, as cheap cars and cheap gas foretold a revolution in transportation. The department began what has been an eight-decade response to congestion - it widened the roads. It also built elegant new roads. The first section of the Merritt Parkway was completed in 1938, and people rode out on Sundays to picnic alongside the park-like thoroughfare.

After the restrictions attendant to World War II were lifted in the mid-1940s, road-building began in earnest. With the passage of the Federal Aid Highway Act in 1956, building the interstate highway system became the state and national transportation mission. With the highways came the unprecedented era of postwar suburbanization, a force that took thousands of middle-class people out of the state's large cities to new ranch or split-level houses in the suburbs.

In 1969, the highway department merged with the Department of Aeronautics, the Connecticut Transportation Authority and the Commission of Steamship Terminals into a new Department of Transportation, one of the first comprehensive transportation departments in the country.

The DOT would almost by happenstance pick up oversight of commuter rail and bus operations, as increasing use of cars made both services unprofitable. But it remained overwhelmingly a highway agency. In 1975, DOT commissioner Samuel Kanell told an interviewer, "I don't think you'll ever get Americans out of their cars." Other commissioners would echo his sentiment and its underlying philosophy.

What developed in the department was what planning consultant Toni Gold of Hartford calls a "highway engineer culture." The leaders, and often the commissioners, were civil engineers who specialized in building highways.

Although road-building demands engineering expertise, the danger of having the engineers in charge was that the entire focus would be on highway efficiency.

"There was a mentality that we design roads to move people from point A to point B and all else is nonsense," said state Rep. David McCluskey, a member of the legislature's transportation committee.

This thinking led to the disastrous decision - here and across the country - to run interstate highways through cities. That continued until "highway fighters" pushed back. Had activists not stopped them in the 1970s, there would have been highways built through the West Hartford reservoirs and Hartford's Bushnell Park.

Over the years, the DOT developed a symbiotic relationship with highway engineering and construction companies, often locally owned entities that solidified their positions with substantial political contributions to gubernatorial candidates. Though its downside has become apparent in recent years, this was the system that got the roads built.

The mania for cars and highways all but killed train, trolley and bus service. It is said the last time the late and lamented New Haven Railroad made money was hauling fill for I-95.

For a time, it didn't matter. The interstate highway system transformed the state, connecting it to national markets and providing a previously unimagined level of mobility. The roads could handle the load.


But eventually the loss of public transit did matter. This is a lesson from the state's bold and innovative but ultimately inadequate response to the Mianus tragedy.

Collapse

On June 28, 1983, a section of I-95 highway bridge over the Mianus River in Greenwich collapsed, killing three people and seriously injuring three more. The tangle of bodies and mangled vehicles that fell 70 feet to the peaceful little river sent a horrific message that Connecticut's transportation system was in dire need of repair.

The collapse was followed by another embarrassment, a series of Courant stories about the ineffectiveness of the state's bridge inspection program. Gov. William A. O'Neill vowed that would change.

Transportation had suffered in the lean fiscal years of the mid-1970s because it competed for funds from the general budget. Mr. O'Neill understood that the state needed a reliable and sustainable means of paying for its transportation infrastructure.

At the governor's direction, Anthony V. Milano, secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, DOT Commissioner J. William Burns and others prepared a plan.

Its principal innovation was a 10-year, $5.6 billion Special Transportation Fund, to be supported by an increase in the gas tax, motor vehicle fees and other revenue sources.

The Special Transportation Fund worked, and worked well. By 1993, the 10-year anniversary of the Mianus collapse, the state's reconstruction program had become a national model. Connecticut had gone from 35th to fifth in the nation in transportation capital expenditures. Road capacity and safety were improved and many major highway projects were completed. Bridges were repaired or replaced, and bridge inspections were brought up to national standards.

The fund grew to $10 billion and beyond as more projects were added. By moving ahead of most other states, Connecticut captured a disproportionate amount of federal money for the work. Connecticut was on the move again.

Yet by 1999, just six years later, consultant Gallis was saying - in a report written for the nonprofit Connecticut Regional Institute for the 21st Century - that the state's transportation system was choked and becoming a major drag on the economy. What happened?

Former state senator and transportation committee co-chairman Michael P. Meotti, who now heads the United Way of Connecticut, said the post-Mianus effort fixed a specific problem - the deterioration of roads and bridges - but not the whole problem. It was not a comprehensive statewide mobility strategy. There was no plan to reduce the use of roads and highways. Investment in mass transit in this period, as would soon enough become apparent, was woefully inadequate. Traffic got worse.

Congestion was particularly severe on I-95 in Fairfield County. As Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy put it, "I-95 is a parking lot and the Merritt Parkway is a museum." So bad was the situation that officials considered letting drivers use breakdown lanes or even the prohibitively expensive option of adding another deck to the highway.

House Speaker Moira Lyons of Stamford badgered Gov. John G. Rowland to do something. In 2000, he called a transportation summit, which led to the creation of the Transportation Strategy Board the following year.

The board reported back in 2003 with a $6 billion list of projects for highways as well as transit. Mr. Orcutt, now senior policy adviser to New York City transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, said that although the Transportation Strategy Board had some good ideas, it was advisory and thus reliant on the governor, the DOT and the legislature: "the very actors whose inaction or lack of innovation led to the strategy board's creation."

Breakdown

Meanwhile, the DOT was almost literally going off the rails. In what was soon called the "winter of woe," in 2003-04, about 35 percent of the rail cars on the Metro-North New Haven line broke down, leaving commuters stranded in the cold. Some of the well-worn rolling stock was 30 years old.

As a stopgap measure, the state bought 33 used rail cars from Virginia. These needed to be overhauled before they could be used. The DOT put out a flawed request for proposals to get the work done. There was no response. The department then failed to issue another RFP. The cars sat idle for months, until Mrs. Rell learned of the oversight by happenstance and went ballistic on DOT Commissioner Stephen Korta II.

The rail car bungle was not an isolated incident.

Increasing congestion in the I-84 corridor west of Hartford in the late 1990s had led to plans for a 9.6-mile bus-only route from New Britain to Hartford. Studies showed a busway would be the least expensive way to ease highway traffic and would lure the most riders.

Part of the appeal of busways is that they can be built relatively quickly, but that hasn't happened here. In 2005, the Federal Transit Administration lost confidence in the state's ability to deliver the $335 million project and downgraded it from "recommended" to "not recommended" for federal funding.

Mrs. Rell, DOT officials and Capitol Region Council of Governments planners scrambled to get federal funding approved again. Construction of the project is now scheduled to begin in 2009 - three years after the busway was initially supposed to open.

Also, the risk inherent in the close relationship between DOT workers and contractors was becoming apparent. In 2004, a department inspector, James Murray, pleaded no contest to three counts of taking bribes from contractors in exchange for overlooking shoddy work.

In 2004, federal authorities uncovered irregularities in how the DOT's rail operations unit awarded contracts. Last year, a high-ranking official, Raymond Cox, pleaded guilty to theft and obstruction of justice. Three senior officials resigned or retired because of the contract scandal.

In early 2006, five employees of the highway agency, as well as a Massachusetts contractor, were arrested in connection with a bid-rigging scheme. The charges allege that the contractor bribed the employees to win a road-sealant contract. Perjury charges against one DOT employee have been dropped; the other cases are pending.

These may not be the only arrests. Mrs. Rell's promise earlier this year to overhaul the department followed the fouled-up rebuilding of I-84 in Waterbury and Cheshire, one of the worst highway construction failures in state history. Incredibly, some 300 defective storm drains were installed as part of a badly flawed underground drainage system. Also, two bridges and an exit ramp were improperly built. And 70 light poles with faulty brackets were put up, among other problems.

The I-84 job had been given in 2002 to a contracting firm, L.G. DeFelice Inc. of North Haven. The firm, apparently beset with financial problems, went out of business in 2006 with the project unfinished. DeFelice had gotten into trouble in 2004 for installing concrete curbing for free at the home of a DOT regional engineer.

The engineering firm paid to inspect DeFelice's work on I-84, the Maguire Group, failed to do so, state officials say. The DOT violated its own policy by assigning a project engineer to the job who was simultaneously heading two other construction jobs. Project engineers are supposed to oversee one job at a time to prevent construction errors.

"There were serious mistakes at all levels," said Office of Policy and Management Secretary Robert L. Genuario at a legislative hearing Wednesday. "The people of Connecticut did not get what they paid for."

The state has sued the contractors. State and federal criminal authorities are digging into the $60 million fiasco.

DeFelice has regrouped as Hallberg Contracting Corp. and been hired by a bonding company to work on two state jobs.

The I-84 debacle made it clear that it was time to overhaul the DOT. Highway construction was what the department was supposed to be good at.

What Went Wrong

In its postwar heyday, the DOT was a powerful and semi-autonomous fiefdom that could make big things happen. But in recent years, forces inside and outside the department have challenged it as never before. These include:

MISSION. In the decades following World War II, the state and federal transportation mission had a clear focus - to build the interstate highway system, with its related network of state highways. The system is all but finished. Now what?

The loss of a clear mission may explain the pointless, pork-laden bridge-to-nowhere projects in the most recent federal transportation bill. Lack of direction in any organization can lead to inertia and incompetence.

While federal authorities search for a new mission - the National Surface Transportation Study Commission is holding hearings around the country on this issue - some states have aggressively defined their own missions involving transit and transit-oriented development. Connecticut is still building highways.

When the Tri-State Transportation Campaign examined 2005 DOT figures, it found that 76 percent of the state transportation improvement money and 84 percent of its "flexible funds" go to highways. With the authorization in the past two years of $3.6 billion toward highway and mass transit projects, the percentage of spending shifts somewhat to transit, but still favors highways.

BUREAUCRACY. Reductions spearheaded by Mr. Rowland early in this decade took more than 900 employees from the DOT. The workforce dropped from 4,058 in 1999 to 3,151 in 2004. First came layoffs, which took younger workers. Then, in 2003, came an early retirement buyout aimed at senior people. In 2003-2004 alone, the department lost 436 employees. Out the door went experience, institutional knowledge and management talent.

The cuts were not spread evenly; some DOT departments were harmed more than others. For example, three layers of management were pared off the top of the DOT's finance and administration bureau. There and elsewhere, inexperienced people had to step into jobs for which they were not yet prepared, often with no support structure or mentors.

Also, budget cuts led to the elimination of some leadership training programs, meaning the department wasn't developing the mid- and upper-level managers at the rate it needed them.

"It made for a very difficult time for everybody," said Gale Mattison, a finance and administration expert who has been lent to the DOT by the Office of Policy and Management to help rebuild the department.

In any event, the DOT became a bureaucracy that is sometimes overwhelmed, sluggish and - although the I-84 mess might suggest otherwise - cautious to a fault.

"The Rowland years created a bureaucracy that is totally risk-averse," said Robert W. Santy, head of the Connecticut Economic Resource Center. "We have government by regulatory compliance. There is no reward for trying something different, and there are thousands of reports mandated by the legislature to cover any eventuality,"

Those who do business with the DOT complain that layers of review, inside and outside the agency, add months to the process of awarding bids and executing contracts. Planning and design contracts that took three to six months to process just five years ago now typically take six to 12 months. These delays can have serious impacts on project schedules and cost. Yet for all of this, oversight of the I-84 project was stunningly inadequate.

The department has also endured its share of patronage appointments. Under Mr. Rowland, for example, one of the DOT's deputy commissioners was James A. Adams, brother-in-law of powerful lobbyist and Rowland confidant Jay Malcynsky. Another deputy was former Waterbury state senator and lobbyist Louis S. Cutillo, an early Democratic backer of Mr. Rowland's. Neither appointee had a compelling background in transportation.

INNOVATION. The creation of the Special Transportation Fund in 1985 was an inventive, cutting-edge response to a major problem, and applauded as such around the country. There's been very little innovation at the DOT since. The department resisted new ventures such as the Griffin Line light-rail project from Hartford to Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks and instead continued to focus on highways.

But projects such as the Q Bridge in New Haven point to the need for innovation. The department plans to spend $1.5 billion to rebuild and expand the elevated bridge on I-95 that crosses New Haven Harbor, even though, by the department's own estimates, the new bridge will have the same level of congestion the old one does in just three years.

PLANNING. The Transportation Strategy Board was created in 2001 to develop a long-term transportation plan for the state. The board's 2007 report, "Moving Forward," promotes a progressive, multimodal transportation system tied to land-use policy.

Ideally these recommendations would inform the DOT's long-range and master plans, which would ultimately generate the projects that would realize the vision.

But the planning process is subject to political caprice and gets whipsawed from all sides.

The governor, the State Bond Commission and the legislature all have a say in funding for DOT projects, and often call the tune. The department, for example, planned to replace aging rail cars several times in the past decade, but Mr. Rowland chose not to pay for them. He considered opening the shoulders of I-95 to rush hour traffic, something not in any DOT plan.

