S W R P A   R. I. P. 

SWRPA & MPO IMPLEMENTING THE REGIONAL PLAN (2006-2015);  REGIONAL STRUCTURE UP FOR DISCUSSION YET AGAIN IN 2011, DONE BY 2013 LEGISLATURE, ALMOST A DONE DEAL






REVISED ORDINANCE UNANIMOUSLY APPROVED 2-24-14

How long will it take until the C.G.A. gives taxing authority to new COG regions?

State accepts planning region merge
FORUM
By Kimberly Donnelly on December 19, 2013

The Office of Policy and Management has officially re-designated the South Western and Housatonic Valley planning regions into one new one, the Western Connecticut Council of Governments — but it’s not all that happy about it.

In a letter dated Dec. 6, Benjamin Barnes, secretary of the OPM, said he received the request from the South Western Regional Planning Agency (SWRPA), to which Weston belongs, and the Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials (HVCEO) to the north to merge into a single 18-town planning region.

The merger came about because of a new state statute requiring the consolidation of Connecticut’s 13 regional planning agencies into no more than eight by 2014. If regions do not merge into larger councils of governments (a type of planning agency), they risk losing funding for things like economic development initiatives and regional transportation projects.

A provision of the statute allows regional organizations that merge by mutual agreement into a single council of governments (COG) by the end of 2013 to be exempt from restructuring by the state, as long as the secretary of OPM formally re-designates the consolidated region.

In his letter to the chairmen and directors of SWRPA and HVCEO, Mr. Barnes did just that, formally acknowledging the Western Connecticut planning region, officially known as the Western Connecticut Council of Governments (WCCOG).

Not optimal

However, Mr. Barnes also states in the letter that this is not what the state considers to be the best alternative.

“You should know that this office believes that the optimal region serving Western Connecticut should also include the current Greater Bridgeport planning region [GBRC] as well,” Mr. Barnes said in his letter. He cites “strong ties … in matters affecting transportation, the environment, housing patterns, commuting patterns and the local perceptions of social and historical and cultural ties.”

Because of this, Mr. Barnes said, “I hope that the municipalities of [WCCOG] would consider a further voluntary merger with all of the towns currently located in the Greater Bridgeport region.”

The new WCCOG now includes the old SWRPA towns of Weston, Wilton, New Canaan, Darien, Greenwich, Stamford, Norwalk, and Westport, and the old HVCEO towns of Ridgefield, Redding, Bethel, Bridgewater, Brookfield, Danbury, New Fairfield, New Milford, Newtown, and Sherman.

The Bridgeport region is made up of Bridgeport, Easton, Fairfield, Monroe, Stratford, and Trumbull.

Weston First Selectman Gayle Weinstein said she thinks it’s unlikely WCCOG will voluntarily merge with the Bridgeport region — GBRC had already submitted a letter to the OPM stating its desire to merge with the SWRPA before the consolidation with HVCEO was completed, and both SWRPA and HVCEO opted to merge only with each other.

Not set in stone

But the newly consolidated regions are still not set in stone. And just because WCCOG doesn’t merge voluntarily with the Bridgeport region doesn’t necessarily mean the merger might not happen anyway — at least with some of the towns in GBRC.

When the OPM completes its analysis of logical planning region designations, chief executive officers of any municipality may appeal the proposed re-designation by petitioning the OPM secretary. The secretary has 60 days after meeting with the legislative body of the petitioning municipality to make a final determination concerning the proposed re-designation.

If any town in the Bridgeport region were to petition to join WCCOG, it is unclear whether the secretary could unilaterally decide to add it to the Western region.

Onerous

“The whole thing has been a very onerous process,” Ms. Weinstein said, and it is far from over.

Weston still has to go through the process of an ordinance change in order to officially become part of WCCOG. A public hearing meant to inform the public, answer questions, and hear concerns is set for Thursday, Jan. 16, 2014, at 6:45 p.m. in the town hall Meeting Room.

And WCCOG members are still trying to work out the logistics of merging two distinct agencies with different organizational structures into one with yet another structure — SWRPA was a regional planning agency while HVCEO was a council of elected officials, and WCCOG will be a council of governments.

Ms. Weinstein said the group has made progress. A draft of bylaws was created and they have created subcommittees to work on things like office location, human resources, regional planning, and finance issues. Ms. Weinstein is on the human resources and the finance subcommittees.

WCCOG is hoping to complete its merger process by the end of the fiscal year (June 30, 2014), Ms. Weinstein said. By state statute, the re-designation of regions must be completed by Jan. 1, 2015.


THE END IS HERE...JUNE 5, 2013 PLUS A FEW DAY, WEEKS OR MONTHS...

SWITCHEROO - 6629 merged into 6706 - after car tax killed... "shall be restructured to form a regional council of governments (Regional Planning organizations now to be all COGs.  Starting with Section 250 of this "implimenter bill" 6706, you can find out  what a regional planning commission is ("may be created")




SWRPA
AFTER THE LONG SESSION OF 2013 IS COMPLETED, SAY GOOD-BY TO SWRPA DIRECTOR, WHO IS LEAVING, AND PERHAPS TO THE AGENCY ITSELF, SOON.  THE LEGISLATURE IS ENGAGED IN TURNING EVERY REGIONAL PLANNING ORGANIZATION (SHOWN ABOVE) INTO A C.O.G., AND MERGING THE 14 AGENCIES IN EXISTANCE NOW DOWN TO 5.  FAREWELL TO REGIONALISM AS IT HAS BEEN CONSTITUTED IN CT SINCE 1962.


WILL SWRPA RE-ENTER THE HOUSING DISCUSSION ANY TIME SOON?  IN A WAY, YES!!!

Job available in CT

Transit planners hope Mayor Malloy shapes Gov. Malloy
Mark Pazniokas, CT MIRROR
April 27, 2011

Transit planners and advocates admired Dannel P. Malloy as the mayor of Stamford, and they are optimistic about him as governor, despite--or perhaps because of--his inability to find the right transportation commissioner nearly four months after taking office.

"I'm glad he's taking time. We've had so many commissioners over the last half-dozen years, let's finally get the right one," said Floyd Lapp, executive director of the Southwestern Regional Planning Agency.

Lapp was a panelist Tuesday at a forum in Hartford on the development of affordable, energy-efficient homes near mass transit, such as the high-speed rail Malloy is promoting through central Connecticut.  Malloy was not represented at the forum sponsored by the Partnership  for Strong Communities, but most or all of the panelists had dealt with him as mayor, including the keynote speaker, developer and planner Jonathan F.P. Rose.

The Jonathan Rose Companies was the developer of Metro Green Apartments, an energy-efficient, transit-oriented development, or TOD in the jargon of planners, near the Stamford train station.  At a ribbon cutting in September 2009, Malloy stood with Rose and Timothy Bannon, the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority executive who now serves as his chief of staff.  Lapp praised Stamford and Norwalk as the two cities in his planning region that have embraced the wisdom of linking transit to development. Rose said transit-oriented development is good business.

"It's where the market wants to be," Rose said.

But the forum took place against a backdrop in Washington of diminishing federal funds for high-speed rail and urban development initiatives. A strong push from the governor will be needed to continue to keep the rail projects moving, panelists said.

"Good old-fashioned leadership in my opinion can overcome scarcity in resources and apathy in people," Lapp said.

One of Malloy's first major transportation decisions as governor was to back the construction of the New Britain-to-Hartford busway, which proponents hope will one day tie into a high-speed rail line from Springfield to Hartford to New Haven to New York.  The project has skeptics who question the cost and potential ridership, but none were evident Tuesday.

"Imagine New Britain 35 minutes from Manhattan through a combination of train and bus," said Curt Johnson, the program director for the Connecticut Fund for the Environment.

Connecticut's legislature approved $5 million in planning money for transit-oriented development in 2006, but another panelist, Kate Slevin of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, said the money was not released until Malloy became governor.  In an interview later Tuesday, Malloy said new investments in rail and other mass transit make little sense without comprehensive planning and a link to development.

"I'm certainly going to have a transit-oriented development approach to make sure we maximize the rail investment we will be making in the next few years," he said.

Malloy said he is looking for a national leader in transportation to be the commissioner of transportation, but he feels no pressure to move quickly with James Redeker as acting commissioner. Redeker has 30 years experience in mass transit in New Jersey.

"I've had two good acting commissioners," Malloy said. "This is a position where I don't want to take the wrong person."

Several panelists and audience members complained Tuesday that the DOT still is not an advocate of transit-oriented development or the best development partner. Malloy has said he wants a commissioner who can complete a transition that began under his predecessor.

"He wants to be very careful about who it is, somebody that has a national reputation because transportation shapes land development, and land development shapes transportation," Lapp said. "And he recognizes that we need somebody with a transit background."

Malloy said he had one candidate he was seriously interested in, but "for a number of reasons, it didn't work out."



Study to look at new East Side rail station

Stamford ADVOCATE
Martin B. Cassidy, Staff Writer
Published 12:40 p.m., Sunday, April 17, 2011

NEW YORK -- In the next year, feasibility studies to study the possible addition of rail stations in Bridgeport and Stamford will get under way using part of a $3.5 million federal planning grant meant to foster development around transit hubs, officials said Friday.

Bridgeport Mayor Bill Finch, Norwalk Mayor Richard Moccia and Connecticut planning agency officials joined New York members of the New York-Connecticut Sustainable Communities Initiative at the Regional Plan Assembly to accept the funding from U.S. Housing and Urban Development Regional Director Adolfo Carrion.

Carrion said the $100 million in grants for 45 different regions to encourage higher density development in cities is linked to environmental and resource concerns the projected population increases in the coming decades that will concentrate 81 percent of the country's population in cities.

"That growth is going to need to be vertical," Carrion said. "The city we knew of the last century, the industrial city that was the urban core is not the city we know now or in the future."

The study of a possible addition of a station at East Main Street in Stamford would be one of four studies costing between $200,000 and $300,000 to design or vet projects in Bridgeport, Norwalk, and New Haven to enhance mass-transit use, said South Western Region Metropolitan Planning Organization Executive Director Floyd Lapp.

A station at East Main Street in Stamford could be an alternative if downtown rail ridership outstrips capacity at the Stamford rail station, Lapp said.

The potential facility would also generate higher density housing along the Stamford Urban Transitway, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Friday.

"I think it is an important development," Malloy said. "It would be a boon for development in the South End that's already started and you should be able to put a station at that spot."

The Bridgeport station study would consider a station on the east side of the city that would encourage commercial and residential redevelopment on about 700 acres of land in the area, Finch said.