The federal government also interferes with DOT plans via congressional earmarks - funds for special projects - a bridge, road, deck or study - that can interrupt the flow of work. "Earmarks just kill us," said former deputy commissioner Carl Bard, a civil engineer who retired last year.

Then there is town planning. Sometimes, the DOT will come in and fix an intersection to resolve traffic congestion, then the town will allow a mall to be built, creating a new traffic problem.

Conversely, local officials and residents have ended up battling the department over the design of road projects, in some cases regretting the day they asked the department for help. "Many towns hate the DOT; they own the right of way and insist on maintaining traffic flow as if there was no town there," said Ms. Gold, the Hartford consultant who has worked with highway designers in several states.

In the 1990s, there was a movement across the country to better blend road design into communities; to balance the needs of vehicle movement with those of pedestrians, bicyclists, bus riders, shop owners and others. This concept, which in planning jargon is called "context-sensitive design" or "context-sensitive solutions," envisions a community planning process that takes all needs into account.

Some at the DOT - deputy commissioner Bard was one - tried to push the department in that direction. But despite those efforts, the department battled municipalities in recent years over the width and design of Columbus Boulevard in Hartford, the widening of Route 4 in Harwinton, the widening of historic Route 2 in North Stonington, the widening of Route 80 in North Branford and other projects. In Norwalk, seven environmental and community groups went to court in 2005 to block a redesign of the Route 7/Merritt Parkway interchange, which they viewed as way too big and destructive of the historic character of the parkway.

Some projects have gone more smoothly - the redesign of Albany Avenue in Hartford, for one - but the department is still fighting community objections in other places, such as the redesign of New Britain Avenue in the Elmwood section of West Hartford.

"They came in with a design to move traffic from point A to point B. That wasn't what we had in mind. Going through Elmwood, we wanted to make it pedestrian-friendly, with crosswalks, some cutouts for buses, barriers separating direction flows, street trees, maybe bring back some elm trees," said town manager Jim Francis. "They want it wide; we'd prefer more sidewalk space."

Here, as in most of the other cases, the department has been responsive and made some modifications to its design. The goal would be a planning process that avoids the problem in the first place.

LEADERSHIP. When DOT Commissioner James F. Sullivan, a longtime department highway engineer, announced his retirement in 2002, members of a Transportation Strategy Board subcommittee went to Mr. Rowland with the names of potential commissioners from around the country who they believed could shake up the department and turn it in a new direction.

But Mr. Rowland instead appointed another longtime department highway engineer, James F. Byrnes Jr. He became acting commissioner in 2002, commissioner in 2003 and retired in 2004. He was replaced by Mr. Korta, who had been the administrator of Bradley Airport and the department's aviation administrator as well.

Mr. Korta, well-liked and successful at the airport, was thought by some insiders to be in over his head as DOT commissioner. In 2006, Mr. Korta chose to return to his classified post as aviation administrator.

Last summer, Mrs. Rell replaced Mr. Korta with Ralph J. Carpenter. Except for two years as motor vehicles commissioner, he had spent his career as a state police officer, retiring as a lieutenant colonel. (He was one of the troopers who responded to the Mianus bridge collapse in 1983.) Mrs. Rell was criticized - by this page and others - for appointing a cop and not a cutting-edge transportation expert. Some still hold this view.

But Mr. Carpenter has won over a number of legislators and transportation advocates with candor and a public commitment to smart growth, intermodal transportation and transit-oriented development.

"I know this state is being ruined [by sprawl] and I don't want this agency to be a part of it," he said.

Mr. Carpenter is trying to restore efficiency and change a culture in which workers tolerated corruption. "There are a lot of terrific people here, but everybody let those issues ride out. We never got the systemic problems solved. We are taking a hard look at our business practices," he said.

Activists and legislators looking for a change agent at the DOT seem willing to give Mr. Carpenter the chance to be that person. But the real change agent must be Mr. Carpenter's boss. "You cannot do this without really strong leadership from the governor. She's got to use her political capital," said Kip Bergstrom, executive director of the Rhode Island Economic Policy Council and former economic development director in Stamford.

A New Vision

Before reorganizing the DOT, state officials must decide what, exactly, the department is supposed to do. There must be a vision on which to build a strategy for the department to execute.

For the past half-century, the department's overriding mission has been to build highways. Now the highway system is all but completed, heavily used and inexorably filling up. The DOT must now create a transportation system with a mix of trains, planes, buses, vans, bicycles and boats - and encourage such things as telecommuting and flex time - to achieve optimal movement of passengers and freight.

In its early years, the DOT viewed transportation as an end in itself. It sacrificed places for the ability to travel through them. In the future, the department must see its role as part of a broader effort to create an attractive, efficient, sustainable and prosperous state.

To get there, transportation must be tied to land use, economic development and housing policy, all integrated into a meaningful state plan of development. Elements of the plan should include:

TRANSIT AND TRANSIT-ORIENTED DEVELOPMENT

After two decades in which their predecessors underfunded mass transit, Mrs. Rell and legislative leaders have put $3.6 billion in transportation funding on the table, much of it for mass transit. The department must move as quickly as possible to restore commuter rail to the New Haven-Hartford line and continue it north into Massachusetts, possibly reaching southern Vermont. The New Britain busway should be finished, Shore Line East rail service should be expanded and light-rail service explored for fast-growing eastern Connecticut. In the new DOT, at least as much money must be committed to mass transit as is committed to highways.

Simultaneously, the department, working with towns, regional entities and other agencies, must help spur commercial and residential development around transit stops.

This brings the density that makes transit work, and lessens development pressure on the state's fast-dwindling supply of open space. The DOT has taken the first step by hiring a deputy commissioner, Albert Martin, to lead this effort. He'll need support from the top. The transportation funding bill, which is down to the final details in the legislature, has money for pilot projects in transit-oriented development.

A HIGH-SPEED RAIL CONNECTION FROM HARTFORD TO NEW YORK (AND EVENTUALLY BOSTON)

The DOT was at its best when focused on a big vision, whether building the Connecticut Turnpike or responding to the Mianus tragedy. A one-seat, one-hour trip to New York could be the kind of man-on-the-moon goal to again inspire the department's best work.

The benefit would be enormous for the central part of the state; it would bring Hartford into the New York economic sphere. Companies could bring back-office work or headquarters here, as they did in Stamford a generation ago. The influx of more companies, entrepreneurs and investors cannot help but enhance the region's economy. The eventual addition of high-speed transit to Boston would put Hartford in the center of a Boston-New York mega-region, also an enticing economic prospect.

MAINTAIN THE INFRASTRUCTURE, A POLICY KNOWN AS "FIX IT FIRST"

When the widening of the western portion of I-84 and the eastern section of I-95 are finished, the state's highway system will essentially be complete. There are plans to build or widen more highways. Unless it can be shown these projects are essential - critics say they are not - these projects should be shelved in favor of keeping the existing roads and bridges in top repair.

This is not the plan at the moment.

The Tri-State Transportation Campaign has recently studied the DOT's projected spending for 2007-10. In "Reform: The Road Not Taken," the authors say that although the state is spending more on mass transit, the majority of capital funding - 59 percent - is allocated to highways and bridges. Of that amount, more than 60 percent is dedicated to road expansion projects.

This is a reversal from earlier in the decade, when nearly three-quarters of the money was aimed at maintenance. The danger, the report says, is that more than three-quarters of existing road lane miles are rated "less than good" and a third of the bridges are rated deficient (though, the department notes, not in danger of collapse).

"Fix it first" should be a broad enough policy to embrace the repair of old mistakes. For example, New Haven has gotten a grant to study turning Route 34, the downtown "highway to nowhere," into a boulevard, to help connect downtown to the Yale medical campus and other entities. This is a sensible idea that the DOT should support.

The department should also embrace a community effort in Hartford to ameliorate the damage done to the urban fabric by the Aetna Viaduct, the half-mile elevated section of I-84 that cuts through the heart of the city. The viaduct is nearing the end of its useful life. Community activists want a bold long-term plan; possibly to bury the roadway. The DOT's current plan is to repair the viaduct in place, prolonging the problems for another 20 years.

FULLY EMBRACE CONTEXT-SENSITIVE SOLUTIONS

All key DOT people should be trained in this discipline, as happens in New Jersey and elsewhere. The department should consider hiring land-use planners, landscape architects and others who can help execute the policy. When the department works with towns, the premise should be complete streets - streets that work for bikes, pedestrians, residents and businesses as well as cars - and the planning should start in the community.

The DOT should strongly consider rewriting its highway design manual, as Massachusetts has done, to incorporate the principles of context-sensitive design into all phases of roadway design and construction.

TAKE BICYCLE TRAVEL SERIOUSLY

As cities across the country push eagerly to create bike paths and multi-use trails, the DOT pays cursory attention to this energy-friendly recreation and travel alternative.

In December, leaders of the Central Connecticut Bicycle Alliance asked the governor and Commissioner Carpenter to focus on bike issues such as trails and safety. A department official sent a dismissive response to the effect that there was no money for bicycle facilities or safety promotion activities. But the Tri-State Campaign's 2007 study found that the DOT is not taking full advantage of flexible federal dollars that could be used for bike or pedestrian facilities.

That's not the spirit. A good trail network can get people out of their cars and is a tremendous recreational asset to boot. That's why volunteers have been spearheading an effort to build trails, with help from another state agency, the Department of Environmental Protection.

This fragmented network could be sewn together much more quickly if the DOT were involved. And since a trail could be viewed as either a narrow road or a wide sidewalk, why aren't the contractors more interested?

WITH LEGISLATIVE APPROVAL, CEDE MORE AUTHORITY TO BRADLEY INTERNATIONAL AIRPORT'S BOARD OF DIRECTORS

I
n most states, the major airport is run by an independent, self-funded airport authority. Here, it's run by the DOT. The department has always done an excellent job on the operations, or "air side," of the airport. The debate is over what is known as the "land side" - the marketing, promotion and business development at Bradley.

Several consultants and agencies who have studied the airport in the past decade all concluded the airport could benefit from more independent and business-oriented leadership. Most airport authorities aren't hamstrung by state procurement, personnel and contracting rules, and thus can respond quickly to the fast-changing air travel market.

For example, it took the Bradley board nearly 18 months to hire a marketing director a few years ago. They got an excellent one in Kiran Jain. But last year, because of constraints in the airport's funding formula, her budget was cut.

"We need to manage to a market, not to a budget," said Michael T. Long, a recently retired Ensign-Bickford executive and vice chairman of the Bradley board of directors.

One option is to create an independent airport authority, with a Massachusetts presence to increase the marketing footprint. Another is to empower the board of directors, which at present doesn't have the authority given to most boards of directors.

This would keep the DOT at the airport, and there are advantages to that, not only with moving planes but with maintaining roads. And Bradley is generally doing well. But giving the directors the authority to hire and fire an executive director, approve budgets and contracts and otherwise oversee the airport should make the airport more entrepreneurial and give it the flexibility to respond to challenges such as the one posed by new service going into Stewart International Airport in nearby Newburgh, N.Y.

The transportation bill, which legislators expect to be finished by the end of the month, gives the strategy board money to update earlier studies of Bradley management. It doesn't need another study.

A New Day

Change is daunting, especially in a bureaucracy, particularly one in which the people have grown up doing things a certain way. Change is difficult when there's a powerful assemblage of road builders, consultants and suppliers with a deep interest in the status quo.

Change is also expensive. Gov. Rell and legislative leaders patted themselves on the back for making the largest fiscal commitment to transportation in two decades - $3.6 billion over 10 years.

That may not be enough. In 2005, Massachusetts committed $31 billion over 20 years to improving the state's transportation infrastructure. If Connecticut is to have a balanced transportation system, with the ability to move people and freight without causing more sprawl and pollution, we will have to pay for it.

The recent revelation that the department has been cutting back on bridge inspections to save money does not inspire hope. That the governor and some legislative leaders were thinking of cutting the gas tax for the summer is shortsighted. Former DOT Commissioner Emil Frankel, who served under Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr. in the early 1990s, estimated at a panel earlier this year that if the state hadn't cut the gas tax in the mid-1990s by 14 cents a gallon, from 39 cents to 25 cents, there would be more than $2 billion available for transportation improvements.

But if the DOT is directed to create a new transportation system, what should the agency look like?

Obviously it will continue to do many of the things it does now. Roads will have to be plowed and kept in repair, trains must be operated and maintained, airports have to be run. The department should also do some things differently. The Waterbury fiasco points to the need for review of contracting, design and quality control procedures. The DOT needs to reward risk-taking and innovation.

Externally, the department needs to be more of a partner with other agencies, regional planners and town officials. The governor 's responsible-growth initiative announced last fall creates a framework in which the DOT can work with other agencies toward more compact, transit-oriented growth.

Mrs. Rell created an Office of Responsible Growth in the state's Office of Policy and Management. It has a steering council made up of the state agencies involved in land use: economic development, environmental protection, transportation, agriculture and public health, as well as the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority and the Connecticut Development Authority. The idea is that they work together. Mr. Carpenter, DEP Commissioner Gina McCarthy and other department heads have enthusiastically endorsed the idea, and the early signs are positive, said OPM undersecretary W. David Levasseur, who is coordinating the effort.

As for the department's internal structure, there is growing sentiment to break off bus, rail and ferry service into a transit authority, separate from the DOT with its own source of funding.

This would have the advantage of seeing that mass transit gets the money it needs. There was a bill introduced in the legislature this year to create a transit authority. The transportation committee chose to wait for a year to see whether Mr. Carpenter's department could deliver a multimodal system, although Sen. Donald DeFronzo, the Senate co-chairman, has wondered aloud if the agency is too big and fragmented to be optimally effective.

The most imaginative suggestion for reorganizing the department came from former state Sen. Meotti, who thinks the agency should be organized around mobility requirements rather than around different modes of transportation. "This is something companies went through 20 years ago, when they realized they were organized around their products rather than their customers' needs," he said.

He suggests that the DOT organize around two or three major transit corridors, and serve the mobility needs of the corridor, by whatever modes make sense. So instead of a highway bureau and a transit bureau, there might be a coastal corridor bureau and a central corridor bureau. The idea would be to break down the highway vs. rail mentality and focus on the best ways to move people and goods.

This invites the intriguing possibility of creating a parallel effort with the state Department of Economic and Community Development. The two agencies would work together to bring mobility, commerce and housing to the same corridors, and to the land around Bradley Airport. This would have the added benefit of new DECD Commissioner Joan McDonald's extensive transportation background.

This is the kind of change Mr. Critelli's study group should explore. The task force - which is heavy on government and business people and short on transportation reformers - should speak with officials who have changed transportation departments around the country, and study how European countries are moving goods and people.

It's a new day. The DOT has to change. Connecticut has to get moving again.


Another costly surprise from the DOTStaff Reports
Stamford ADVOCATE
Article Launched: 04/14/2008 01:00:00 AM EDT

What is going on at the state Department of Transportation?

DOT officials dropped a bombshell Tuesday when they told some members of the Legislature's Transportation Committee that the agency would need $250 million to $300 million within the next month to keep a Metro-North rail maintenance facility planned for New Haven on track. The DOT said it is needed to assure the design is completed so the project can go out to bid in November and construction can start next spring.

This disclosure came soon after equally startling news that the overall cost of the facility - a key element in revitalizing the New Haven Line commuter railroad - has dramatically risen from the $300 million appropriated in 2005. The cost estimate is now $732 million in "current dollars," and it could exceed $1.17 billion when the facility's third and final phase is completed in 2019.

The DOT officials disclosed the funding timetable after being summoned by the committee members to the Capitol for an update on the rail-yard project.

This maintenance facility is absolutely essential for housing and maintaining the 380 new M8 passenger cars that will begin arriving late next year for the commuter rail line.

There are only four weeks remaining in the General Assembly session, and the shocking revelation throws a curve at lawmakers who face tough spending decisions during the next month in the face of declining state revenues.

Some of the escalating costs for the maintenance facility are understandable because of inflation and continually rising prices of materials. But a quadrupling of the original cost estimate?

The revelations led to plenty of finger-pointing at the Capitol on Wednesday. Democratic lawmakers blamed the Rell administration for keeping the escalation quiet, while the governor charged the DOT with adding major elements to the rail yard that she had not seen or approved, including a warehouse, a parking garage and a walkway over the tracks.

The finger-pointing will no doubt continue, but it seems that the beleaguered DOT has muffed another assignment in a big way. State officials from the governor on down must sort out this mess and figure out how to make it work - and in the next session press forward with DOT reorganization.



Turning Toward The Future

Hartford Courant
July 15, 2007

Other states, facing the same transportation challenges, have crafted solutions that Connecticut may find useful. These include:

NEW JERSEY. Garden State transportation officials understand they cannot build their way out of traffic congestion, so they are trying to get cars off the road. The state has invested billions in transit and is a national leader in transit-oriented development through its Transit Village Initiative.

The program aims to revitalize communities with transit as an anchor (a transit village is designated as the half-mile area around a transit facility). Thus far, more than a dozen communities have taken advantage of state grants to redo their city plans and encourage residential and commercial growth around transit stops.

In addition, New Jersey has adopted a new planning model in which communities and DOT officials design road improvements together. Nearly 1,000 DOT employees have been trained in context-sensitive design. The department is studying the possibility of removing an expressway from downtown Trenton and replacing it with an urban boulevard.

The problem in New Jersey has been paying for these improvements. The gas tax, 14.5 cents a gallon since the early 1990s, is one of the lowest in the country, hence the state's Transportation Trust Fund is inadequately supported. A study three years ago found that debt repayment had effectively bankrupted the state's transportation program. The problem has not yet been solved.

MASSACHUSETTS. The Bay State has tried the "super-agency" approach to coordinate transportation with planning and economic development. In 2003, Gov. Mitt Romney created the Office for Commonwealth Development, bringing the state's transportation, housing, environmental protection and community development departments into a single agency.

With a series of incentives to build in town centers and around transit stops, initial results are promising. More than 100 transit-oriented development projects have been completed or are in the works. Some MBTA lines and stations have been upgraded; service now extends to Worcester and Providence.

The "fix it first" policy aims state spending at existing water, sewer, road, transit and park infrastructure. The transportation department has rewritten its highway design manual to encourage more context-sensitive planning.

NEW HAMPSHIRE. As the fastest-growing state in New England, New Hampshire's small towns were being overrun with traffic, threatening the state's distinctive quality of life.

In 2004, DOT Commissioner Carol Murray engaged the New Hampshire Community Foundation, a statewide leader in land-use planning and growth management. What emerged was a citizen planning effort - which included critics of the DOT - that helped craft the state's long-term transportation plan. "Community, neighborhood and cultural leaders have to be listened to," Murray said.

The plan directs the DOT to design transportation solutions in traditional town centers, to build regional planning capacity to integrate transportation and land-use planning, and to develop multimodal plans for the state's major transportation corridors.

"Transportation is the board on which the game is played," Murray said. "Weaken the board, you ruin the game."



Never say never!!!




Virginia toll lanes offer drivers convenience, but raise privacy concerns
Video monitors speeders, HOV scofflaws
Story in full:  http://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/dec/28/virginia-toll-lanes-offer-drivers-convenience-rais/

...The new system has set up 24/7 video surveillance to monitor whether or not motorists are obeying the high occupancy vehicle lane rules.

But those images are stored in the system and can be accessed with a warrant, according to Mike McGurk, a senior corporate relations associate with Transurban, the Australian company that built the express lanes through a private-public partnership and which operates the technology used on the lanes.

Videos are stored for five days, and still images are logged for 90 days after the driver is captured on the lanes...






State transportation board continues collecting highway toll information
Stamfrod ADVOCATE
By Martin B. Cassidy, STAFF WRITER
Posted: 07/16/2009 10:45:59 PM EDT
Updated: 07/17/2009 07:32:35 AM EDT

HARTFORD -- In the midst of an IBM engineer's presentation on a variety of electronic tolling systems in use in the United States, London, and Stockholm, Lyle Wray, a state transportation board member, interjected, stating that the major stumbling block for Connecticut residents to accept the tolls are possible invasions of privacy.  Even the concept of using cameras to catch red light violators and speeders failed because of public opposition, said Wray, making it likely residents would be less amenable to the use of laser sensors and cameras to collect fees on a daily basis.

"We have a political judgment that we don't want this in anyway," Wray, executive director of the Capitol Region Council of Governments, said. "Being able to track the fees without taking photos of a public official with his mistress in the car is 95 percent of the problem."

Vinodh Swaminathan, an IBM transportation consultant, responded that easing qualms about economic fairness and privacy associated with high-tech electronic tolling will require intensive publicity and education, addressing the benefits for both the environment and economy, while ideally improving mass transit and making it cheaper to pull drivers off heavily travelled roads.

"When there is a solution being discussed, the engagement process becomes critical," Swaminathan said. "Part of the government's role is to choose how to engage with a public policy on this issue. To some extent, you can't have your  cake and eat it too when you are not collecting enough money to be commensurate with use of the roads."

Swaminathan was invited to speak at the State Transportation Strategy Board meeting at the Capitol Thursday about IBM's experiences helping local and national governments design and adopt toll-collection systems.  He addressed many tolling concepts included in a $1 million study, commissioned by the board, evaluating the reinstitution of tolls in Connecticut, including congestion pricing and mileage-based toll schemes.

Board Chairman Kevin Kelleher said the presentation was the first step in further research into tolling, after the body voted in May to postpone -- in order to gather more information -- making specific recommendations to Gov. M. Jodi Rell and the General Assembly about possible methods to reintroduce tolls.  In Oregon and Minnesota, officials are weighing mileage-based toll systems that would use global positioning systems to charge for the distance travelled, Swaminathan said.

In Stockholm, a system of electronic tolls using various fees based on the time of day a car enters the city has reduced congestion by 20 percent and cut automobile emissions, Swaminathan said.  Voters in Sweden approved permanent implementation of the system in 2007, after a successful trial period and an extensive government effort to highlight the congestion and environmental benefits to the public, Swaminathan said.

"There was a very significant amount of time spent educating the public and (they) also spent a significant amount to improve their public transit system before instituting tolls," he said.

In Germany, there is nationwide toll on commercial trucks, using GPS to transmit information about a truck's location and other details that help prepare a toll bill.   Globally, governments are considering ways to use technology to limit traffic, less as an end in itself than to facilitate other eventual goals like moving freight off of trucks onto rail lines, Swaminathan said.

"Economic productivity is about moving products from one point to the other without incurring major costs," he said. "Even in mature companies in the U.S. and Europe there is a lot of thought going into how they leverage the technology available that is around today to improve the flow of traffic."

Kelleher said the presentation by Swaminathan and other transportation management professionals would help lay the foundation for a better informed decision on tolls.

"We are committed to continuing this stage of learning about the different options," Kelleher said. "This presentation is another example of the wealth of information that is available about tolling."

Jim Cameron, chairman of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council, said he hopes the board takes steps to include the public more fully in its deliberation on tolls by holding evening meetings when the subject is under consideration and publicizing them adequately.

Also, a public hearing process this spring on tolls revealed that many state residents' opposition to electronic tolls was based on misapprehensions that toll booths would be used to collect the fees, he said.

"Holding a meeting in Hartford at 9:30 a.m. certainly means anyone who drives I-95 at rush hour won't be able to attend," Cameron said. " My overall complaint about the TSB is that they have not done an adequate job explaining electronic tolling to the public so they can make decisions based on an informed decision."



Norwalk stretch of I-95 most dangerous.  State police: 'Busy, congested area"

Norwalk HOUR
By Dan Brechlin, Alyssa Casey, Ron Ragozzino and Christine Torrney - Special Correspondents
Posted: 02/15/2009 07:58:15 AM EST

Traveling on Interstate 95 in Connecticut means taking your life in your hands on a regular basis, but if you're driving on the highway through Norwalk, your chances of being involved in an accident climb markedly.

A Connecticut Post analysis of highway data from 2002 through 2007 furnished by the state Department of Transportation reveals that 4,342 accidents occurred on the 3.5-mile stretch of I-95 through Norwalk, a number that is 29 percent higher than New Haven, which posted the second largest number of accidents along the highway (3,350) during the six-year period.

In 2007, the latest year for which complete statistics are available, 735 accidents occurred on the Norwalk portion of I-95. That number represents

10.3 percent of all I-95 accidents in the state, from New York to Rhode Island, for the year. New Haven had the second-largest number of crashes, 582, in 2007, followed by Stamford (579), Greenwich (576) and Milford (564).

Why Norwalk?

In each of the years dating to 2002, Norwalk experienced the most accidents along I-95 in Connecticut. In 2002, the high-water year of the period, 883 accidents, or 11.5 percent, took place in Norwalk.

What is it about Norwalk that makes it so dangerous?

Norwalk is a hot spot because of a high volume of traffic, said Lt. J. Paul Vance, state police spokesman.

"It is a melting pot, for all of the major cities," Vance said. "It is just a busy, congested area. The (Norwalk) area has curvatures and inclines; there is no straight shot, which really doesn't help in bad weather. In the Norwalk area, any area really, but especially Norwalk, we try to clear (things) out quickly after accidents."

Jill Kelly, co-founder of the Connecticut Citizen Transportation lobby, was surprised to hear Norwalk was the top accident location on I-95 and offered her own theory.