A more dynamic downtown will help attract more young professionals to Bridgeport, according to Donald C. Eversley, director of Bridgeport's Office of Planning and Economic Development, who said 25 to 38 year olds were the fastest growing group within Bridgeport's population because of the city's larger pool of cheaper housing than neighboring towns.

"Fairfield has three train stations and Bridgeport has only one with three times as many people," Finch said. "The bags of money come into the city on the trains."

The two other studies funded would:

Consider ways to change policies to regulations to help advance the Norwalk Redevelopment Agency's master plan to encourage redevelopment of and investment in the area around the South Norwalk railroad station;

Design a plan to phase in new parking structures around Union Station in New Haven to free up land closer to the facility for transit-oriented development.

"To remain globally competitive and broaden prosperity, we need to maintain and build around the region's transit network, our unique competitive advantage," Robert Yaro, president of the Regional Plan Association said. "From Babylon to Brooklyn, to Bridgeport, the goal of this partnership is to leverage the billions in state, local, and federal transit system investments by developing accessible jobs and mixed income housing in cities, village centers, and communities the system serves."


Regional economic development district seeks state approval
Martin B. Cassidy, Staff Writer, Greenwich TIME
Published: 07:16 p.m., Sunday, August 8, 2010

Municipal leaders from Greenwich to Weston are hoping state officials will recognize their coalition to seek federal money for public works, transportation and other economic development projects designed to promote responsible growth in the region.

Floyd Lapp, executive director for the Southwestern Regional Metropolitan Planning Agency, said a proposed economic development district including 14 Fairfield County cities and towns could be considered too small to be recognized under a 2010 state law requiring new economic districts to be composed of no fewer than 15 municipalities.

This year, the Connecticut Economic Resource Council completed a comprehensive economic development strategy for the 14-town group -- the Coastal Fairfield County One Coast Report, which includes a five-year plan that will need approval from state economic officials before the group can seek state-administered funding from the U.S. Economic Development Administration for regional projects, Lapp said.

"We've asked that they consider the 15-town limit as a guideline," Lapp said. "We think common sense will prevail, and since economic development doesn't have anything to do with the number of cities involved, we hope they will dispense a size requirement altogether."

Jim Watson, a spokesman for the state Department of Economic and Community Development, said the group's economic development strategy is being reviewed by the state; the plan has already been approved by the Economic Development Administration.

The state law, Public Act 168, calls for the state's 169 towns and cities to be grouped in a maximum of eight economic development districts.

"With the EDA-approved (plan) they are already eligible to apply for federal EDA funding," Watson said.

New Canaan First Selectman Jeb Walker, chairman of the Southwestern Regional Metropolitan Planning Organization, which represents municipalities including Stamford, Greenwich, Wilton, Norwalk and Darien, said the effort is an expansion of attempts already underway to consider combining emergency dispatch and other municipal services in lower Fairfield County.

"There are a lot of shared interests we have like promoting affordable housing and reducing traffic congestion that stymie the ability of businesses to operate efficiently that we can work on together," Walker said.

The economic strategy lays out a five-year list of broad goals for the region to move towards a variety of goals including reductions in automobile congestion, improved air quality, new residential and commercial development, and increasing the use of alternative energy.

The plan includes the $28 million South Norwalk Railroad Station Intermodal Project, to create a transit facility including an expanded bus terminal and pedestrian safety improvements, and the 350-unit Waypoint housing development on West Avenue in Norwalk as projects in need of federal funding.

Two other related projects are included in the plan -- the Lake Success Business Park in Bridgeport, which officials estimate would create more than 4,000 new jobs, and the Seaview Avenue Corridor Access Project, which would improve traffic flow between Interstate 95 and Route 1 in Bridgeport.

Norwalk Mayor Richard Moccia said he views the broader approach to regional cooperation to compete for funds will be positive, with better roads and utilities and corporate office space in Bridgeport, Stratford and other towns also benefiting lower Fairfield County.

"If the state is saying it will look favorably on that regional type approach I think it will be good," Moccia said. "People get leery about it because they think you are giving up on opportunities for the local economy."

Coalition seeks recognition of new regional district
Martin B. Cassidy, Staff Writer, Greenwich TIME (?)
Published: 09:56 p.m., Sunday, August 1, 2010

Municipal leaders from Greenwich to Weston are hoping state officials will recognize their coalition to seek federal money for public works, transportation and other economic development projects designed to promote responsible growth in the region.

Floyd Lapp, executive director for the Southwestern Regional Metropolitan Planning Agency, said a proposed economic development district including the 14 cities and towns could possibly be considered too small to be recognized under a 2010 state law that requires new economic districts to be composed of no fewer than 15 municipalities.

This year, the Connecticut Economic Resource Council completed a comprehensive economic development strategy for the 14-town group called the Coastal Fairfield County One Coast Report, which includes a five-year plan that will need approval from state economic officials before the group can seek state-administered funding from the U.S. Economic Development Administration for regional projects, Lapp said.

"We've asked that they consider the 15-town limit as a guideline," Lapp said. "We think common sense will prevail, and since economic development doesn't have anything to do with the number of cities involved, we hope they will dispense with a size requirement altogether."

Jim Watson, a spokesman for the Department of Economic and Community Development, said that the group's economic development strategy is being reviewed by the state, which is more likely given the plan has already been approved by the Economic Development Administration.

The state law, Public Act 168, calls for the state's 169 towns and cities to be grouped in a maximum of eight economic development districts.

"With the EDA-approved (plan) they are already eligible to apply for federal EDA funding," Watson said.

New Canaan First Selectman Jeb Walker, chairman of the Southwestern Regional Metropolitan Planning Organization, which represents towns including Stamford, Greenwich, Wilton, Norwalk and Darien, said the effort is an expansion of efforts already under way to consider combining emergency dispatch and other municipal services already taking place in lower Fairfield County.

"There are a lot of shared interests we have like promoting affordable housing and reducing traffic congestion that stymie the ability of businesses to operate efficiently that we can work on together," Walker said.

The economic strategy lays out a five-year list of broad goals for the region to move toward a variety of goals including reductions in automobile congestion, improved air quality, new residential and commercial development, and increasing the use of alternative energy.

The plan includes the $28 million South Norwalk Railroad Station Intermodal Project, to create a transit facility including an expanded bus terminal and pedestrian safety improvements, and the 350-unit Waypoint housing development on West Avenue in Norwalk as projects in need of federal funding.

Two other related projects that are included in the plan are two related projects: the Lake Success Business Park in Bridgeport, which officials estimate would create more than 4,000 new jobs, and the Seaview Avenue Corridor Access Project, which would improve traffic flow between Interstate 95 and Route 1 in Bridgeport.

Norwalk Mayor Richard Moccia said he views the broader approach to regional cooperation to compete for funds will be positive, with better roads and utilities and corporate office space in Bridgeport, Stratford and other towns also benefiting lower Fairfield County.

"If the state is saying it will look favorably on that regional type approach, I think it will be good," Moccia said. "People get leery about it because they think you are giving up on opportunities for the local economy."


W A T E R S H E D    S T U D I E S    A T    S W R P A   -   W A T C H     T H I S    W O R K S H O P    O N L I N E    H E R E

SWRPA WATERSHED STUDIES OF NON-POINT SOURCE POLLUTION IN REGIONAL RIVERS:  Recommendations phase coming...
SAUGATUCK (AND ITS WEST BRANCH), MIANUS AND FIVE-MILE;  NORWALK RIVER IN A SEPARATE STUDY - specific recommendations in problem areas of first three rivers to be made after field work to obtain original data.

2nd in Norwalk City Hall, near Concert Hall, April 28, 2011.

Workshop number two presentation/discussion was recorded (video available online).   Please remember that the room was darkened.
What transpired was a review of where we had left off last October.  The consultant requested feedback and direction on the Goals and Strategies.  Which he then received.  One participant from the Mianus suggested he would like to be able to react to a written set of specific strategies and goals.  Which the workshop then proceeded to do in the last 45 minute, by watershed, at separate tables.  About Town could not stay for the wrap up, which followed after 9pm.

Another participant from the Mianus asked about the model being used - is it more than what we can all get off the CLEAR website...answer YES.  It is a medium detail (the most this phase of the study can pay for) - and data collection from the specific problem areas in the field is going to be done next for those locations. 

Presently, data being input for timeline purposes is being checked for consistancy (USGS unfortunately not good enough - need 10 years of consistent reporting).  More comments to come.

Workshop number one at Rowayton Community Center, Oct. 23, 2010.




INTRODUCTORY MEETING FOR ALL FOUR WATERSHEDS
1st meeting in New Canaan...introduction to all rivers being studied, including Norwalk River.



Consensus: Norwalk River needs work
By KARA O'CONNOR, Hour Staff Writer
6-24-2010

WILTON

An update to the Norwalk River Watershed Action plan was presented at a South Western Planning Agency meeting on Thursday afternoon.

According to Nicole Davis, SWRPA regional manager, the purpose of the meeting was to implement the state Environment of Environmental Protection's nine elements of watershed planning to the existing action plan. The current watershed action plan was implemented in 1998 by the Norwalk River Watershed Initiative and updated in 2004, said Davis.

"We already have a Norwalk River Watershed Action Plan, but it needs to be updated again," said Davis. "The main point of this meeting is to present the nine goals and try and get some feedback."

According to Davis, these nine elements include: identifying the cause and source of pollution; estimating load reductions; creating a description of management measures; technical and financial assistance; public involvement and education; milestones during the project; performance; monitoring and evaluating effectiveness of implementation efforts; and creating a schedule.

Sri Rangarajan, a consultant working on the action plan from Hydroqual inc., a privately owned environmental firm, said he expects the new watershed management plan to be finished by January 2011.

"I think that this watershed action plan already has a lot of the elements in the old plan," said Rangarajan. "I have to say that the education and public involvement for the original plan is and has been in place. The watershed plan also has goals in place to reduce pollution and help the wildlife in the area."

Rangarajan said one problem he did notice was the water quality in the Norwalk River was not up to the highest standard.

"Right now, the Norwalk River is at a B level, which means that it is suitable for fish and wildlife," said Rangarajan. "We would like to be at AA, which would be suitable for drinking water."

According to Mike Law, co-chairman of the Norwalk River Watershed Association, one major problem the old action plan has not solved is development around the Norwalk River.

"All of the towns involved in this watershed action plan are short on revenue and are concerned with development," said Law. "But if we put restrictions on development around the area, I think we can live with that, if not it's going to impact the Norwalk River big time."