"When I drive the area where Route 7 merges into I-95, I really have to be aware of traffic," said Kelly. "It's very tight there and a little confusing, and maybe just not wide enough, with people merging on from Route 7 and others trying at about the same point to get off Exit 14 on the southbound side."

Trouble spots

Other high-accident stretches of the highway include Bridgeport, Milford, Fairfield, Darien and Stamford.

In the same 2002-2007 period, 3,319 accidents occurred in Bridgeport and 2,783 in Milford.

West Haven resident Jill St. Germain, who travels I-95 five to six days a week to her job as a cashier at the Milford rest stop gift shop, said she thinks the highway around her workplace is among the worst in the state.

She said customers -- "state residents and transients" -- constantly complain about it.

"Always on a Sunday night," Germain said. "It doesn't matter what time of year, it always gets backed up."

Joe Brown, taking a coffee break at the rest stop during a trip between Springfield, Mass., and New York City, said: "The first Connecticut exits (coming from New York) are kind of crowded. I try not to travel at rush hour."

Linda Gahagan drives between her Maine home and New York every two to three months. "As soon as I hit 95 (coming back from New York), it's bumper to bumper," she said.

Known as one of the most heavily traveled highways in the nation, I-95 was built in the 1950s and stretches 112 miles through Connecticut. From 2002 to 2007, 41,801 accidents occurred on the state's portion of the highway.

In 2005, I-95 carried in excess of 100,000 more vehicles per day than any other highway in Connecticut, according to the DOT. In 2007, I-95 was traveled by 1.15 million vehicles daily.

What's the solution?

Mike Riley, president of the Motor Transportation Association of Connecticut, a trucking trade group, said the highway wasn't built to handle today's volume of traffic.

"Trucks and people driving to work are all on that road at the same time," said Riley, whose group works with about 1,000 trucking lines that have routes in the state.

Ryan Lynch, Connecticut coordinator for the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, attributes the number of accidents to overall congestion of the highway.

Lynch's group, which advocates transportation reform in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey, believes congestion pricing could cut down on traffic. "We're not talking about toll plazas; they're certainly outdated," he said. "We'd like to see a high-speed tolling system that would take pictures of vehicles' plates and debit the drivers' credit card an amount based on time of day. That could encourage drivers to use the road more at off-peak hours."

Connecticut State Police Troop G, which is responsible for patrolling from the New York line to Branford, reported 6,056 highway accidents through the first 10 months of 2008 that involved 914 injuries and 12 fatalities.

Troop F, covering Branford east to East Lyme, reported 1,487 accidents, seven involving fatalities, and 235 total injuries.

Troop E, which is responsible for East Lyme to the Rhode Island border, handled 2,417 accidents, seven of which involved fatalities, and a total of 321 injuries.

"Every single day, we have (troopers) out there," Vance said. "I can put 100 people out there, but it would only add to the congestion."

To help the flow of traffic, it is important to identify areas of concern where the state DOT can put up signs to warn travelers, he said.

"People think we give out tickets because it's a joyous thing," Vance said. "As far as tickets for cell phones and distractions, we can't get everybody all of the time. What is more important, a cell phone or the Corvette speeding down the road dangerously?"

Kevin Nursick, communications officer for the state DOT, said the agency analyzes highway data looking for any patterns that might indicate a problem area.

"The bottom line is we look at it, and if we see something, we look at that further and engage an informal review of the roadway to determine if something is happening to contribute to those accidents and what we can do to fix the problem," Nursick said. Most accidents are the result of human error, he said.

Gov. M. Jodi Rell echoed that sentiment.

"The do's and don'ts of driving on our state's roadways cannot be taken lightly," Rell said in response to learning of this review of I-95 statistics. "The consequences of irresponsible driving and not obeying the rules of the road can have significant and life-altering consequences. Enforcement, education and engineering cannot, by themselves, prevent crashes. The ultimate responsibility lies in the hands of the person behind the wheel."

Rell said she would "continue to empower my agencies to work with local, state and federal stakeholders in their ongoing efforts to keep our roads as safe as possible."




Tolls study planned 

DAY
Karin Crompton
Published on 7/18/2008 

On a day when the speaker of the House held a press conference to state his opposition to tolls on the highway, the state Transportation Strategy Board announced that the state has contracted with a consultant to study the issue.

Speaker Jim Amann, D-Milford, said in a statement issued Thursday that the Republicans' idea to cap the state's gross receipts tax on petroleum products is a “budget shell game.” Amann said commuters in surrounding states pay an average of $1,300 in tolls on top of gas taxes.

The state Office of Policy and Management has contracted with Cambridge Systematics Inc., a Massachusetts-based company, to study tolls and “congestion pricing,” a toll program that charges different amounts at different times of day.

The report is due by February 2009, according to OPM, in time for the next legislative session.



Reactions to toll editorial shows public cynicism toward elected leaders. 
New London DAY editorial
Paul Choiniere 

Published on 6/6/2008 

In a recent editorial The Day called for a serious look at returning tolls to the state's highways. You can view it here. Not surprisingly, the suggestion proved controversial and the majority of those commenting on theday.com said it was a bad idea. (One commenter called for our public flogging).

The argument The Day presented is that tolls could be a sensible alternative to the high gas tax and that new E-ZPass technolgies will prevent the delays and back-ups the old tolls caused. The gas tax is primarily paid by those of us who live here in Connecticut. But tolls would capture money from the many drivers who pass through our state, but never contribute a dime toward the upkeep of its highways. If tolls were returned they would have to be combined with a big reduction in state gas taxes, the editorial argued. And toll revenues would have to be spent on transportation needs.

What I found most interesting about the reader comments was the degree of cynicism about the editorial's suggestion that toll revenues be combined with a big gas tax reduction. It appears many readers are convinced the state's legislators could not be trusted to keep the gas tax under control. They're convinced that despite the added toll revenues, lawmakers would end up raising the gas tax back up as well. And they don't believe the politicians would spend toll money on highways.

Who can blame Connecticut citizens for having that opinion? After all, once upon a time citizens were told lottery revenues were going to help pay for education. Remember when the income tax was going to provide plenty of money to run the state? And shouldn't getting $430 million a year from the two casinos be enough to help pay the state's bills?

Yet there never seems to be enough. What ever the state collects it manages to spend. New taxes get added to old. Towns and cities don't get the state revenues they're promised. And so while adding tolls and cutting the gas tax may make sense, I can understand the level of skepticism that greets the idea.

The strange thing is, when it comes time to vote people seem quite happy with the status quo. Incumbents keep getting returned to the legislature and dominance by the Democratic Party threatens to turn Connecticut into a one-party state. The Democrats have veto-proof majorities in the House and Senate.

Republicans, it seems, could make inroads with a unified reduce government and cut taxes platform. But the party appears in disarray and demoralized. A Republican, by title at least, sits in the govenor's seat. But Gov. M. Jodi Rell is the most pragmatic of politicians, often shaping her policies to the situation and frequently siding with the Democratic majority on major issues -- including the recently-approved budget. Republicans in the legislature wanted to cut spending and taxes.

It's not enough to complain that politicians are all the same and nothing changes. This is a republic, after all. New state leaders can be elected, perhaps even ones who can be trusted to cut gas taxes and fix highways if they bring back tolls.



NYC congestion pricing commission members appointed
Norwalk HOUR
By SARA KUGLER, Associated Press
August 22, 2007

NEW YORK — The 17 members of a commission that will study Mayor Michael Bloomberg's proposal to charge motorists fees when entering parts of Manhattan were announced on Tuesday, and most already favor the idea.

The commission will examine the overall concept of reducing traffic, with an emphasis on Bloomberg's plan for tolling drivers as a way to get more people onto mass transit.

The group will make a recommendation by the end of January. If it does not approve Bloomberg's congestion pricing plan, it must recommend another solution that projects at least a 6 percent decrease in traffic, which is the reduction forecast by Bloomberg for his plan.

The federal government has promised to kick in $354 million toward the city's traffic mitigation plans if Bloomberg can get the commission, the City Council and the state Legislature to sign on by March of next year.  As the commission begins the review process, Bloomberg appears to have a majority of congestion pricing supporters. At least 10 of the appointees are in favor of the idea.

The members appointed by Bloomberg are: his Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Kahn, Gene Russianoff from the New York Public Interest Research Group and the Straphangers Campaign, and civil rights attorney Elizabeth Yeampierre, who serves on the mayor's planning board.

Gov. Eliot Spitzer's members are also in favor: Bloomberg's former first deputy mayor, Marc Shaw, Port Authority of New York and New Jersey Executive Director Anthony Shorris and the executive director of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Elliot Sander.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver appointed two members who staunchly oppose congestion pricing: Assemblyman Herman Farrell Jr. and Assemblyman Richard Brodsky. He also appointed Assemblywoman Vivian Cook, whose position was unknown.

Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno appointed a congestion pricing supporter, New York City Central Labor Council President Gary LaBarbera, and two whose positions were not known: State University of New York Chairman Thomas F. Egan and Nassau County Council Chamber of Commerce President Richard Bivone.

Senate Minority Leader Malcolm Smith appointed Gerard Romski, counsel and project director of Arverne by the Sea, a mixed-use development. It was not known whether he supports congestion pricing.

Assembly Minority Leader Jim Tedisco appointed a supporter, Andy Darrell, Environmental Defense New York regional director.

City Council Speaker Christine Quinn appointed two clear supporters, Drum Major Institute Executive Director Andrea Batista Schlesinger and Kathryn Wylde, president of Partnership for New York City. Greater Allen Cathedral CFO Edwin Reed also was appointed, and his position was not known.



Conn. reaches deal to upgrade travel plazas
DAY
Nov 19, 2009 7:15 PM EST


HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) -- Connecticut officials have reached a 35-year agreement to transform the state's 23 service plazas along the major highways, adding more types of restaurants and upgrading facilities.  The plazas are located along I-95, the Merritt and Wilbur Cross Parkways and I-395.

For two decades, McDonald's has been the major food provider along I-95. ExxonMobil has been the fuel vendor since 1982. Under the new deal, all 23 service plazas will include a Subway sandwich shop, a Dunkin' Donuts and a convenience store.  McDonald's will be one of the food providers at eight locations.  Alliance Energy, a New England petroleum-marketing distributor, will provide fuel and operate the convenience stores.

Stamford State Sen. Andrew McDonald has called for a financial analysis of the contract.






FAA: Fewer flights at Bradley make less noise
CT MIRROR
By: Ana Radelat | January 23, 2014

Washington – Bradley International Airport has gotten quieter.

At least that’s what the airport has told the Federal Aviation Administration, which approved a new noise map this week that shows the area affected by the noise of Bradley's flights has shrunk significantly over the past five years.

The reason: The number of flights landing and taking off from Bradley has dropped precipitously.

According to Kevin Dillon, executive director for the Connecticut Airport Authority, the airport served 7.2 million passengers in 2006 and only about 5.2 million in 2012. Dillon said he expected there was no growth last year.

Dillon said the recession and airport mergers are to blame. When Delta merged with Northwest Airlines and United Airlines merged with Continental, duplicate flights were eliminated.

An FAA official said the agency “advised the Connecticut Airport Authority to update its noise exposure maps for Bradley International Airport” because the old maps "did not accurately reflect aircraft operations at the airport.”

“Operations at the airport have not grown as forecast,” the FAA said.

Even if there are no major changes, airports are required to file a noise map with the FAA about every five years.

Bradley also submitted to the FAA another map that shows what it thinks its noise exposure would be in the future. That map expands the area around the airport that would be subject to aircraft noise.

“We are actually hopeful of growth going forward,” Dillon said.

Noise levels at the airport are also decreasing because newer planes are quieter.

“Of course determination of ‘quieter’ is in the ear of the beholder,” Dillon said. “These (map) contours did shrink, but if you are in that general area and a plane flies overhead, it will be loud.”
The 2008 noise map, courtesy Bradley International Airport

The new noise map “is a good news story and a bad news story,” Dillon said.

In partnership with the FAA, Bradley offers homeowners who are subjected to overflights that are on average 65 decibels or louder a program that outfits their homes with sound-resistant windows and doors and other sound insulation equipment.

Since 2009, the sound-insulation program has tried to muffle aircraft noise for  245 residential units at an average cost of $61,000 per home.

But with the new noise map, no additional homes will be eligible to benefit from the noise abatement program, Dillon said.

“A lot of people who were expecting sound insulation won’t get sound insulation,” he said.

For years, people who live in or near Bradley’s flight path have complained about noise.

That’s not expected to stop.

But the new sound map means new subdivisions in the area may not have to disclose they are subject to airport traffic noise in their deeds, as all homes in the old noise map are required.  And homeowners who are now outside the noise map may be able take that encumbrance off their deeds.

As far as noise pollution in the neighborhoods around Bradley International  Airport goes, Bill Hawkins, Suffield’s town planner, said he’s not overly optimistic there will be less.

“I always take these maps with a grain of salt,” he said.


FAA: Controller on phone during Hudson River crash
CT POST
Associated Press
Updated: 08/14/2009 07:13:44 AM EDT

WASHINGTON -- A personal phone call during last week's collision over New York's Hudson River has led to two air traffic controllers being removed from duty, although officials said the conversation probably had no impact on the tragedy.

The Federal Aviation Administration said in a statement Thursday that a controller at Teterboro Airport in New Jersey and his supervisor have been placed on administrative leave because the controller was involved in "apparently inappropriate conversations" at the time of the crash between a small plane and a tour helicopter that killed nine people.

The agency said while there was no reason to believe thus far that the employees' actions contributed to the accident, such "conduct is unacceptable."

The controller had handed off the monitoring of the small plane involved in the collision to another airport shortly before the plane collided with a tour helicopter.  The two employees, who were not identified, were placed on administrative leave with pay. The FAA said it has begun disciplinary proceedings against the pair.

Three members of a Pennsylvania family on the plane and five Italian tourists and a pilot on the helicopter were killed when the two stricken aircraft plunged into the river.

The FAA said the supervisor also was not in the building at the time, as required.

The controller had cleared the small plane, a single-engine Piper, for takeoff and then made a personal call to a woman, said sources familiar with the investigation, who asked not to be named because they weren't authorized to speak publicly.

While still on the phone, the controller handed off the Piper to the control tower at Newark Liberty International Airport, which monitors low-flying air traffic over the Hudson but doesn't actively try to keep aircraft separated, they said. The controller was still on the phone when the accident occurred. This sequence of events lasted only a few minutes.

National Transportation Safety Board and FAA investigators learned of the telephone conversation earlier this week while examining recordings of telephone calls on a landline phone in the tower that controllers use to communicate with other parts of the Teterboro Airport. The controller and supervisor were removed from duty immediately.  Air traffic controllers are expected to be alert at all times while on duty and typically are given about a 15-minute break roughly every two hours for that reason.

The National Air Traffic Controllers Association, the labor union representing controllers, said in a statement that it supports a full investigation of the allegations "before there is a rush to judgment."

Teterboro Airport, located directly across the Hudson River from New York City near the George Washington Bridge, handles corporate and private aircraft.  It is operated by the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey and handles nearly 200,000 flights a year.




Supreme Court won't hear appeal of Federal Aviation Association flight plans over Fairfield County
Stamford ADVOCATE
By Brittany Lyte, Correspondent
Published: 10:24 p.m., Wednesday, January 20, 2010

The U.S. Supreme Court on Tuesday declined to hear the appeal of Federal Aviation Administration flight paths that would lead to increased airplane traffic over Fairfield County.

Backed by Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, the appeal, submitted in November, cited increased air pollution and harmful noise levels as grounds for legal review of the plans proposed by the FAA in 2006.

"The U.S. Supreme Court is allowing the FAA to fly above the law, unchecked and unfairly routing more large planes over southwestern Connecticut without considering public input or environmental damage to the region," Blumenthal said.

Blumenthal described the flight paths as "fatally flawed" and said he would continue to fight against them.

"These new flight paths are based on defective data . . . ," he said, adding, "We will continue to fight the FAA flight plan in the political forum, if not in the courtroom."

FAA spokesman Jim Peters said the plan will be introduced in stages, with the goal of a complete changeover to the new flight paths set for 2012.  Danbury, Ridgefield, Redding, Bridgewater and nine other municipalities formed the Alliance for Sensible Airspace Planning in 2007 and sued the FAA to overturn the flight plan changes.  Former New Canaan First Selectwoman Judy Neville, who helped spearhead the effort, said she plans to support further efforts to fight the plan.

The FAA plan pairs the introduction of about 500 additional daily flights over Fairfield County skies, according to Neville, with the reduction of what the FAA estimates will be 200,000 hours worth of delays each year at New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania airports.

"People are not taking this seriously because it has not been completely implemented," Neville said. "They will."

She added, "I'm disappointed, (but) I'm not surprised in the decision. It was typical of the attitude when we were in Washington, D.C. (to testify against the flight paths) in May."

New Canaan First Selectman Jeb Walker said the decision was not unexpected, but he was surprised the Supreme Court did not release a statement with the decision.  Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi said he was not discouraged by the news.

"If people feel that we fought the fight and it's time to let go, we'll let go . . . but I'm not one to give up," he said.


Blumenthal petitions U.S. Supreme Court to reverse flight path changes
Stamford ADVOCATE
By Martin B. Cassidy, STAFF WRITER
Posted: 11/17/2009 11:13:10 AM EST
Updated: 11/17/2009 11:13:11 AM EST

State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal filed a brief with the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday seeking to continue a suit brought by local towns challenging 2006 changes to flight paths over Fairfield County that opponents and local leaders believe will have harmful levels of noise and environmental damage.

In August, the U.S. District Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia rejected Blumenthal's bid to overturn the court's earlier June verdict that found that the Federal Aviation Administration made a flawed environmental analysis of the impact of the plans and did not give adequate consideration to using alternate flight paths over Long Island Sound to mitigate the noise impact on communities.

Blumenthal said the court should look at the changed flight paths, redesigned by the Federal Aviation Administration, because a decision this summer by the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia that affirmed the changes violated Connecticut's right to protect residents from harmful federal policies.

"We are asking the Supreme Court to ground a bad decision - to override the FAA and its failure to follow the law and its own rules," Blumenthal said Tuesday. "The FAA is flying above the law enabled by a bad appeals court ruling."

In 2007, Stamford, Greenwich, Darien, New Canaan, Norwalk, Westport, and six other towns formed the Alliance for Sensible Airspace Planning and sued the FAA to overturn the flight changes.

The changes would
bring an additional 150 flights over Fairfield County each day.

In June, a three-judge panel concluded the FAA had performed an adequate analysis of the environmental effects of the plan, which was implemented to eliminate an estimated 200,000 hours in delays each year at New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania airports.


Court upholds FAA flight paths
Stamford ADVOCATE
By Martin B. Cassidy,
STAFF WRITER
Posted: 06/10/2009 10:35:09 PM EDT
Updated: 06/11/2009 07:35:41 AM EDT

HARTFORD -- A three-judge panel Wednesday ruled against Stamford and other Fairfield County towns and upheld the Federal Aviation Administration's proposed flight path changes.

In a 2007 lawsuit, the towns claimed the FAA disregarded environmental effects and increased noise over Fairfield County in redrawing the flight paths. State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, who argued the case last month before the panel in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, said he will seek a re-hearing by the entire court.  If the request is denied or the state loses the re-hearing, the next option would be to petition the U.S. Supreme Court, Blumenthal said.

"The Supreme Court only hears a fraction of the cases that seek review. The odds are always against a challenge to a federal agency administrative decision, and certainly more so when review is sought before the U.S Supreme Court," Blumenthal said. "But we're going to continue the battle."

Blumenthal and two attorneys representing an alliance of towns in Connecticut, New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania argued that the flight patterns should be struck down for violating the National Environmental Policy Act, the Clean Air Act and other regulations because the FAA's environmental analysis illegally downplayed how much noise and emissions the increased air traffic would create.  The panel found that the FAA completed a flawed but generally accurate forecast of future air traffic.

"The FAA concluded the forecast, although not perfect, still captured the general flow and magnitude of the traffic in a way that can show differences among the proposed alternatives," the decision said.

FAA spokesman Jim Peters said the decision "speaks for itself."

Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy said he disagrees with the flight path plan.

"We do not believe the FAA acted appropriately under their own rules and regulations with regard to hearings and considering the impact on residents, but ultimately that's a decision for the courts to make," Malloy said.

Weston First Selectman Woody Bliss said the FAA did not follow its own policies for public hearings and addressing environmental concerns.

"It's actually pretty scary because the FAA did not comply with the law, and it seems the court went out of its way to ignore it and approve the plans," Bliss said.

Two years ago, Stamford, Greenwich, Norwalk, Darien, New Canaan, Westport, Ridgefield and six other towns formed the Alliance for Sensible Airspace Planning and sued the FAA to overturn the changes. The court consolidated the case with similar actions filed by officials in New Jersey, Pennsylvania and New York, and transferred it from New York to Washington, D.C.  Blumenthal said pursuing the case is important to try to correct an inadequate vetting of the plan, including a failure to meet a federal requirement to consider alternative routes.

"This court decision would leave the FAA unchecked and unaccountable for its failures to consider less damaging alternatives," Blumenthal said.


Towns make their case against FAA flight paths
Stamford ADVOCATE
By Martin B. Cassidy

Posted: 05/11/2009 06:25:47 PM EDT
Updated: 05/12/2009 08:39:10 AM EDT

State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal argued yesterday in Washington, D.C., against proposed flight path changes, saying the new routes would create significant noise and air pollution for Fairfield County.

Blumenthal and two other attorneys representing an alliance of towns made their case before a three-judge panel in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. The flight patterns should be struck down for violating the Clean Air Act and other regulations because the Federal Aviation Administration's environmental analysis downplayed how much noise and emissions the increased air traffic would create, they said.

Under the changes, up to 150 additional planes would fly over Fairfield County each day, and the number of holding patterns before landings would increase, Blumenthal said.  Some of the data used to determine the environmental effects was inaccurate, he said.

"These FAA flight paths fly in the face of reason and law, completely disregarding the impact of noise levels on highly populated areas throughout the Northeast," Blumenthal said. "The FAA knew it had defective data on noise and traffic, but then inexplicably refused to correct the data."

If the court finds the FAA improperly approved the changes, the judges would order the agency to do another analysis and redesign the plan, Blumenthal said.  In a brief filed with the court, the FAA said flight paths have to be changed to assure safe and efficient air traffic control procedures, accommodate growth and reduce delays in the airspace over New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia.

According to the FAA, the added air and noise pollution would not be significant, and the moves would eliminate more than 200,000 hours in flight delays.  Lane McFadden, an attorney presenting the FAA's arguments Monday, referred questions to the U.S. Department of Justice Public Affairs Office. McFadden's co-counsel, Mary Gay-Sprague, could not be reached for comment.  Laura Sweeney, a spokeswoman for the Department of Justice Office of Public Affairs, declined to comment.

Blumenthal said FAA administrators used questionable data, including inaccurate statistics about the volume of flights out of Newark International Airport and John F. Kennedy International Airport in 2006, which skewed the report's findings.

"All of their modeling now includes this incorrect data," Blumenthal said.

The FAA also failed to pursue promised changes that would lessen the environmental effects, including routing more planes over water and monitoring noise, he said.  In September, the U.S. Government Accountability Office issued a report stating the FAA followed procedures in approving the policies.

Two years ago, Stamford, Greenwich, Norwalk, Darien, New Canaan, Westport, Ridgefield and six other towns formed the Alliance for Sensible Airspace Planning and sued the FAA to overturn the changes. The court consolidated the case with similar actions filed by officials in Elizabeth, N.J., Delaware County, Pa., and Rockland County, N.Y., and transferred it from New York to the Washington, D.C., court.

Stamford Economic Development Director Michael Freimuth, Weston First Selectman Woody Bliss and Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi were among the elected officials from Fairfield County who attended the hearing Monday.

Freimuth said the FAA plans did not consider how the additional noise and emissions would affect air quality, real estate values and quality of life.  The outcome of the case is important, Freimuth said, but towns also must act to change how FAA policy is created in the future. He called for greater scrutiny of environmental studies and aviation safety.

"We need to be cognizant that there is a window we are looking at this moment where there is a chance to hit the refresh button and require different reviews, and change the process," Freimuth said. "What do we want to do to balance the trade-offs of expediting airplanes on a runway? We all want to cut delays, but no matter how you rearrange the air space, you are still putting them into very crowded airports."

The U.S. District Court judges sitting on the panel were David Sentelle, Douglas Ginsberg and Arthur Randolph.

If unsuccessful, the case would have to be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, Blumenthal said.


Blumenthal wants flight plan halted 
DAY
By Associated Press    
Published on 9/13/2008 

Hartford (AP) - Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said Friday that he has asked a federal court to halt a new flight pattern plan for airports in New York, New Jersey and Philadelphia, citing noise, pollution and other issues.

The Federal Aviation Administration adopted the plan nearly a year ago, after nearly a decade of study, in an effort to reduce flight delays and congestion in the heavily traveled Northeast. Parts of Connecticut and Delaware are also affected by the flight patterns.

The legal brief was filed with the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington on behalf of the Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection, 10 cities and towns in southwestern Connecticut and nine other plaintiffs, including local governments and organizations in New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

Blumenthal charged that the FAA violated federal law by failing to fully consider effects on noise levels, air quality, the environment, state parks and wildlife areas. He's asking the court to halt the plan and force the FAA to redo it.