Norwalk resident and environmental activist Diane Lauricella, who helped with the current Watershed Action Plan, said she thinks if the towns gave developers the initiative to go green with planning, they would.

"I think that developers in the area want to look good to the towns they are working in," said Lauricella. "So if people put pressure on these developers to go green, I think they would do it."

According to Davis, a lot more work needs to be done with the new action plan.

"This meeting was an introduction to see the public's initial thoughts and reactions," said Davis. "We all agree that the Norwalk River needs work, and we are creating ways to do that."

According to Rangarajan, the next step will developing new goals and recommendations on how to implement the nine elements and will be discussed at the next SWRPA meeting in early September.


Plan to give first responders access to highway cameras fades to black
Martin B. Cassidy, Stamford ADVOCATE Staff Writer
Published: 10:21 p.m., Wednesday, May 5, 2010

A long running, intermittent effort to give police and firefighters direct access to images from a state highway camera system on Interstate 95 is dormant again as state transportation officials say they lack both permission and funding for a Web-based system for first responders.

Westport First Selectman Gordon Joseloff said access is long overdue and area leaders will urge the state Department of Transportation to find a way to fund the work.

The lack of access leaves area public safety workers at a disadvantage in planning how to deploy first responders to locations of car crashes and other emergencies, Joseloff said.

"Here we are in 2010 and we are dealing with 1995 technology," Joseloff said. "We should have long ago had access to the images to better respond to accidents and other problems."

Elected leaders in the South Western Region Metropolitan Planning Organization and other officials were surprised last month to learn the DOT wouldn't start a $2.5 million project to provide a website giving first responders access to the camera images.

The work is part of a $40 million package of work that would replace the cameras completely and give first responders statewide direct access to the images inside dispatch centers, DOT spokesman Kevin Nursick said.

"Due to funding constraints it is hard to put any of these projects on a timeline right now," Nursick said.

The DOT maintains a network of more than 100 traffic cameras along I-95. The images can be viewed publicly on the agency's website, but not in real time, and access to the images is sometimes blacked out by state police during serious accidents.

The $2.5 million project has faced delays because of disputes of how to fund it, DOT spokesman Kevin Nursick said, and currently the South Central Council of Governments, one of the state's 15 regional planning agencies, has refused to endorse the work.

"If funding were approved by all the regions today, it would take roughly one year to have an operational system for all first responders," Nursick said.

James Rode, transportation planner for the SCROG group, which represents 15 towns and cities including Milford, Madison, and New Haven said the group objected to a funding plan that included federal money reserved for congestion reduction projects meant to improve air quality.

Norwalk Fire Chief Denis McCarthy, a member of the state Department of Emergency Management and Homeland Security's executive committee for Region 1 including Fairfield County said he had expected the $2.5 million that police and firefighters need real-time access to the images to assess the appropriate size of a required response, traffic backups, and how many ambulances might be needed.

"It's important for the fire service because we can make better decisions about the type of equipment we send and which direction we send it," McCarthy said. "It's frustrating to learn that the interim solution won't be available for funding reasons."

Despite strong support to establish the system, the South Western Regional Planning Agency in 2008 voted not to endorse the work, asking that the DOT allow first responders including police and fire chiefs input on the design of the system.

South Western Regional Planning Agency Executive Director Floyd Lapp said that the DOT could have gotten the work done this year or in prior years if it had been more proactive in heeding concerns raised by planning groups.

"This should have been done a long time ago and is another instance of the DOT not moving quickly to address something that is a high priority," Lapp said. "It's one of those sad situations where you won't see something done until something terrible happens."




As a result of "2010 partisan food fight"...
SWRPA LEGISLATIVE MEETING 2011 USES NEW "HAND HELD" CAMERA METHOD;  DIRECTION BY M.P.O. STAFF...

Local lawmakers point partisan fingers over state spending
HERSAM-ACORN Press
Written by Maggie Caldwell
Thursday, 18 February 2010 00:00

A meeting that brought together local lawmakers to discuss regional collaboration on transportation, housing and other projects, turned into what U.S. Rep. Jim Himes called a “partisan food fight” over state spending.

The Southwestern Regional Planning Agency (SWRPA) and the Southwestern Regional Metropolitan Planning Organization (SWRMPO) held their annual joint legislative breakfast at City Hall in Norwalk on Jan. 26. The meeting was attended by the mayors and first selectmen from the eight towns and cities that make up Connecticut’s panhandle and the region’s state legislators along with Himes (D-4).

New Canaan first selectman and newly elected SWRMPO chairman Jeb Walker began the meeting by listing some of the region’s critical transportation issues. Maintaining a financial commitment to Metro North Railroad’s New Haven Line, constructing and improving of sound barriers along I-95, initiating measures to improve roadway safety and getting the state Department of Transportation to develop a strategy for state rail and busing services were among the priorities. Walker called these measures “logical and economical.”

“Many projects were recently eliminated. Of particular concern are the I-95, Route 7 and Route 15 interchange and the Route 7 widening project. The southwest region is home of most of the state’s congestion... And despite the economy and budget shortfalls, it is imperative not to cut here,” Walker said.

Other priorities beyond transportation include avoiding cutting municipal assistance programs such as Town Aid for Roads (TAR), and Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP), expanding affordable housing and promoting smart growth, and improving government efficiency through legislative action that would have minimal fiscal impact, including providing immunity against personal liability to zoning enforcement officers. Walker also stressed that one of the most important actions the legislators could take in Hartford would be to do away with unfunded mandates.

He noted that residents of SWRPA’s eight towns and cities make up 10% of the state’s population, but pay a third of the state’s taxes and receive far less back in state aid.

Debate over the deficit

After going through the priorities, the floor was opened for lawmakers to comment and add their own priorities. The talk quickly turned to the state’s financial woes after Norwalk Mayor Dick Moccia relayed some crucial numbers to consider in light of the state’s projected half billion dollar deficit.

“Over a six year period, we’ve had a 19.6% inflation rate in the state of Connecticut. During that same time salaries in the state went up 44%t, debt service went up 41%, health care went up 101%, health care active was up 73.6%, pensions are up 76%, Medicaid is up 39.3%. Interestingly, the only increase that was close to inflation at 24.7% was ECS (Education Cost-Sharing) funding,” Moccia said.

State Sen. Toni Boucher (R-26), who represents parts of New Canaan, Weston and Wilton, noted that in addition to the rising costs in the state, the population has remained flat.

“The largest line item, similar to municipalities, is salaries, wages and benefits,” Boucher said. Unlike the towns and cities which have borne the brunt of the economic downturn by making cuts and freezing salaries to keep spending down, the state has not managed to balance its budget, she added.

Peggy Reeves (D-143) who represents part of Wilton and Norwalk, said she shared the concern with her fellows in the legislature that unfunded liabilities such as pensions are a “ticking time bomb” but did note that the state has instituted reduced benefits for new hires. She also said things could have been far worse.

“It is frankly unheard of in difficult economic times to reduce taxes, and we did,” Reeves said. “We reduced taxes for many people in our areas. I think we need to focus on the fact that we only raised taxes on a small percentage of people.”

Wilton First Selectman William Brennan challenged her statement, saying that the state is heading to a precipice.

“I don’t know how it could have been a lot worse,” Brennan said. “The problem we’ve got is we haven’t done enough. To compare with other states, we are right at the top of the list. We’ve got to start working together. We’ve got to start doing something different or we are in serious trouble.”

He added that the deficit here is worse than in California and the problems are fundamental.

“Our state is out of control,” he said. “When revenues are not coming in, you’ve got to do something to expenditures.”

State Sen. Scott Frantz (R-36) who represents parts of Greenwich, New Canaan and Stamford, pointed out that not only are population growth and job growth at “net zero”, the state “has lost at least 350,000 very solid tax payers that supported the increasing cost structure.”

“Even though the population is flat, that population has changed,” Frantz said. “We’ve lost a lot of wealth.”

Likening the state to a ship heading towards an iceberg, Frantz argued that only “one side of the aisle has tried everything in the book.”

Greenwich State Rep. Lile Gibbons (R-150) noted that so much of the state’s budget goes to health and human services in some form or another, and that while there are needy people in the state, Hartford shouldn’t squash “the economic engine of Connecticut.”

“We need more transportation funding, more infrastructure,” she said. “If you hurt what is the viable source of revenue for state, you hurt the whole state.”

State Rep. John Hetherington (R-125) who represents part of New Canaan and Wilton, said that with no natural resources in Connecticut, the state’s citizens must rely on their own ingenuity and creativity to create revenue. He argued that the legislature should eliminate an environment that is “hostel to wealth creation,” which he said is the factor driving people out of the state.

“Our tax structure is such that 10% of taxpayers pay about 80% of taxes... No wonder we’re losing population,” he said.

“We’ve got to cut spending. We can’t tax way out nor borrow our way out,” Walker said.

State Rep. Bruce Morris (D-140) said the issue is more complex than just slashing funding to programs.

“Normally the rhetoric of these conversations is this side is raising taxes, this side wants to make cuts... There are certain needs that the government needs to step in and take care of... Yes, we need to make cuts, but they need to be strategic. Don’t cut for sake of cutting,” he said.

Mr. Morris used the example of Connecticut Commission on Children, which the state was considering getting rid of, but the commission did its own due diligence, finding federal funding to keep it operational, raising $11 million this summer.

“It is an agency that is proactive,” Morris said. “I don’t think we need to make this a Democrat or Republican issue. The Democrats when this was proposed more than anything else, wanted to make sure education wouldn’t be cut because it would affect property taxes. We were not supporting cuts to towns. To go forward, we need to all come together and get aid from Washington... We need to take a look at the fact that people at the lower end of the spectrum, we need to make certain we are protected.”

“I think it is right for people making $250,000 or more to be taxed,” he said. “I’d rather do that than do a cut on someone who is getting $20,000 or $30,000 a year.”

With the meeting winding down, Himes said that while he had learned a lot about the “disfunctionality of Hartford,” he was leaving with little idea as to what to pursue for the region in Washington. SWRPA Chairman Paul Settelmeyer said he would prepare a concise memo for Himes with the region’s priorities.

The meeting took place the day after President Barack Obama announced plans to freeze the federal budget, an announcement that Himes said will “radically change the fiscal mood in Congress.” He added, however, that there “seems to be an understanding of the need to get infrastructure funded.”


Himes scolds local leaders
By CHASE WRIGHT, Hour Staff Writer
January 26, 2010

The South Western Regional Planning Agency met Tuesday in Norwalk to discuss future funding for public transportation, municipal aid and housing during the worst economic downturn in recent history.