”These flight paths will bombard residents, sensitive wildlife areas and state parks with noise and pollution, damaging air quality and quality of life,” Blumenthal said in a statement. “We will fight to rescind these defective flight paths and force the FAA to rewrite the plan.”

The legal brief, filed late last month, is part of a lawsuit Connecticut filed against the FAA in November 2007. It also alleges the FAA failed to fully consider alternate routes over water and in military air lanes.

An FAA spokeswoman said Friday that the agency does not comment on pending litigation. The agency has determined that the new flight patterns pose no significant threats to the environment, although noise would increase in some Northeast communities.

Blumenthal questioned the FAA's assessments.

”This plan reflects unfounded assumptions, selective omissions and outright denial of facts,” he said. “In a sleight of hand, the agency considered each impact separately instead of cumulatively - as they would actually affect residents and fragile wildlife areas - severely skewing its conclusions.”

The FAA began implementing the plan shortly after its adoption and expects it to be fully implemented by 2011. The agency estimates the new patterns will reduce delays by up to 20 percent.

At least a dozen communities in several states are suing the FAA over the new flight pattern plan, and Congress has ordered the Government Accountability Office to examine the agency's method for choosing the new routes.

Blumenthal's legal brief claims the alleged violations by the FAA “prevented 30 million people living throughout the 31,180 square miles in five states covered by the project area from fully understanding how the project will affect the air they breathe, the noise they experience and the parks they enjoy.”

The 10 Connecticut towns involved in the filing of the new legal brief include New Canaan, Greenwich, Ridgefield, Weston, Wilton, Norwalk, Darien, Stamford, Redding and Westport.

The other plaintiffs are Rockland County, N.Y.; Delaware County, Pa.; the Timbers Civic Association; Friends of Rockefeller State Park Preserve; Bergen County, N.J.; the town of Teaneck, N.J.; The New Jersey and Union County Freeholders Air Traffic and Noise Advisory Board; the town of Elizabeth, N.J.; and The New Jersey Coalition Against Aircraft Noise.

Blumenthal said his office has been discussing the flight patterns with the other plaintiffs in the legal brief for months.



Analysts: Super-Jumbo Jets Not Practical For U.S. Carriers
By ERIC GERSHON | Courant Staff Writer
August 1, 2008

A new era in air travel starts in the United States today, when an Airbus A380 super-jumbo laden with paying passengers lands here for the first time.

But U.S. airlines have nothing to do with the event at New York's John F. Kennedy Airport — and so far nothing to do with the A380, the world's largest passenger aircraft.

Of Airbus' 17 customers for the four-engine A380, a double-decker designed for extra-long flights, not one is an American airline and just one is an American company, Los Angeles-based International Lease Financing Corp.

The A380 arriving at 4:45 p.m. today, from Dubai, is owned and operated by Dubai-based Emirates airline, the largest customer for the super-jumbo and the second to get one from Airbus, the manufacturer. Emirates' plane is the first to use engines made by Engine Alliance, a partnership of Pratt & Whitney and General Electric.

But the lack of American customers for the A380 comes as no surprise to industry analysts, who say U.S. airlines don't need or want super-jumbos.

Singapore Airlines was the first airline to get an A380 and put it into service, last October. It operates A380s between Singapore and London and Sydney and Tokyo, and will divert one to Beijing during the Summer Olympics. Other major customers include Lufthansa, Qantas, Air France and British Airways.

In all, Airbus has sold more than 200 A380s, at $200 million to $300 million apiece, depending on features.

Not Practical For U.S.

"It's not very controversial or sinister or frankly very surprising," said Daniel Petree, dean of the college of business at Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, Fla. "I think it's fundamental economics."

U.S. airlines are struggling for survival due to crippling oil costs, which means they're not generally in buying mode, he said. Several airlines have grounded aircraft and delayed or canceled orders for new ones.

Other aviation industry analysts cite a more basic reason for U.S. airlines' lack of interest: For decades, their business strategy has called for frequent departures of smaller aircraft, rather than fewer flights on bigger planes.

People want the convenience of frequent departures, said Robert Mann, an airline consultant based in Port Washington, N.Y. For airlines, high frequency has the benefit of enabling travel by business-class customers paying high fares, he said.

On international routes, U.S. airlines typically fly twin-engine Boeing 777s, 767s or 757s, or Airbus A340s. Many airlines have opted for Boeing's 787 Dreamliner, a twin-engine aircraft that will carry between 210 and 330 passengers, instead of the A380. Far behind schedule, Boeing is not expected to deliver any Dreamliners until next year, but about 900 are on order.

The four-engine A380 will be able to carry as many as 850 passengers, though a bit more than 500 is typical. Analysts do not foresee a day when airlines would use it within the United States, even coast-to-coast.

"It would be like, 'Would you use a Lincoln Town Car to drive to your friend's house across the street?'" said Michael Miller, an airline consultant based in Florida.

Nowadays, few, if any, U.S. airlines use the 747, the most comparable aircraft by size, on domestic routes — or international routes, for that matter.

The A380 makes sense for Emirates, a relatively new and rapidly expanding airline, because it is trying to gain market share from older airlines, analysts said. Also, Emirates may not be able to get enough landing slots at crowded airports to allow for more frequent flights on smaller aircraft, they said. The airline has ordered 58 A380s in all.

Configured for 489 passengers, with 14 in first class and 76 in business class, the aircraft scheduled to arrive today offers showers to first-class passengers, among other amenities.

Emirates, which already offers twice-daily service between Dubai and JFK on a Boeing 777, plans to add an A380 to the route three times a week as of Aug. 8.

"The A380 is possibly right for them," Mann said. "It will be a number of years before we know whether Singapore and Emirates and the others who have ordered this will actually make money on it."


2nd near collision occurs at JFK airport in week 
DAY
By JOAN LOWY, Associated Press Writer 
Posted on Jul 12, 8:46 AM EDT

WASHINGTON (AP) -- Two airborne planes - one landing and the other taking off - came within a half-mile of colliding at John F. Kennedy International Airport on Friday in the second such incident at the airport in a week, the Federal Aviation Administration said.

The FAA moved quickly to change takeoff and landing procedures at JFK on perpendicular runways - the kind of runways involved in both incidents.

FAA spokeswoman Laura Brown said a Delta Flight 123 was arriving at the airport Friday when the pilot decided to abort his landing and execute a "go-around" - a routine procedure often used during heavy congestion. That caused the Delta flight to intersect with the flight path of Comair Flight 1520, a regional jet that was taking off on another runway.

The FAA ordered new procedures Friday afternoon to change the way takeoffs and landings on perpendicular runways are sequenced, Brown said in an interview with The Associated Press.

The new procedures are designed to ensure "that aircraft of one runway clear out of the path of the other runway before the second flight comes down on the other runway," Brown said. "We've had two events recently and I think we want to make sure the appropriate safety margins are in place."

Last Saturday, a Cayman Airways flight was landing at JFK when the pilot decided to abort the landing a fly around the airport again as a LAN Chile jet was taking off. Their flight paths crossed, bringing the planes within about 200 feet of each other vertically and a half-mile horizontally. The National Transportation Safety Board is investigating that incident.

On Friday, the Delta jet, a Boeing 757, and the Comair plane, a Bombardier CRJ9, came within 600 feet of each other vertically and a half-mile horizontally, the FAA said.

The agency said it was not classifying either incident as a "near collision" because there was no violation of standards for how apart planes can fly, Brown said.

Delta spokeswoman Gina Laughlin initially said the incident took place a week ago on July 4. However, Laughlin later told The Associated Press that the FAA was correct, and the incident took place on Friday at 1:20 p.m. Comair is a subsidiary of Delta.

"This did happen today," Laughlin said. "This is what we call, and what the FAA classifies, as a 'proximity event.'"

Laughlin said she didn't know how many people were aboard the Delta flight, which came from Shannon, Ireland, but the plane seats 170 passengers.

Dean Iacopelli, a representative for the New York National Air Traffic Controllers Association, said the FAA has "terminated that perpendicular simultaneous approach procedure."

Barrett Byrnes, who president of the controllers union at the JFK tower, said controllers have long sought the procedure changes.

"The FAA put out an order to JFK to no longer use that approach. That's exactly what we wanted to happen," Byrnes said. "We've been trying to change that for the last 12, 13 years. It's been an accident waiting to happen."

Friday's incident began when the Delta flight was handed off from the FAA's traffic control center in Westbury, N.Y., to the JFK tower as the plane prepared to land. In the handoff, the Delta pilot apparently wasn't using the communication frequency the flight was assigned to communicate with the JFK tower, Brown said.

The JFK tower and the Delta jet did not establish contact until the flight was 1.5 miles from touching down on the runway, Brown said. The flight was cleared to land by the tower, but the pilot decided to abort the landing, Brown said.



Lawmakers draft statement against FAA redesign plan
Greenwich TIME
By Monica Potts, Staff Writer
Published February 16 2008

STAMFORD -- In an effort led by state senators from Stamford and Norwalk, the General Assembly's Transportation Committee voted yesterday to draft a resolution that would make official the state's opposition to the Federal Aviation Administration's airspace redesign plan.

The FAA adopted the plan to reroute some flight paths from LaGuardia and Westchester County airports over lower Fairfield County in September. In November, the state and a coalition of 14 municipalities sued the FAA over the plan.

"I thought it was important that the state of Connecticut take as many measures as possible and use the strongest of language to say how we all feel about the wrongheaded decision of the FAA," said Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, the committee vice chairman.

Duff said he will draft the resolution over the weekend. It would be nonbinding but would serve as an official censure, he said.

Opponents have said that the redesign will damage the region's quality of life and that the FAA did not sufficiently explore alternatives, including the possibility of rerouting paths over less-populated areas.

The FAA has said the redesign will help ease congestion at New York City area airports, among the nation's busiest and most delay-prone. A Government Accountability Office study in 2005 estimated that the FAA's plans, including the airspace redesign, would reduce delays in the airports by 1 percent to 7 percent.

"As we have seen with the Broadwater plan in Long Island Sound, federal officials give very little thought not only to their own facts, but to public opinion," Sen. Andrew McDonald, D-Stamford, said in a statement.

Duff said he hopes the resolution, which will have to survive a vote by the committee before it reaches the General Assembly, would help support the plan's local opponents.

"It gives them an additional leverage to say that this is not just a few people who care about this, but this is something that the entire state feels is important," he said




Himes wants FAA to look into watchdog group's noise complaints; Lawmaker to help county group back up complaints
Stamford ADVOCATE
By Martin B. Cassidy, STAFF WRITER
Posted: 08/12/2009 06:58:17 AM EDT
Updated: 08/12/2009 06:58:39 AM EDT


STAMFORD -- U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-Greenwich, is working with a Fairfield County aviation noise watchdog group to submit its data about aircraft traffic to federal officials.

The group wants to corroborate reports of low-altitude flights and high aircraft-noise levels above their neighborhoods.

Last week at a forum at the Stamford Government Center, Himes told officials from the Federal Aviation Administration he would gather and submit information from members of the group about specific flights that could be checked against the FAA's flight logs for nearby Westchester County Airport, as well as John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia airports in New York City, for violations of FAA airspace regulations.

Dozens of residents opposed to the FAA's 2006 redesign of flight paths meant to reduce passenger delays for the tri-state region attended the meeting to question FAA officials about what they say is increased air traffic and aircraft-related noise in the area.

"It's important that we check the logs of the records of the flights, the area and the altitudes against what the residents are seeing and measuring," Himes said. "We could get to the facts."

The aviation noise monitoring group was organized in 2008 as a lawsuit against the FAA was filed by local officials to try to block new agency-ordered flight paths over Fairfield County that opponents said would bring increased aircraft noise and pollution to their communities.

Last week, residents complained that they are seeing more flights at altitudes of 600 feet or lower, well below the FAA's minimum of 2,000 feet.

Julius Marcus, a member of the group from North Stamford, said that readings on a decibel meter he purchased in 2008 to monitor low-flying aircraft show a fourfold increase in noise.

Marcus said the FAA has not heeded legal arguments that it should route more flights over Long Island Sound, which he said could reduce delays with less noise impact.

"There are some intelligent alternatives which they are not considering, and they should," he said.

Ralph Tamburro, traffic management officer for the FAA's New York region, said the agency could identify which planes were responsible for any violations, as well as retrieve information on them.

"We're willing to look at the information, and we're open to speaking with residents about their complaints," he said.

Last month, Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal filed an appeal asking federal circuit court judges in Washington, D.C., to reconsider a verdict that upheld the flight plan changes the FAA approved for the tri-state region in 2006.

Blumenthal said the FAA failed to give proper consideration to complaints.


Residents monitor airplane noise
Greenwich TIME
By Neil Vigdor,
Staff Writer
Article Launched: 07/07/2008 01:00:00 AM EDT

In the tradition of air raid drills and fallout shelters, a new generation of plane spotters is monitoring the skies above lower Fairfield County.

People like Pamela Kearns, who has been known to keep a notebook on her nightstand to log when planes fly overhead.  And Julius Marcus, who bought a $600 noise meter to measure decibel levels from low-flying aircraft.  Both are on the front-lines of a 13-town coalition's opposition to a controversial Federal Aviation Administration aircraft rerouting plan for the region.

They volunteered to serve on a noise monitoring group of residents organized by U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Conn., who has joined the fray against the new aircraft routes. The group has 47 members scattered throughout Fairfield County, a number of whom take the job quite seriously.

"Especially as the house rattles, I run outside to see what's above me," said Kearns, 52, a homemaker from the Silvermine section of Norwalk. "Most of the time you don't even need binoculars."

Harking back to World War II and the Cold War, plane spotting is hardly a new phenomenon.

"My mother was a plane spotter," U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd, D-Conn., told his constituents last week during a public hearing on the FAA rerouting plan.

Selectman Peter Crumbine of Greenwich said the plane spotters will play an important role, albeit a different one than their forebears.

"We're not expecting these planes to bomb us," Crumbine said. "The idea is to create a body of evidence to show that it's a serious issue, and that part of the area is heavily impacted by the (air) traffic from Westchester (County) and LaGuardia (airports)."

The new routes are supposed to save 200,000 hours of delays per year at John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia airports in New York, Newark Liberty Airport in New Jersey and Philadelphia airports by 2011, according to the FAA. One controversial aspect of the plan would shift arrivals for LaGuardia Airport east over Fairfield County from the current track over Westchester County. Marcus, 69, a retired Xerox Corp. executive who lives north of the Merritt Parkway in Stamford, said his neighborhood is already bombarded with aircraft noise.

"I'm not normally an activist," Marcus said. "I wanted to make sure people knew about it. Basically, there's almost never a period of time when you can't hear airplanes in your backyard."

Kearns cited similar reasons for getting involved with the noise monitoring group, which is still seeking more volunteers.

"It was more than a nuisance. It was actually keeping me awake at night," Kearns said.

The 13-town alliance, which includes Greenwich, Stamford, Norwalk, New Canaan and Darien, sued the FAA in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second District of New York in early November. The group argued that the FAA failed to take residents' noise and other environmental concerns into account when developing new flight paths. Connecticut filed a similar lawsuit against the FAA the same day over the plan, which was adopted by the federal agency in September and could start being implemented in January 2009.

The FAA has said that it held more than 100 public hearings before adopting the plan, including one in Stamford.  With the help of an Internet site that shows radar images for the past year, the group's members have been able to tie noise activity to specific flights.

Marcus has been inputting the readings from his noise meter into a spreadsheet program. He also bought a special watch that synchronizes itself every day with an atomic clock that keeps the official time to ensure his observations are accurate. The data, he said, helps add credibility to the alliance's argument.

"People go out there and say, 'This bothers me. It's loud.' Well, what's loud? You have to prove at some point to the FAA that it was loud," said Marcus, who keeps a 3-by-5-inch note card in his shirt pocket to jot down times when planes fly overhead.

The FAA has said the noise increases are not significant under government standards, but that there could be a noticeable difference for those not currently exposed to the noise.  The alliance claims that noise levels will increase dramatically throughout much of southwestern Connecticut, quadrupling in places such as New Canaan, Wilton and Ridgefield, if the new routes are allowed to go into effect.

Jim Campbell, 43, a CEO of an advertising display company who lives in southern Wilton, said it is important to be able to quantify the level of noise.

"I think it will lend some gravity to the complaint," Campbell said. "It's not just Fairfield County not wanting planes in their area, but it's people who have had a disruption in lifestyle."

Campbell typically spends an hour every weekend logging planes that fly over his house.

"If I'm barbecuing for a family dinner, I just keep a pad there," Campbell said.

Not all plane spotters are upset by the sound of jet engines or turboprops, however.

Phil Derner Jr., 27, runs NYCAviation.com, a Web site devoted to plane spotting.

"Obviously, I kind of enjoy the noise," said Derner, a Queens, N.Y., resident. "Some people find it relaxing. Sometimes I'll just read a book near the airport."

Having grown up near LaGuardia Airport, Derner said he can even tell the type of aircraft flying overhead just by listening.

"I can sit there and I can tell that's an MD-80 because its extra loud," Derner said. "Depending on the hour, you can tell if it's a Delta Shuttle. Airbus engines tend to have a little extra whine to the engine, which I can tell as well."

Derner, who works as an operations controller for a charter airline, said he supports the redesign.

"You're talking about something I think many feel should have been done a long time ago," Derner said.



Airspace coalition elects officers to oversee FAA lawsuit

Stamford ADVOCATE
By Wynne Parry
Published December 5 2007

The coalition of 14 towns aligned to fight the Federal Aviation Administration's proposal to reroute flights over Fairfield County has elected its first officers.

The Alliance for Sensible Airspace Planning announced yesterday it has elected Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi as chairman. The alliance also named Weston First Selectman Woody Bliss and Darien First Selectwoman Evonne Klein as vice chairmen.

Former New Canaan First Selectwoman Judy Neville was appointed chief operating officer.

The alliance filed a lawsuit Nov. 1 to stop the plan, which the FAA said is designed to reduce flight delays at airports in New York City, Newark and Philadelphia by shifting flight paths. Some arriving flights at New York City's LaGuardia Airport would fly over Fairfield County.

Alliance members are concerned the rerouted flights, as well as low-altitude holding patterns, could create health, safety and environmental problems.

The alliance plans to spend up to $1.2 million fighting the FAA's plan, Bliss said. Besides the lawsuit, it also plans to lobby Congress and educate residents through a Web site, Bliss said.

"The real underlying concern is once they start implementing the plan, it is very hard to undo it," he said.

The towns will contribute to the cost based in part on population, Bliss said. The alliance also elected a business adviser, information adviser, financial director and financial management adviser. None are from Stamford.

"I don't think we were desirous of playing a leadership role in the organization. We are a leading funder, and we are lending our Washington tools to the effort," Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy said, referring to the city's lobbying firm in Washington, D.C.

"I certainly want people to understand we are organized, and we are working together," he said.




Expert: Lawsuit against FAA may be a flight of fancy
Stamford ADVOCATE
By Neil Vigdor, Staff Writer
Published November 19 2007

When the Federal Aviation Administration tried to fine one of Gregory Winton's clients for operating a Learjet that did not meet standards for airworthiness, he got the case thrown out by a judge.

Similarly, the Washington, D.C., aviation lawyer said he won a case in which the FAA tried to revoke two pilot certificates from one of his clients for flying a plane that it said exceeded weight restrictions.

"Has the FAA been beat? Absolutely. Does it happen often? No. I'm sure they would like to keep that under wraps," said Winton, founder and president of Aviation Law Experts.com, a national firm that represents clients such as Boeing and British Airways in litigation.

Winton's comments are ominous for a coalition of 11 towns and the state, which sued the FAA earlier this month over its controversial new flight paths over Fairfield County.  A former FAA lawyer, Winton said the agency has a stable of lawyers, as well as U.S. Justice Department attorneys, prepared to defend it from lawsuits filed over the routing plan.

"The government is not in this to make money or friends," Winton said. "Unfortunately, they'll fight an issue to the death."

Earlier this month, Stamford lawmakers approved spending $30,000 to join the lawsuit. Norwalk Mayor Richard Moccia said last month he will ask the Common Council to approve $30,000 to $50,000 to share the burden. Darien First Selectwoman Evonne Klein said last month she will ask finance officials for $30,000 with the intention of requesting another $20,000 later. Last month, Westport officials approved $79,000 to participate in the suit.

New Canaan First Selectman Judy Neville has estimated the coalition's lawsuit will cost $1 million. Neville has said the costs likely will be shared among the towns based on population and geographical size.  Stamford Director of Economic Development Michael Freimuth estimated the city's share of the lawsuit eventually will be $190,000.

The 11 towns in the coalition are Stamford, Norwalk, Greenwich, New Canaan, Wilton, Darien, Westport, Weston, Ridgefield, Redding and Pound Ridge, N.Y.  Greenwich officials voted this month to spend $64,100 on lawyers' and lobbying fees as part of the effort, but not before a debate over the chances of success.

"Based on the information that I've been given, the FAA carries great weight," First Selectman-elect Peter Tesei said. "But I think the intent is to work to mitigate some of the impact of what they're proposing and make sure that we're represented."

Outgoing First Selectman Jim Lash said the plaintiffs don't have to win in court to succeed.

"I think there's a 100 percent chance that we will persuade the FAA to change its plan by going down this road. There's simply too much wrong with the approach they've taken and too many people opposed to it," Lash said. "I think it's a certainty by bringing these suits we will get a better plan than the one we have now."

Connecticut is the first state to sue over the plan, adopted by the FAA in September after more than 100 public hearings, including one in Stamford on April 24.  One controversial aspect of the plan would shift arrivals for LaGuardia Airport in New York eastward over Fairfield County from the existing track over Westchester County, N.Y.

The new routes are designed to save 200,000 hours of delays per year at John F. Kennedy and LaGuardia airports in New York, Newark Liberty Airport in New Jersey and Philadelphia airports by 2011, according to the FAA.  The FAA has said the noise increases are not significant under government standards but there could be a noticeable difference for those not now exposed to it.

FAA spokesman Jim Peters had no comment on whether the FAA would be willing to accept a settlement and said he did not know the legal history of the agency's record in the courts.

Michael Hynes, founder of the Branson, Mo., consulting firm Hynes Aviation Services, questioned the cost to the state and towns.

"The irony of some of this is it's not really going to be win or lose. They may influence the routing a little bit," Hynes said. "You're going to spend all this money and what do you think you're going to get in the end? You're either going to delay the inevitable or (cause) the minor rerouting of a route. People are spending an awful lot of money, and I don't think they're going to get their money's worth in the end."

State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said the cost will be minimal to the state, which has had success fighting federal entities such as the federal Environmental Protection Agency on greenhouse gas standards and the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration on vehicle fuel efficiency standards.

"I'm very proud of our record against the federal government," Blumenthal said. "Many of these federal agencies are absolutely lawless. They break the law with impunity. Someone has to stand up to them, and they look bigger than they are because sometimes they are just bullies."

Blumenthal said the FAA neglected environmental and quality-of-life effects when it adopted the new routes.

"We intend to rely on our congressional delegation to carry our ball in Congress," Blumenthal said.

U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, R-Bridgeport, said the FAA holds most of the chips, but it is critical to stand up to the agency.

"Does that mean that the towns and states shouldn't be doing everything that it can do to persuade the FAA to change its plan? It should be doing everything it can," Shays said.



State sues to block flight traffic
Danbury News-Times
Susan Tuz STAFF WRITER
Article Last Updated: 11/01/2007 11:56:17 AM EDT

State Attorney General Richard Blumenthal and Gov. M. Jodi Rell announced today that the state has sued the Federal Aviation Administration to block new flight paths that route more planes lower over southern Connecticut.

Rell said that the lawsuit against the new flight paths was filed on behalf of the state Department of Environmental Protection. The suit signals a joint state-municipal alliance. The suit was announced at a press conference in New Canaan.

The governor called the increased air traffic -- which would route as many as 150 additional planes a day over many Fairfield County towns -- "unacceptable."

"The FAA Redesign Plan would bring unacceptable impacts to Connecticut and particularly to this region of the state," Rell said, "and we will do everything we can to derail this plan."

Blumenthal concurred.

"We have forged a powerful partnership against the FAA's ill-conceived plan to route too many planes too low over southwestern Connecticut," he said. "As I have pledged before, I will fight as long and hard as necessary, even to the U.S. Supreme Court."

Blumenthal said the FAA "rushed to reroute, failing to consider alternatives and environmental and quality of life impacts."

Towns joining Blumenthal and Rell in the action are Ridgefield, Wilton, Weston, Westport, Greenwich, Stamford, Darien, New Canaan and Purchase, N.Y.


Trying To Ease Gridlock In N.Y. City Skies:
`Congestion Pricing' Enters The Discussion As FAA, Task Force Target Chronic Delays At Three Metropolitan Airports
Hartford Courant
By DAVID B. CARUSO | Associated Press
October 12, 2007

NEW YORK - Simple mathematics explains why New York has become the nation's worst air-travel bottleneck. Almost every day, more planes are jockeying for space in the sky than the region's beleaguered air traffic control system can handle.  Finding a solution to the problem, though, has tied the aviation industry in knots: Do you schedule fewer flights? Or, can you find ways to safely get more jets in the air?