However, a political blame-game between state representatives from around Fairfield County consumed the majority of the morning meeting at Norwalk City Hall, and Congressman Jim Himes, D-4, was quick to chide both sides for engaging in a "bipartisan food-fight."

"The meeting was to be adjourned a few minutes ago, and I've learned a lot about what I guess I would characterize as the disfunction of Hartford," Himes said as the meeting neared its 9 a.m. close.

"I'm about to walk out of this meeting, and I have no idea what I should be advocating for in Washington with respect to transportation, with respect to housing," he said. "I've seen a pretty good bipartisan food-fight here, but that was probably not the objective of this meeting."

Connecticut legislators clashed for months over how best to fill an $8 billion state budget gap, before Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell allowed a Democratic-favored proposal to become law in September without her signature.

That budget is already $500 million in deficit, and state representatives plan to meet in Hartford in the coming weeks to make more cuts.

Following Himes' food-fight comment, state Rep. Larry Cafero, R-142, grabbed his belongings and stormed out of the community room.

Cafero, who addressed the audience immediately before Himes, pleaded for bipartisan solutions, but also criticized Democrats in the General Assembly for passing a budget that called for higher taxes and cuts to municipalities.

"We're in deep trouble," Cafero said frankly. "There are five months left in the fiscal year, and we're a half a billion dollars in deficit."

Along with state Rep. Terri Wood, R-141, Cafero, the House minority leader, chastised House Speaker Christopher Donovan, D-84, who last week launched the Blue Ribbon Commission on Municipal Opportunities and Regional Efficiencies. The 45-member commission seeks to identify efficiencies and save money for municipalities. It has no Republicans legislators among its ranks.

"If we're going to work in a bipartisan fashion, then damn it, let's do it. Lets stop talking about it, and let's do it," Cafero said.

The purpose of Tuesday's meeting wasn't to rally support for a bipartisan solution to the state's budget deficit. Rather, the meeting -- organized by the regional planning agency SWRPA -- was intended to address funding transportation initiatives that effect Southwestern Connecticut.

SWRPA chairman and New Canaan First Selectman Jeb Walker said avoiding cuts to municipal assistance programs, funding improvements to the New Haven Rail Line, installing sound barriers along Interstate 95 and implementing more stringent roadway safety guidelines were of vital importance.

"Of particular concern are I-95, the Route 7 and (Route) 15 interchange and the Route 7 widening project," he said. "While we are under very tight fiscal constraints, the Southwestern region is home to most of the state's congestion and desperately needs solutions."

Himes said there has been a "radically changed fiscal mood" in Congress, and states may not see the same level of federal support they've seen since the stimulus package was implemented.

"Fairfield County in particular is the economic engine of the state and if you accept that as your premise, it seems to me that we do not get our adequate share," Himes said.

"As much as we are going into a period of pretty intense fighting over fiscal issues, the extent to which we speak as one voice, and point out what we all know to be true, which is that this is where the money comes from, we have a pretty compelling case to be made," he said.


Route 1 in Connecticut treacherous to walkers, report says
By Martin B. Cassidy, Stamford ADVOCATE STAFF WRITER
Published: 08:01 p.m., Wednesday, January 6, 2010

More pedestrians died on U.S. Route 1 between Stamford and Guilford than on any other Connecticut street in the past three years, a sign that the state road need more improvements to reduce the dangers, a transportation group has concluded in a new report.

The Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a Manhattan-based nonprofit group that lobbies for decreased automobile use, found that of 94 pedestrian deaths statewide between 2006 and 2008, eight were on the 70-mile stretch of Route 1 from Stamford to Guilford, said the report released Wednesday.

The report analyzed statistics from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The second-most-dangerous state road was U.S. Route 5, which had six deaths during that period, according to the report. The route begins in New Haven and runs north, roughly parallel to Interstate 95.

"Even though progress is being made, the majority of these pedestrian fatalities are occurring on arterial roads designed to move cars through," Ryan Lynch, executive director of the group, said. "This happens at the expense of pedestrian safety and livable areas, and Route 1 has to be redesigned to accommodate pedestrians and other users."

Locally, Bridgeport had the most total pedestrian fatalities with six, followed by Norwalk with five and Stamford with 4, according to the report. New Canaan and Greenwich had three each, and Darien two.

The report recommends amending the state's Complete Streets Act to require the Connecticut Department of Transportation to spend more on bicycle and pedestrian improvements, and use a larger share of federal highway safety and congestion mitigation funds toward such improvements.

Pedestrian infrastructure improvements are considered for all road project designs based on feasibility, and can include straightening curves, widening or striping shoulders, building sidewalks and improving crosswalks, DOT spokesman Kevin Nursick said.

However Nursick said many fatal accidents take place because of human error.

From 2006 to 2008, there were 220 accidents involving pedestrians on Route 1 between Greenwich and the Rhode Island border, of which law enforcement found the pedestrian at fault 117 times, according to DOT records. Of 10 fatal accidents on the Post Road in that time, eight were caused by pedestrian error.

"The remaining accidents were caused by the driver," Nursick said. "... Again, infrastructure improvements and enhancements are indeed important, but on a fundamental level, regardless of improvements, these accidents will continue to happen until pedestrians and motorists alike obey very basic rules of the road."

The Complete Streets law, which went into effect in October, requires Connecticut to use at least 1 percent of transportation funds on pedestrian and bicycle improvements. The law also provides for an 11-member Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Board, which will analyze potential pedestrian and bicycle safety improvements and advise transportation officials on projects.

David Kooris, vice president of the Regional Plan Association, a transportation advocacy group, said traffic calming along state-administered roads would improve safety for pedestrians as well as increase capacity of roads by easing stop-and-go traffic hold-ups.

"The interesting thing about Route 1 is that it is simultaneously trying to play the role of regional connector and local main street," Kooris said. "Even if you were really aggressive about traffic calming on Tresser Boulevard from where it meets Broad Street toward Greenwich, the increased travel time for drivers is so insignificant compared to the benefit for pedestrians."

Alex Karman, a senior transportation planner for the South Western Regional Planning Agency, said that improved sidewalks and crosswalks at accident-prone intersections in Stamford, including East Main Street and Lafayette Street, and Tresser Boulevard and Washington Boulevard, would make it easier for residents to reach train and bus stations.

The agency, which does transportation planning, is conducting two federally funded traffic-congestion studies of the Route 1 corridor. One will consider pedestrian hazards from Tresser Boulevard at Greenwich Avenue west to Greenwich, and another will focus on Darien, Karman said.

There is also a study of Route 7 from Norwalk to Danbury, Karman said.

Stamford Traffic Engineer Mani Poola said pedestrian safety has improved citywide in recent years, especially on Washington Boulevard, because of "countdown" crosswalk lights that display for pedestrians the number of seconds until a traffic light turns green.

"I don't think we've had any recent fatalities on Route 1 in Stamford," Poola said, "though I do feel we need to do the studies to decide what could possibly be done to make it safer."


Local stimulus highway funds in limbo
Stamford ADVOCATE
By Martin B. Cassidy, STAFF WRITER
Posted: 06/12/2009 09:20:26 PM EDT
Updated: 06/13/2009 02:53:23 AM EDT

A stop-and-go effort of navigating through the federal process controlling use of federal highway funds under President Barack Obama's February stimulus package could likely prevent Fairfield County municipalities from beginning $9.2 million in proposed paving projects until next spring.

This week at a meeting held at the Norwalk Transit District headquarters, New Canaan First Selectman Jeb Walker told state Department of Transportation Deputy Commissioner Jeff Parker that he could start paving roads using the $1 million in federal money set aside for New Canaan in short order, if only administrators could get through the process governing use of the money.

While resigned to following the detailed federal process administered by the DOT, Walker lamented the process is keeping the money from having an immediate economic effect.

"In New Canaan, we've been paving roads for 100 years," Walker said. "We know how to pave a road. I have construction companies in New Canaan that need work now, but at the rate we're going, we'll have asphalt plants close and create no new jobs this year."

At the meeting, local leaders and public works chiefs from the six affected towns questioned Parker about the lengthy procedure needed to get final approval to begin the paving projects financed under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

The money was approved in March, and officials said that as the summer progresses, hopes are fading to get the relatively small projects finished before construction season ends in November.

Most of the towns requested money for only paving projects because the recovery act legislation required towns to present "shovel-ready" projects, and the straightforward road improvements were the only work they had planned that met the criteria, Norwalk Public Works Director Hal Alvord said.

"It was my anticipation ever since this thing started the money would be channeled through the state departments, and they would follow the process of how it is always done," Alvord said. "But there is no language in the recovery law that creates a way to get the money to municipalities quickly."

Parker said the DOT has scheduled a round of meetings with affected municipalities -- Stamford, Darien, Greenwich, New Canaan, Norwalk Westport, and Weston -- to expedite the process, which is required by federal law.

The DOT's Bureau of Engineering and other administrators can try to focus on the applications, Parker said, but they also are overseeing $202 million in highway and other transportation projects funded by the stimulus.

"Like it or not, this is the process," Parker said. "We can try to streamline the process as we can, while still being compliant."

Typically, municipalities are able to expedite paving projects by adding work to contracts already in place and using standard specifications, Norwalk Mayor Richard Moccia said. He also said the process was bogging down his public works engineers who were refining the proposals.

"The problem is I don't have an engineer sitting at his desk with his thumb in his ears who can spend all his time just on this," Moccia said. "Realistically, I can't see getting the bids out until Thanksgiving."

Floyd Lapp, executive director for the South Western Regional Planning Agency, said that he held out hope that with some diligent effort between the DOT and municipalities, the projects could begin by the end of the summer.

But Lapp said it was a difficult challenge to prepare and propose projects for stimulus money in the month and a half provided earlier this year. He said that if money for roadway projects had been funneled directly to the cities and towns, the stimulus would have had more of an economic effect sooner.

"A paving project is a very local project, but the towns feel they have been saddled with a variety of bureaucratic requirements that take a lot of time," Lapp said. "It's a shame because 'shovel-ready' shouldn't mean going from the spring of 2009 to sometime next year."


State debates the goal of tolls: Is aim to generate revenue or push mass transit?
Stamford ADVOCATE
By Martin B. Cassidy, Staff Writer
Posted: 02/10/2009 06:48:13 PM EST

A southwestern Connecticut planning group is asking state officials to consider tolls more as a way to get cars off the highways and less as a source of revenue.

The state is doing a $1 million study of electronic tolling and congestion pricing, and members of the South Western Regional Planning Agency want it to focus on congestion pricing, which charges higher toll fees during rush hour and aims to entice commuters to take mass transit instead. But the state wants the study to show how tolls can make money.