A federal task force made up of airline executives, government officials and aviation groups has been discussing both approaches during a series of high-stakes meetings over the past three weeks.  U.S. Transportation Secretary Mary Peters convened the group in late September and gave it a warning: Find a fix for chronic delays at New York's John F. Kennedy International Airport and its sister airports, LaGuardia and Newark Liberty International, or be prepared to face a federal order reducing the number of allowed flights.

The talks, led by the Federal Aviation Administration, have been closed to the public, but participants report that one of the primary topics will be "congestion pricing," a scheme to reduce delays by making airlines think twice about scheduling flights during the busiest times of the day.  Generally, the plan would implement higher fees for planes operating at the airports during the aviation rush hours, which, in New York, coincide roughly with morning and evening commutes.

Supporters of the idea say the extra cost of flying in prime time might lead airlines to shift some flights to less busy periods, and leave rush hour to the biggest jets with the most passengers.

Travelers might opt for off-peak hours too, if tickets for those coveted early evening flights suddenly got more expensive. But limits on the number of planes flying at hours popular for business travelers could hurt the city's economy.  Congestion pricing faces strong opposition from airlines, who say it will raise costs, discourage airlines from serving smaller cities, and make it harder for passengers to fly when they want.  R. John Hansman, director of the International Center for Air Transportation at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, said congestion pricing could have benefits at JFK, but would be tough to implement.

The challenge, he said, "is that landing spots in New York are so valuable, it is hard to have a price high enough that would change the airlines' behavior."

Many of JFK's international flights, he said, also can't simply be shifted to another part of the day because they need to leave at certain hours so they don't arrive at their destinations in the dead of night.  Some airline officials say the better solution is to make better use of New York's inefficient, convoluted airspace.  For decades, jetliners traveling over the dense Eastern Seaboard have been directed to use a small number of old flight paths, some laid out in the days when pilots still navigated by signal fires.

Those routes jam up quickly on most days, and delays can ripple throughout the country when one or more of the air highways is blocked by a thunderstorm.  Air traffic controllers monitoring those corridors also complain that they are stretched to the limit in command centers that are understaffed.  In August, only 59 percent of arrivals and 63 percent of departures at JFK were on time, according to the U.S. Department of Transportation. Newark was only a little better, with 62 percent of arrivals and 66 percent of departures on time. LaGuardia saw only 58 percent of its flights land on schedule.

Those numbers chronically rank among the top five worst in the country. Delays at those airports regularly run to two or three hours, even on days when the closest bad weather is hundreds of miles away.

The FAA has already come up with a sweeping redesign for the airspace around New York and Philadelphia. Both the agency and the airlines say it could cut delays by as much as 20 percent. But the plan has been repeatedly delayed due, in part, to opposition from lawmakers whose communities that might hear more plane traffic.  Members of the flight delay task force say they have other ideas that might help.  Some airlines have asked that a rarely used section of the skies off the East Coast, now reserved for the military, be opened up to commercial carriers.

The airlines have also asked the FAA to appoint a "czar" to oversee the independent control centers that coordinate traffic in the region - someone who would have the authority to address delay problems decisively.





Stamford commuters tell DOT head: Let us in on plans for new parking garage
Neena Satija, CT MIRROR
September 20, 2012

Stamford -- Dogged by criticism of the secrecy of his plans to spend $35 million replacing a dilapidated parking garage at the Stamford train station, state Transportation Commissioner James Redeker told the more than 50 people attending a public hearing Thursday night, "We want to hear from you."

What he heard was an overwhelming message of concern over a process in which the state will decide who will add 300 parking spaces to its busiest train station and develop around it -- without telling anyone who's in the running to do the project or what their plans are.

"The reason why we're so frustrated and we really want more information is because we want to make sure you all understand how precious every minute is for our commute," testified William Tong, a state representative from Stamford.

"The commuters on those trains, they have to be a part of this process ... that has to happen."

It was unclear how much the public input from the hearing -- the only one scheduled for the project -- would actually influence the state's final decisions. While Redeker insisted comments would be heard, final proposals from developers in the running are due Oct. 9, four days after the public comment period on the project closes. After that, the state will enter into confidential negotiations to pick a winner.

"The bids are being worked on now [without any public input]," said Jim Cameron, chairman of the Connecticut Commuter Rail Council, to scattered applause from the audience. "The time for public input would have been a year ago ... not while [the project] is already in process. It's a done deal."

Redeker continued to defend the confidentiality of the process, explaining that the state Department of Transportation is asking the private sector for ideas rather than spending tens of millions in state money to design the garage itself. Those ideas need to remain confidential because they're proprietary, he said.

In fact, Redeker added, the state had tried a similar process years ago where it did "try to solicit proposals that were public proposals."

"How many did we get? Zero," he told the audience. When DOT asked developers why they wouldn't submit proposals, Redeker said, they responded, "Well, our proposals have value."

The DOT has said the public will be informed of all the specifics of the plans once the agency chooses a final one -- and that changes could be made after that.  Jack Condlin, president and CEO of the Stamford Chamber of Commerce, wasn't buying it. After the winner is chosen, he said, the public's chance to weigh in would be even more limited.

"No pun intended, the train has left the station at that point," he said, to more applause from the audience.

'Outrageous'

Thursday night's hearing was supposed to focus narrowly on the "potential environmental impact" of the final project. But since no specifics on the project have been released, commuters couldn't say much on the topic. Instead, they implored the state to take their thoughts into account.  Almost everyone who testified said that when the 727-space current garage in place now is torn down and replaced with a 1000-space garage, the new garage must not be farther away from the train station. The state's request for proposals included an option for developers to build the garage as far as a quarter-mile away.

"Occasionally, I have commuted with crutches, with a cast, and I see a lot of people struggling with double-strollers, children ... and everybody's always carrying something," said Stamford resident Esther Giordano. "So walking a quarter-mile, forget it. That's outrageous."

Giordano said she lives just a few miles away from the station, but has to leave 20 minutes early to catch a 7:50 a.m. train to Manhattan. She is currently on the waiting list -- along with 857 other people -- for a $70 monthly parking permit at the station, and so she has to pay between $8 and $10 per day to park there, depending on how long her car is parked.

The DOT says it has given developers leeway with where to build the garage in part because it wants to encourage "transit-oriented development," which could include residential, office, or retail space near the station as well. But commuters said their interests should be paramount, before any other development ideas.

"You've got to get your priorities straight," said David Martin, a former president of Stamford's Board of Representatives who serves on the Board of Finance. "... What scares some of us is that [transit-oriented development] is an excuse to put more development and not solve the fundamental problems of our train station."

Many also criticized the lack of input from Stamford officials in the process. Because the state owns and operates the train station, the DOT will take the lead on the project. Top elected and unelected officials in Stamford, when asked earlier this week, didn't know who the potential developers were and did not expect to find out anytime soon.

Responding to that specific concern, Redeker said, "I just reject that." He said the DOT took all recommendations that were put into a study the city commissioned on the train station years ago. "We're not ignoring, we're partnering," he said.

Still, Redeker had acknowledged in an earlier interview with The Mirror that the city will not know the identities of developers, or their proposals, before the state picks a final one.

"The city is not part of the public-private partnership in a direct way," he said in the interview.

'We need to fix that'

Once testimony had finished, Redeker took the podium again to say that he understood that the state's new process was "totally disconcerting" -- especially "from a public involvement point of view."

"We need to fix that," he said.

Martin said he found those words encouraging, and that the stakes for Stamford -- and the state -- were incredibly high. Metro-North has counted 27,000 daily boardings and disembarkations at Stamford Transportation Center. It is the busiest train station in the state and the second-busiest (after Grand Central Station) on Metro-North's New Haven Line.

"Is there a more important transportation facility in all of Connecticut than the Stamford rail station?" Martin asked DOT officials, adding, "Is there a transportation facility in all of Connecticut that has more problems than the Stamford train station?"

Still, many were not convinced anything would change.

"It seems that the taxpayers and citizens of the city are under assault by Hartford," said Barry Michelson, a member of Stamford's zoning board, in his testimony. Leaving the hearing, he expressed more discouragement.

"There's no proposal [to talk about,]" Michelson said. "They're doing an environmental impact statement and they don't have a proposal. So what are you evaluating?"

The Commuter Rail Council's Jim Cameron bluntly asked Redeker if he would let other stakeholders in the project besides DOT, such as commuters themselves, see and review proposals before making a decision. Others also asked if there would be additional public hearings.  Redeker did not respond directly to either of those questions, saying only that he would work to improve public involvement in the process.

"I can't be put on the spot tonight for an answer on exactly how to do that," he said.


Commuters call for action, not more studies
Norwalk HOUR
By ROBERT KOCH
Posted on 05/19/2009

Commuters, their advocates and elected officials told the Connecticut Public Transportation Commission at Norwalk City Hall on Tuesday night to speed along commuter rail improvement projects and other alternatives to automobiles.

"We need a sense of enormous emergency. We don't have 10 years," said Harold E. Clark, a Wilton resident. "Provide public transportation. I don't care if it's more buses, until you can build the trains."

Michael Perrella, also of Wilton, said he has seen incremental improvement in train service but added, "in real terms, very little has been done."

The comments came after Peter A. Richter of the state Department of Transportation gave an update on the State Rail Plan, which will lay out rail policy, priorities and strategies to channel state and federal funding.

"You're going to see this railroad get ... better," said Richter, who pointed to improvements while acknowledging their slow pace.

"Continue to hammer away," said Thomas A. Cheeseman, transportation commission chairman. "Something will get done."

About three dozen people attended the hearing, including state Sen. Toni Boucher, R-26; Weston First Selectman Woody Bliss; and Wilton First Selectman William F. Brennan, who complimented the DOT for widening Route 7.

"Unfortunately, I cannot say the same things about the rail line and some of their facilities. The Wilton train station has been locked up tight for over three and a half years," Brennan said. "Get this train station open."

Boucher said upgrading the Norwalk-Danbury line has been her priority and is now advancing after being ignored for years.

Jim Cameron, Connecticut Metro North Commuter Rail Council chairman, said he's pleased that more than 300 new rail cars are slated for delivery. But he added that nothing has been done to boost parking at train stations. Cameron took aim at the state Transportation Strategy Board and asked the transportation commission to be more aggressive.

"Something has to come out of this other than a written report that doesn't get acted on," Cameron said. "Take what you hear tonight, put it in front of Gov. Rell."

Tuesday night's hearing was one of seven such hearings the transportation commission will hold this year prior to submitting its annual report to Gov. M. Jodi Rell, the DOT and the General Assembly's Transportation Committee.

"It is very important that what you say here doesn't disappear into this room," said Gail Lavielle, transportation commission member from Wilton. "We will be following up."

Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi pleaded with the transportation commission to speed DOT projects.

"The DOT has lost its credibility with the taxpayers. We have no faith with the DOT's projects," Marconi said. "When are we going to see something happen?"


LINK HERE TO SUPER NYTIMES COVERAGE OF 2009 MIRACLE ON HUDSON




Probe reveals oxygen bottle burst on Qantas flight 
DAY
Posted on Aug 28, 2008 10:22 PM EDT

CANBERRA, Australia (AP) -- An oxygen cylinder caused the explosion that blew a car-sized hole in a Qantas jet last month, forcing an emergency landing, air safety officials said Friday.

The release of the interim report by Julian Walsh, acting executive director of the Australian Transport Safety Bureau, confirmed earlier suspicions by investigators that an exploding oxygen tank was the cause.

The Boeing 747-438 aircraft, carrying 365 people, was flying over the South China Sea July 5 when the explosion blew a hole in the fuselage five-feet in diameter, causing a loss of cabin pressure.

Walsh said one of the seven emergency oxygen cylinders below the cabin floor had exploded, but did not say what caused the tank to burst.

"On the basis of the physical damage to the aircraft's forward cargo hold and cabin, it is evident that the number 4 passenger oxygen cylinder sustained a failure that allowed a sudden and complete release of the pressurized contents," Walsh told reporters in releasing the report.

The plane - en route from London to Melbourne, Australia - rapidly descended thousands of feet and flew about 300 miles to Manila, where it made a successful emergency landing.

No one was injured, but questions were raised about the much-lauded safety of Qantas Airways, which has never lost a jet aircraft because of an accident.

In the weeks after the incident, Qantas planes experienced a number of other problems, including a loss of hydraulic fuel that led to an emergency landing, failure of landing gear, and detached panels.

The problems prompted the Civil Aviation Safety Authority, Australia's aviation agency, to launch a review of Qantas Airways' safety standards.

Qantas earlier this month temporarily pulled six planes from service because of irregularities in maintenance records. Qantas said it was a record-keeping issue and there were no safety implications for the aircraft.



News of upstate New York incident...17 hurt when cruise ship hits seawall lock
Greenwich TIME
Friday, June 19, 2015

Story in full:  http://www.greenwichtime.com/news/us/article/Cruise-ship-hits-wall-of-river-lock-in-upstate-6336864.php