Most options in the study -- creating tolled lanes parallel to highways that would allow drivers to travel faster, tolling cars at state borders and charging drivers based on miles traveled -- may generate revenue but don't reduce traffic, SWRPA said.

Weston First Selectman Woody Bliss and SWRPA Executive Director Floyd Lapp sent a letter to the state Transportation Strategy Board, Gov. M. Jodi Rell and Transportation Commissioner Joseph Marie asking that the study, now under way, be reworked. The strategy board hired Cambridge Systematics of Massachusetts to conduct the study.  Now, for instance, the study includes an option to toll just trucks, but that has limited value because many truckers travel before or after rush hour to avoid backups, Bliss said.

"The point is not to generate money but to create incentives for people not to travel on the road when it is busiest," he said. "Border tolling has nothing to do with congestion pricing, and the same with truck-only tolling."

Members of the Transportation Strategy Board are expected to discuss the study at 9 a.m. Thursday, Feb. 19, in the Connecticut Legislative Office Building, 300 Capitol Ave, Hartford.  Once approved, the board, appointed by the governor, could make recommendations to Rell for action later this year.  Members of the board did not respond to calls Tuesday.  Philip Smith, undersecretary for the state Office of Policy & Management, said the study is meant to outline how congestion pricing and electronic tolling can make money for the state.

"We have said from the outset it would look at both congestion pricing and looking at tolls as a source of revenue," Smith said.

Lapp and Bliss have asked for additional public hearings on the report before the board votes on it and for a draft report to be distributed to members of a technical advisory committee.  Tolls were removed from Interstate 95 in 1985, and from the Merritt Parkway in 1987 after an accident at a toll interchange in Stratford in 1983 that killed seven people.  Rell has said it is unlikely she would support a return to tolls.

Lapp said the study should incorporate more input from municipal planners.

"If they took into account our local expertise and knowledge, they would realize that the issue is congestion pricing," he said. "They've thrown out many, many options that raise all sorts of other issues that muddy what are the already muddy waters of a controversial topic."

DOT spokesman Kevin Nursick said the agency will evaluate the options when the study is complete.

"The department is looking forward to seeing the results of the study as well as participating in dialogue on the issue," Nursick said.




"TOD" - how  does it work in Southwestern CT?
Click here for PDF of Executive Director's article in "Stamford Business Outlook" (January 2008). Please add "energy efficient usage" to the last sentence of this article--these closing words the victim of over-zealous editing.
Development rolls with transit links: Conference looks at trends
Stamford ADVOCATE   
By Mark Ginocchio, Staff Writer
Published September 19 2007

STAMFORD - When New Jersey Transit officials in the early 1990s approached suburban communities endorsing an increase in transit-oriented development around train stations, there was so much outrage that the agency's explanatory booklet was "banned" in Trenton, the state capital.

But now that transit-oriented development has helped revitalize communities such as South Orange, N.J., with a mix of housing and retail near a major railroad station, NJ Transit's philosophies are no longer blacklisted, and other states are looking at the Garden State for inspiration.

"I guess we were a couple of years ahead of the curve," said Mark Gordon, former real estate director for NJ Transit and current president of Urbana Associates, a New Jersey real estate consulting group.

Gordon was one of several speakers yesterday at the South Western Regional Planning Agency's transit-oriented development conference at the University of Connecticut's Stamford campus.

More than 150 planners, elected officials and business leaders attended the conference and heard about development opportunities that are a comfortable five- to 10-minute walk from train stations and bus depots.

Gordon and Nedd Codd, manager of plan development at Massachusetts' Executive Office of Transportation, gave examples of transit-oriented development in neighboring states, while Connecticut state officials and developers from Stamford and Georgetown discussed progress throughout the state.

"We have to utilize our land more efficiently," said Joan McDonald, state commissioner of economic and community development and the conference's keynote speaker. "We can reduce sprawl, preserve open space and reduce traffic."

Stamford Mayor Dannel Malloy talked about a number of projects planned and proposed for the city's downtown and South End.

Antares Investment Partners' 80-acre development in Stamford's South End will include a mix of housing, offices and retail, all within a 10-minute walk of the train station.

"You could probably go a whole week without having to get in your car," Ted Ferrarone, Antares vice president, said about the company's plan.

To improve access to the South End, the city has proposed raising the clearance of railroad underpass at Atlantic Street and widening the road underneath. The city also is also the Urban Transitway - a mile-long link between the city's East Side and its railroad station.

Stamford could be more accessible if a train station were built on East Main Street, between the downtown and Springdale stations, Malloy said.

"In essence it's the missing tooth," the mayor said of the station. "It would open up the area."

Though transit-oriented development is not a new concept, there are not a lot of finished examples for Connecticut to follow, said Floyd Lapp, SWRPA's executive director.

"That's because it's presumably the wave of the future," Lapp said after the conference.

The South Orange development was a major triumph that took years to evolve, Gordon said. When first proposed, the plans were unacceptable to state leaders in Trenton.

In 1996, 900 people used the South Orange station a day. But 10 years later, with a new retail development in place, ridership jumped to 2,600 riders.

The revitalized station has hundreds of additional parking spots, a neighboring performing arts center and busy retail shops, including a new Starbucks, Gordon said.

"A few years ago, South Orange was considered too edgy for Starbucks," he said.

Massachusetts is focusing on improving transit-oriented development in a suburban ring of communities around Boston, Codd said.

To do this, the state is looking to improve its regular bus service with better connections to train stations, and it's looking to deploy Bus Rapid Transit - express bus service that often makes inter-city stops, similar to a commuter railroad.

"The widely spaced stations create something that looks like a transit station, not just a bus stop," Codd said.

Planners of a new transit-oriented development near the Branchville train station discovered their plans had significant challenges.

While proposing to rebuild the 55-acre Gilbert and Bennett Wire Mill site in Georgetown into a mixed-use commercial and residential development near the train station, developer Steve Soler discovered a major communications problem among state officials.

"We were going to meetings, and they were handing each other their business cards," said Soler, president of Georgetown Land Development. "That's not a good sign. That means they had not been talking to each other."


Agency promotes transit oriented development to planners, officials
Norwalk HOUR
Jerremy Soullierre
September 19, 2007

As plans are in the works for compact, mixed-use developments to be built within walking distance of train stations in a few of the state's communities, the region's planning agency Thursday looked to encourage area planners and officials to think about doing the same in their cities and towns.

The South Western Regional Planning Agency invited a panel of developers and state officials familiar with the building concept, called transit-oriented development, to speak on the topic at the University of Connecticut: Stamford Campus. The aim of the conference was to give the region's planners and officials an understanding of the benefits of such developments, said Floyd Lapp, executive director of SWRPA.

"We believe in transit-oriented development because there's not much more accessible land available in the state," he said before the conference. "We have to build more compact developments to save some space and promote many modes of transportation (besides the car) — the train, bikes, buses."

Transit-oriented development, which puts residences, stores and restaurants within a five to seven minute walk to a train station, works to reduce vehicular traffic in an area and dependence on fossil fuels, said Joan McDonald, commissioner of the state's Department of Economic and Community Development. It also helps revitalize neighborhoods, reduce sprawl, and increase affordable housing and business opportunities, said the conference's keynote speaker.

"Transit-oriented development is critical to this state," McDonald told the roughly 100 area officials and residents in attendance. "It will help us utilize land more effectively."

In order for such developments to succeed, however, she said, they need a good working relationship of public and private partners, including federal and state agencies, developers, municipalities, and chambers of commerce.

Mark Gordon, a former real estate director for New Jersey Transit who has helped establish transit-oriented developments in that state, said the ridership at the train station in South Orange, N.J., more than doubled after mixed-use development was established nearby in the late-1990's. The South Orange development, which took what once were empty storefronts in the downtown area near the station and created new retail spaces for new tenants, also gave new life to the neglected downtown, he said.

"Ten years ago South Orange was considered edgy for Starbucks — now it has a Starbucks, and it's a symbol of revitalization," Gordon told the crowd.

Also among the day's speakers was Ted Ferrarone, vice president of Anteres Investment Partners, which is working to transform 80 acres just south of the Stamford train station into a mixed-use development. Once finished, the development will offer six million square feet of residential space, Ferrarone said, including 4,000 housing units, a number of stores and restaurants and a hotel.

"Our goal is to build a 24-hour live, work and play destination," he told the conference attendees.

Some of the other transit-oriented developments in the early stages in the state include three in Norwalk — Wall St., West Ave., and the Reed-Putnam project in South Norwalk — and one on the former Gilbert & Bennett wire mill site in Georgetown.

Both the state Senate and House of Representatives, scheduled to meet this Thursday, will be voting on $267.5 million in transportation bond items proposed for 2008, which is expected to include roughly $10 million for transit-oriented development projects statewide, said Albert Martin, deputy commissioner of the state's Department of Transportation.

"What's being developed (in the state) are living, working and leisure time spaces within a walking radius of transportation hubs," he said between speakers. "We see this as a way of continuing economic growth and improving the quality of life."

Leigh Grant, a member of the Norwalk Planning Commission who attended the conference, said that building mixed-use properties near train stations is the planning "strategy of the future."

"We have to stop sprawl," she said during one of the conference's breaks.

However, transit-oriented developments should not simply demolish everything in their wake, Grant said. Planners need to ensure that properties with historical value are still standing after such developments are completed, she said.

"You can't just tear everything down," Grant said.

She also said municipalities and developers need financial incentives from the state to undertake such projects.

Westport First Selectman Gordon Joseloff, who also attended the conference, said he agrees there are benefits to transit-oriented development, but he also noted that the state doesn't have enough train cars for the passengers who are currently using the railways.

"There's tradeoffs," he said. "Everything just takes time. We need to take baby steps."



Facing Economic Turmoil, Fairfield County Seeks Resilience

Westport NEWS
By Gary Jeanfaivre
Article Launched: 09/14/2007 10:17:56 AM EDT

STAMFORD -- Traffic poses a problem to Fairfield County, both for the economy and general quality of life issues including the environment and personal time spent with family or otherwise. The ill effects can throw a whole day off.

As an example, The Fairfield County Economic Conference, held last Friday at the University of Connecticut's Stamford campus, was forced to start nearly a half-hour late because a number of people were stuck in traffic on the infamous stretch of Interstate 95.

Traffic has become so bad that, along with a reputation for beautiful coastal communities and pristine wooded areas divided by stonewalls and rivers, as well as a bubbly melting pot of social and cultural offerings, Fairfield County is equally known as traffic alley.

"Congestion adds to the cost of doing business," said Joan McDonald, commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD). "It's something we have to grapple with."

Yet traffic is only one of many challenges facing the county, and in turn, the state economy.

According to the Connecticut Business and Industry Association's Blum Shapiro survey, released a day before the conference, Connecticut's companies see the overall cost of conducting business in the state as the greatest challenge before them. And for the fourth straight year, the rising cost of healthcare benefits was ranked the top cost concern among respondents to the survey.

Other significant cost concerns include payroll (26 percent), energy (11 percent) and workers' compensation (9 percent).

It is no surprise, too, seeing as Connecticut is among the most taxed states in the nation, that taxes are also a major concern for businesses, with executives surveyed stating that they don't see enough value in the money paid to the government.

The cover illustration of the Fall 2007 issue of The Connecticut Economy, a University of Connecticut quarterly review, features a stack of three hardback books floating on an all-white background with bindings reading: Housing, Traffic, Immigration. Stated below the books: "Hot Titles for Fall: Traffic Nightmares, Housing Pangs, Immigration Angst."

National and international impacts -- from the U.S. Labor Department's report of a loss of 4,000 jobs in the month of August to an all-time high number of foreclosures, on to unrest in countries controlling key markets and massive toy and food recalls -- are also felt in the county.

Delos R. Smith, a principal of Delos Smith & Associates, focused on foreclosures and oil prices during his remarks, drawing laughter from the 75 to 100 business people in attendance when he said the only qualification mortgage lenders had when approving home loans was "their ability to breathe."

Of particular importance, the panel of economists said, is that there is still a massive amount of unannounced debt, accumulated by hedge funds and other financial market risk-takers that bought the bundled debt of foreclosures from mortgage companies as an investment. The losses are likely to be felt in the county.

"We can have issues here even if the nation doesn't," said Rae Rosen, senior economist and assistant vice president of the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

While there may be no shortage of challenges ahead, spirits are still high and state and county businesses are poised for future prosperity.  Most Connecticut companies were profitable in 2006 and are optimistic about their prospects for 2007, the Blum Shapiro survey found.

Aerospace, chemical and metal manufacturing sectors are "bright spots" in the state and county economies, experts said, citing the importance of fostering entrepreneurship to supply two of the state's key companies, Pfizer and Sikorsky.

Companies are also reinvesting profits, hiring new employees and actively seeking savings, with 75 percent of respondents to the Blum Shapiro survey undertaking steps to reduce energy use -- through the replacement of older light bulbs and HVAC systems with new, energy-efficient ones -- up from 50 percent two years ago.

"It's possible to be pro-environment and pro-business," McDonald said.

On hand to discuss the critical role that energy plays in today's high tech world was Raymond P. Necci, president and chief operating officer of Connecticut Light & Power Co.

"Electricity powers this state's economy," Necci said. "Unreliable is unacceptable."

And so the utility giant is investing heavily in upgrading the distribution system in the county, funded in large part by rate increases to customers, who can expect an additional $5 to $7 tacked on to monthly bills. Necci cited the power upgrade from Bethel to Norwalk as one example of a critical improvement.

And he said that surveys have shown that reliability is more important to businesses than price, and that investment in distribution should remove some federal congestion charges from customers' electricity bills.

Necci said it's easy for folks to oppose a rate increase, yet he feels the case for investment and rate increases is compelling. "There's really no other alternative," he added.

A graph showing the energy investment's correlation to jobs and economic growth revealed a somewhat negative impact initially followed by long-term prosperity.

Charting the path forward, many economists view collaboration between business and state universities and colleges as a key component to creating a qualified workforce to replace the retiring baby boomer generation. It was no coincidence, then, that the conference was held below "edgelab," a unique graduate program where students work with General Electric professionals and professors on real business projects.

Highlighting the successes of edgelab were Christopher Kalish, GE director and chief technology officer of edgelab, and James R. Marsden, head of the Department of Operations and Information Management at UConn and the director of edgelab.

Traffic, Housing and Immigration

"Traffic is a consequence of economic growth," said Steven P. Lanza, executive editor of The Connecticut Economy.

Posing a question of whether the effects of traffic are such that it places a "chokehold" on the economy, Lanza answered, "The evidence doesn't seem to suggest that."

Nonetheless, one way to deal with traffic is to work from home, and more and more businesses are offering employees the opportunity to do so, thanks to technology and a potential cost savings that is beginning to be documented.

The phenomenon is called telecommuting, and approximately 9 percent of employees in the state are participating. In the last five years alone, there has been an 86 percent increase in telecommuters in the state, which is the equivalent of taking 60,000 cars off the road, according to telecommutect.com.

Yet people can't work from home in Fairfield County if they can't afford one. Despite a fairly cold national real estate market, housing prices remain high in the county. In terms of median housing costs, Connecticut is ranked the eighth highest in the nation. That ranking drops to 14, though, when related to income.

Rosen, gesturing to charts displayed on a large screen, said there has been a net out-flow of approximately 51,000 domestic households within the state. "It's that many of our children can't afford to live here," she said.

While many municipalities offer density bonuses to developers that build affordable housing units, creating the much-needed stock is not always easy. Houses may sell for less if property taxes were higher, while property values would likely increase if property taxes are reduced. "It's sort of a tricky business," Lanza said.

Immigration is also a complex business, with a great deal of uncertainty floating about as reform is debated on the national level. The number of illegal immigrants in the U.S. is estimated at 11 million, and given Connecticut's close proximity to New York City, the state certainly has its share.

There has been a recent surge in immigrants to Connecticut, both legally and otherwise. "We're seeing it at historic levels in Connecticut and throughout the nation," Lanza said.

Instead of posing a problem, though, the state's immigrants could be part of the solution to businesses' demand for employees. Lanza said immigrants in Connecticut tend to be better educated than in other parts of the country. "They're coming here to work," Rosen said.

Income inequality was another topic of discussion last Friday. Connecticut currently stands in the middle ground when it comes to income inequality, with a ranking of .48. Zero is perfect equality and 1 is perfect inequality.

Lanza said the inequality was not because the poor people are doing worse, it's because "the rich are doing extremely well."

Looking to the future, Lanza said his best guess is that the economy will slow down through next year, and then begin to pick back up again thereafter.

"All's fair in love, war and economic development," McDonald said of the highly competitive market. "We're never standing still. We can't. If we stand still, we lose."



University of Connecticut is a good background link for economic aspect of planning:
http://ctsdc.uconn.edu/

Connecticut Population Is Declining;  17,000 loss recorded in the last two years 

DAY
By Associated Press   
Published on 2/5/2007

Hartford (AP) — Connecticut is once again losing residents to other states, ending a brief period of more robust population growth.

The state lost almost 17,000 more people than moved in between 2005 and 2006, according to the latest Census estimate. An influx of about 14,300 residents from Puerto Rico and foreign countries helped keep Connecticut from a net loss in population, as happened in the early 1990s.

The Census Bureau estimates that Connecticut's population of 3.5 million grew by 4,108 in the year that ended last June 30. State officials, who say the federal estimate understates the birthrate, pegged the increase at more than 9,000.

The two numbers represent a continuing decline from annual growth estimates in the mid-20,000 range from 2000 to 2003.

“The 2006 number was a confirmation of a significant trend,” said economist Ron Van Winkle of West Hartford. “We may not see significant growth in jobs or population in the state of Connecticut for the foreseeable future.”

The Census estimate does not track the source or destination of people coming and going, but data compiled by the Internal Revenue Service indicate that the largest share — about 40 percent — of those who leave Connecticut head for the South. The next most common destination is elsewhere in the Northeast, followed by the West and Midwest.

Two age groups appear to be most severely affected by the declining population growth: those who are in their late 20s and 30s and those who are in their late 60s and 70s. Both groups dropped in number during between 2000-2005.

Fairfield University economics professor Edward Deak said that for workers in their prime earnings years, 35 to 55 or 60, Connecticut's high cost of living is offset by the availability of well-paying jobs, particularly in the financial and scientific areas.

“At the other two ends, as people retire they tend to leave the state, and as young people graduate from college they find more attractive opportunities for entry-level positions elsewhere,” he said.

The decline in the younger group also is due in part to what Van Winkle called “a demographic wave” resulting from a drop in the birthrate nationwide through the 1970s. It produced similar reductions in the number of 20-somethings during the first half of the 1990s and in teens a decade before that.

That demographic trend was more pronounced in Connecticut than in the rest of the United States, Van Winkle said.

Economist Stephen Coelen, co-author of a report released last year examining New England's work force in 2020, says the total working-age population will probably decline in coming years in Connecticut and most of the rest of New England. In addition, fewer young people entering the work force will have four-year college degrees, he said.

“The situation for Connecticut and the whole Northeast is fairly dire,” Coelen said.   


Boothless tolls:
Agency ponders extra fee for peak drivers
Greenwich TIME
By Mark Ginocchio, Staff Writer
Published January 13 2007

NORWALK -- Lower Fairfield County lawmakers yesterday said they were open to studying electronic highway tolls, but were unsure of how much they would cost to manage and how they could reduce traffic.

South Western Regional Planning Agency board members told lawmakers that the method they want to study -- called "value pricing" because it would charge motorists different rates based on peak and off-peak travel times -- could help reduce traffic and increase state revenue.

"Other than getting cars off the road, it provides a new source of money," said Floyd Lapp, SWRPA's executive director. "If we want to get to (Interstate) 95 at 8 a.m. and take up space, we should have to pay a price."

Value pricing would use "boothless technology" and allow drivers to continue at highway speeds by depending on electronic sensors similar to EZPass, Lapp said.

Similar systems are in operation in some U.S. cities and countries such as Singapore, SWRPA members said.

SWRPA and the state Department of Transportation are pursuing federal grants to study value pricing and are looking to get other regional planning organizations involved to evaluate how the system could work statewide, Lapp said.

The state Transportation Strategy Board has endorsed a value-pricing study.

Legislators said they needed more information about electronic tolls before they could support it.

"We know the technology exists, we know it can create revenue, but what we don't know is the results," said state Rep. James Shapiro, D-Stamford. "I can support any system that reduces traffic, but will this reduce traffic?"

State Rep. Claudia "Dolly" Powers, R-Greenwich, said there are many misconceptions in other parts of the state about electronic tolls.

One bill co-sponsored by several legislators upstate would build new toll booths on the highways, which is not what SWRPA or DOT officials are looking to study.

"What we're familiar with is EZPass," Powers said. "But there are others that are talking about installing booths again. I don't think the (lawmakers) who proposed this would know EZPass if (they) stepped on it."

Toll booths were removed from I-95 and the Merritt Parkway more than 20 years ago after a runaway truck with a sleeping driver at the wheel plowed into three cars lined up at the I-95 toll plaza in Stratford, killing four women and three children.

Talk of bringing back toll booths would make the idea "dead on arrival," Lapp said.

Another potential problem with value pricing is it could financially hurt commuters who need to drive to work during peak hours, but might not be able to pay a toll every day.

"We need to talk about the equity," said state Rep. William Tong, D-Stamford. "Maybe our version of value pricing would focus less on commuter traffic and more on trucks. Because we are the gateway to New England, we do get a disproportionate number of trucks passing through the state."

Commuters also will not be impressed with the alternatives to using highways, said state Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk.

"What are we forcing them on to?" Duff said. "Onto trains that don't have enough seats? Or to buses that don't run frequently enough? We need to tackle fixing the alternatives first, because what we have right now won't be able to handle more."

SWRPA members said they would provide legislators with more information about their study and how value pricing is used elsewhere.

The legislative Transportation Committee might discuss tolls during hearings later this month, though House Speaker James Amann, D-Milford, said this week that toll talks were premature.

In addition to the toll discussion, SWRPA members presented their list of legislative priorities to lawmakers. They include increasing funding for the agency, more investment in Norwalk Transit bus service, and new sound barriers along I-95 in Fairfield County.


Questions surround restoring highway tolls
Stamford ADVOCATE
By Mark Ginocchio, Staff Writer
Published January 13 2007

NORWALK - Lower Fairfield County lawmakers yesterday said they were open to studying electronic highway tolls, but were unsure of how much they would cost to manage and how they could reduce traffic.

South Western Regional Planning Agency board members told lawmakers that the method they want to study - called "value pricing" because it would charge motorists different rates based on peak and off-peak travel times - could help reduce traffic and increase state revenue.

SWRPA had its annual legislative breakfast yesterday.

"Other than getting cars off the road, it provides a new source of money," said Floyd Lapp, SWRPA's executive director. "If we want to get to (Interstate) 95 at 8 a.m. and take up space, we should have to pay a price."

Value pricing would utilize "boothless technology" and allow drivers to continue at highway speeds by depending upon electronic sensors similar to EZPass, Lapp said.

Similar systems are in operation in some U.S. cities and countries such as Singapore, SWRPA members said.

SWRPA and the state Department of Transportation are pursuing federal grants to study value pricing and are looking to get other regional planning organizations involved to evaluate how the system could work statewide, Lapp said.

The state Transportation Strategy Board has endorsed a value-pricing study.

Legislators said they needed more information about electronic tolls before they could support it.

"We know the technology exists, we know it can create revenue, but what we don't know is the results," said state Rep. James Shapiro, D-Stamford. "I can support any system that reduces traffic, but will this reduce traffic?"

State Rep. Claudia "Dolly" Powers, R-Greenwich, said there are many misconceptions in other parts of the state about electronic tolls.

One bill co-sponsored by several legislators upstate would build new toll booths on the highways, which is not what SWRPA or DOT officials are looking to study.

"What we're familiar with is EZPass," Powers said. "But there are others that are talking about installing booths again. I don't think the (lawmakers) who proposed this would know EZPass if (they) stepped on it."

Toll booths were removed from highways more than 20 years ago after a runaway truck with a sleeping driver at the wheel plowed into three cars lined up at the Interstate 95 toll plaza in Stratford, killing four women and three children.

Talk of bringing back toll booths would make the idea "dead on arrival," Lapp said.

Another potential problem with value pricing is it could financially hurt commuters who need to be to work during peak hours, but may not be able to afford to pay a toll every day.

"We need to talk about the equity," said state Rep. William Tong, D-Stamford. "Maybe our version of value pricing would focus less on commuter traffic and more on trucks. Because we are the gateway to New England, we do get a disproportionate number of trucks passing through the state."

Commuters will also not be impressed with the alternatives to using highways, said state Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk.

"What are we forcing them on to?" Duff said. "Onto trains that don't have enough seats? Or to buses that don't run frequently enough? We need to tackle fixing the alternatives first, because what we have right now won't be able to handle more."

SWRPA members said they would provide legislators with more information about their study and how value pricing is used elsewhere.

The legislative Transportation Committee may discuss tolls during hearings later this month, though House Speaker James Amann, D-Milford, said this week that toll talks were premature.

In addition to the toll discussion, SWRPA members presented their list of legislative priorities to lawmakers. They include increasing funding for the agency, more investment in Norwalk Transit bus service, and new sound barriers along I-95 in Fairfield County.


Transit ideas rule at SWRPA breakfast
By ROBERT KOCH, Hour Staff Writer
January 13, 2007

NORWALK — Making motorists pay to drive Interstate 95 during rush hour wasn't on the menu of the South Western Regional Planning Agency's Annual Legislative Breakfast at Norwalk City Hall Friday morning.

But the concept, which is known as congestion pricing and is aimed at easing traffic congestion, generated plenty of discussion.

"If anyone gets on I-95 at eight o'clock in the morning ... they should pay the price," said SWRPA Executive Director Floyd Lapp, explaining the rationale behind congestion pricing, also known as value pricing. "Not only can this be done. It has been done. It's boothless technology."

In its 2004 report "Vision 2020," SWRPA recommended evaluating congestion pricing for busy roadways and transit services. An application was filed last year with the Federal Highway Administration to allow congestion pricing on Interstates 95 and 84, as well as Routes 7, 8 and 15. While that application remains pending, an interregional consortium is putting together a "coordinated application" to hedge its bets, Lapp said.

Weston First Selectman Woody Bliss, South Western Region Metropolitan Planning Organization chairman, was among several elected officials to vouch for the technology — similar to the EZ Pass system. He said congestion pricing has worked in Singapore for 20 years.

Others, however, questioned its operating costs and fairness.

One speaker said boosting the gasoline tax slightly would generate revenue without incurring administrative costs. Another predicted congestion pricing would hit less wealthy persons who, he said, are less able to alter their work and commuting schedules.

State Rep. Jim Shapiro, D-144, said results must be the foremost issue.

"We know the technology exists. We know it would create revenues," Shapiro said. "The real question is, what results have the people who introduced it received?"

State Sen. Bob Duff, D-25, said existing mass transit, including trains and buses, must be improved before moving forward with congestion pricing. "We really have to tackle the alternatives first before we tell people to get out of their cars," Duff said.

Bliss said SWRPA members discussed studying congestion pricing further.

In another transportation matter, Norwalk Transit District Administrator Louis Schulman updated lawmakers on a statewide bus transit study slated for completion in February. He described bus transit as the inadequately funded leg of the three-legged transportation stool, which also includes roads and rails.

More than three-dozen people, including state House Minority Leader Lawrence F. Cafero Jr., R-142, and other lawmakers, area first selectmen and Norwalk Mayor Richard A. Moccia attended the legislative breakfast.

Daniel A. Wilder, SWRPA board of directors chairman, outlined the agency's legislative priorities for 2007: Boost funding for regional planning organizations and local aid programs; push sustainable growth initiatives, such as transit-oriented development; address eminent domain; alter state law to protect zoning enforcement officers against personal liability; and repeal measures for unfunded mandates.

Evonne Klein, Darien first selectwoman, outlined the South Western Region Metropolitan Planning Organization's priorities: Maintain the local real-estate conveyance tax and other local aid programs; institute a sound barrier program; and provide the Norwalk Transit District $12.5 million in capital funds and an annual $2.3 million subsidy, as well as $703,500 over the next two fiscal years to maintain services mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act.

Moccia described that last request as a priority that doesn't carry a big price tag.

"This is so important to so many people in our area," Moccia said.




SWRPA director looks to relieve congestion
Stamford ADVOCATE   
By Mark Ginocchio, Staff Writer
Published September 10 2006

STAMFORD -- Less than a week into his new job, Floyd Lapp has already experienced the traffic problems plaguing lower Fairfield County.

Lapp, who took over as executive director of the South Western Regional Planning Agency on Tuesday, had a 5 p.m. meeting scheduled in Bridgeport -- 20 miles away from Stamford on the map but potentially hours in travel time depending on Interstate 95 traffic.

"I left here at a quarter to 4," Lapp said during an interview Friday. "And God was over my shoulder. Traffic congestion seemed to break up like the clouds giving way to the sun somewhere around Exit 21. I arrived right on the dot at 5 o'clock."

Lapp, 64, who has worked in planning and development for more than 40 years, primarily in New York and New Jersey, knows he won't always be so lucky during rush hour. That's why developing ways to improve congestion on I-95 is one of his top priorities.

"The Garden State Parkway, which is the major spine of central New Jersey, works," the Rockland County, N.Y., resident said. "We really have to weigh in on what do we do with I-95. It's much more sophisticated than increased capacity."

But Lapp will focus on more than just I-95. In his first few weeks at the helm, Lapp wants to reach out to planning officials in all eight SWRPA municipalities.

"I'm a hands-on person, and I'm big on outreach," Lapp said. "There's nothing like a guided tour of planning and development and what the issues are. Regional planning shouldn't only come from on high."

The 22-member SWRPA board is scheduled to meet tomorrow to discuss a housing and development study, Lapp said. They also need to work on updating the region's long-range transportation plan, he added.

A big challenge for lower Fairfield County is the "introduction of transit into a low-density area," Lapp said. Most municipalities in the region don't have enough transit options to support the population, so looking ahead, SWRPA must "invent transit in these places to get cars off the road."

One possible method is "Bus Rapid Transit," which has been used extensively outside the United States, Lapp said. Bus Rapid Transit typically mirrors a commuter railroad, providing frequent express service over long distances. However, service comes cheaper than the rail and offers more flexible routes and schedules.

SWRPA also will continue to examine reinstating tolls, though it must be done "in a sensible way," he said. Earlier this year, SWRPA applied for a Federal Highway Administration grant to study a tolling method known as "value pricing," in which motorists are charged fares based on the time of day they travel.

Tolls were removed from I-95 and the Merritt Parkway more than 20 years ago, and Lapp said some politicians may be reluctant to bring them back. But with new tolling technology, it's something to consider, he said, but "it must be done gradually."

In addition to installing tolls on bridges and tunnels, state governments should look at using them in other high-density areas, such as Midtown Manhattan, he said.

"It should cost you and I more to travel there at 5 o'clock than it would be to travel in the South Bronx, northern Manhattan or Staten Island," he said.

Lapp started his career working on land-use data with the Tri-State Transportation Committee in 1963 and the Westchester County Department of Planning in 1964.

He became the supervising planner for the New Jersey State and Regional Planning Division in 1965, where he helped to create the Hackensack Meadowlands Development Commission.

He worked for 10 years as director of New York City Planning's Transportation Division and served as a representative of the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council -- an agency that has coordinated with SWRPA on many regional projects.

Since 2001, Lapp has taught planning and transportation courses at Columbia University and Pratt Institute.

After four decades in the field, Lapp has watched many colleagues retire, but he said he's happy to continue his career with SWRPA.

"I'm saddened that many of my colleagues packed it in years ago, and they're actually playing shuffleboard somewhere in Florida now," he said. "That's good, but not as life's work. This is a full-time job and I enjoy the work, and I'm glad I'm able to do it and still get excited about it."



2006 SOUTH WESTERN REGION LEGISLATIVE PRIORITIES - Friday, February 3rd, 7:30-9am, Norwalk City Hall - planning underway for 2007!

The South Western Regional Planning Agency and the First Selectmen, First Selectwomen and Mayors of the Region’s eight member municipalities are pleased to present our “2006 South Western Region Legislative Priorities” for your consideration. 

These priorities were developed with full understanding of the ongoing fiscal challenges faced by the Governor and the General Assembly.  With that in mind, we urge you to maintain your vigilance in ensuring that the South Western Region retains its economic vitality and outstanding quality of life.

Please do not hesitate to call on the chief elected officials, SWRPA’s Board members or the Agency’s staff whenever we can be of assistance to you.



The following three legislative priorities were established by the Legislative Committee of the South Western Region Metropolitan Planning Organization:


•    Secure $210,000 in State funding to replace the loss of federal operating assistance for services in Norwalk and Westport mandated by the Americans with Disabilities Act.


•    Secure $130,000 in additional state operating assistance to compensate, in the current fiscal year, for the increase in the cost of diesel fuel for all Norwalk Transit District services.

•    Assess a $10-25 surcharge to all traffic tickets and remit the full amount of that surcharge to the municipality in which the ticket was issued.

The following legislative priorities were established by the Board of the South Western Regional Planning Agency:

Maintain sustained State funding for critical local aid programs:

o    Secure annualized funding for regional planning organizations as a line item in the Office of Policy and Management’s budget.
o    Maintain annual support to regional planning organizations to reflect increased role in regional emergency management, evacuation and public health planning.
o    Maintain funding for the Town Aid for Roads Program (TAR).
o    Maintain funding for the Local Capital Improvements Program (LoCIP).
o    Maintain funding for the Small Town Economic Assistance Program (STEAP).
o    Maintain funding for Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILOT) programs.


Provide municipalities with additional support through the enhancement and/or implementation of State municipal revenue sharing programs, including sharing traffic enforcement fines with the municipalities in which such fines were collected.

Develop and promote incentive-based strategies to promote sustainable growth:

o    Require state infrastructure and development grants issued by quasi-public agencies such as the Connecticut Development Authority and the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority to be consistent with the Conservation and Development Policies Plan for Connecticut, 2005-2010 (the State plan).
o    Promote and provide project-based support for the following: acquisition of conservation land and open space; affordable housing that is consistent with local zoning and community character; remediation and redevelopment of brownfield and grayfield sites; adaptive reuse of older properties in urban neighborhoods; and transit-oriented development.
o    Provide incentive and/or performance grants to local governments that implement land-use policies that promote transit-oriented development; encourage development of affordable housing that is consistent with local zoning and community character; create local housing trust funds to support construction and rehabilitation of affordable housing options; and encourage persons to live and work in the same community.


SWRPA drops ball on the case for the new Route 7
Norwalk HOUR editorial
Tuesday, January 31, 2006

The Southwestern Regional Planning Agency chose discretion over valor when its committee took a neutral stance on the value of extending the new Route 7 from its Norwalk terminus to Danbury. Its committee report attempts to be all things to all people — it could be a good thing for the region, but there's no money to build it and besides, we need another study.

Unless we are mistaken, at one point SWRPA had endorsed the concept of the limited access highway. We can understand where Wilton First Selectman William Brennan and State Rep. Toni Boucher are coming from in opposing any hint of extending the road. In Wilton, a new Route 7 is the third rail of politics. If you want to be a candidate, you'd better oppose it.

Rep. Boucher is quoted as saying that SWRPA bowed to political pressure in taking the "neutral" stance it has. There may have been political pressure, but in our view, it was coming from those opposed to the highway and wanted SWRPA to back off from any approval.

SWRPA admittedly is a regional association and doesn't have a lot of clout when dealing with matters that cross its members' borders. In the past, however, it has supported the new Route 7 concept without equivocation.

We don't accept that widening portions of the old Route 7 and improving service on the Danbury branch of Metro-North's commuter line are the answers to the Norwalk River valley's transportation problems. We have contended that the widening might even contribute to the accident rate, rather than lessening it. We certainly agree about expanding and improving rail service on the branch railroad line, but that's only one piece of the puzzle.

Although the political leaders in Wilton may not admit it, there are residents of Wilton who actually favor construction of the highway. Obviously, none of them will ever seek public office.


SWRPA takes the middle lane on Route 7 plan
Stamford ADVOCATE
By Mark Ginocchio, Staff Writer
Published January 28 2006

The controversial Super 7 expressway will likely not be part of a regional development and conservation plan, despite mounting pressure from supporters to include it.

Robert Wilson, executive director of the South Western Regional Planning Agency, said Super 7 would be referred to as an "unfunded need" for the state, and it would not be actively endorsed or denounced when the agency votes on its Fourth Plan of Conservation and Development next week.

  The middle-ground stance is consistent with the Metropolitan Planning Organization's long-range transportation plan, Wilson said, which is drawn up by the region's eight municipal leaders.

"I know the opponents of (Super 7) will probably not be too happy, but the proponents won't be either," Wilson said of the agency's decision.  SWRPA reviewed the final draft of its plan last week and expects to vote on it Friday*, Wilson added. The plan looks to control sprawl by focusing development in areas with the infrastructure to handle it.

The decade-long fight about Super 7, a proposed super-highway connecting Norwalk to Danbury and Interstate 84, came to a head again late last year when Norwalk officials advocated inserting pro-Super 7 language in the SWRPA plan.

The proposal angered Wilton officials, who have been the primary opponents of the highway since it was conceptualized more than 50 years ago.  The SWRPA board delayed its vote on the plan to give elected officials more time to review the draft and make suggestions.

During that time, some Norwalk legislators continued to push for an outright Super 7 endorsement. Wilton officials said the expressway plan should be taken off the table because it lacks funding, has not received Gov. M. Jodi Rell's support and will likely never be completed.

After learning of SWRPA's decision, state Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, said he understood the agency's compromise but was disappointed that there wasn't more of a push for Super 7.

"It would have been a bigger disappointment if Super 7 was taken off the table completely," Duff said. "There needs to be more of a concerted effort to do what's right for the region and not cave in to one or two communities."

Duff said transportation between Norwalk and Danbury must improve to accommodate the increasing economic development and population in the Route 7 corridor.

Wilton First Selectman Bill Brennan said he and other opponents will continue to fight off the calls to build Super 7.

"It's clear there wasn't a consensus to put it in this plan," Brennan said. "It doesn't belong in the conservation plan, and it doesn't even belong in the long-range plan."

As of last week, Brennan said he was unsure whether Wilton's representatives to SWRPA would be advised to support or reject the conservation plan.

NOTE: *Monday, February 6, 2006 is the date of SWRPA vote.


Super 7 highway at center of contention

Hour Staff Writers
By ANNA GUSTAFSON and PATRICK R. LINSEY
Friday, January 6, 2006

REGION — An upcoming transportation study is unlikely to please anyone in the debate over the so-called Super 7 highway, the director of a regional planning agency predicted Thursday.

The South Western Regional Planning Association's updated transportation study will likely not even mention the proposed highway, according to Robert Wilson, executive director of the organization.  SWRPA will likely defer to the views of a long-term transportation plan, which cites an unfunded need for Super 7, in a "Fourth Plan of Conservation and Development 2005-2015."

"Essentially (it's) saying yes, we need Super 7, but there's no money for it, and it's implicit that it's unlikely that it will be built," Wilson said. "Nobody will be completely happy with our decision. Wilton wants us to come flat out and say we will never build Super 7, and Norwalk wants us to emphasize in the plan that we need Super 7."

SWRPA, which is slated to make a decision about the plan after its extended comment period ends Jan. 17, has received numerous comments about Super 7, including from Wilton's First Selectman William Brennan and state Sen. Bob Duff, D-25.  Brennan voiced his opposition to Super 7 in a letter to SWRPA that cited negative environmental effects of construction and exorbitant project costs.

The proposed highway would run from Norwalk to Danbury and link Interstate 95 with Interstate 84. The state acquired the land to build the highway, but the plan has been on hold.

While some Wilton town residents and officials have been against the highway, other residents said they applaud SWRPA for taking another look at Super 7.

State Sen. Judith Freedman, R-26, deemed the Super 7 plan backward and said she disagrees with Duff's promotion of Route 7. Duff recently wrote a letter to SWRPA as well, stating that Super 7 would play a crucial role in the region's development.

"I believe that the economic viability of the region and the ease of access to southwestern Connecticut towns depend on (Super 7's) completion," Duff wrote. "We need to stop kidding ourselves that Route 7 can exist as something other than a major thoroughfare through the region."

But Freedman said the Route 7 corridor is already being improved, without the construction of a costly and unpopular highway.

"The fact that we're widening the current Route 7 will address the current issues that people have. The DOT has taken Super 7 off the drawing board. The future is other means of transportation, such as trains," Freedman said. "Road-building is passé. I'm really surprised that Mr. Duff would want to bring this issue up again and go back in time. SWRPA already made a decision a long time ago about their position on Super 7, and they should remain with that position."

State Rep. Toni Boucher, R-143, agreed with Freedman and said Super 7 is "untenable" and all efforts should be focused on the New Haven Line's Danbury branch. The branch has also recently come under heat from residents who have said it does not provide enough trains for commuters traveling to New York City.

Opponents of the highway have pointed to planned improvements of the Metro-North branch and the widening of Route 7 already under way as more practical alternatives.

"This improvement of the Norwalk/Danbury branch is a mutually beneficial issue," Brennan said. "It's been neglected, and the service needs to be improved. I'd like to work with Bob (Duff) on that," Brennan said. "Recently I read that Virgin Atlantic is moving out of Norwalk, and one of the reasons they gave for moving to Stamford is to give employees greater access to the trains."

Unlike the rail improvements, Super 7 is unlikely to find state or federal funds, Brennan added.

"Super 7 is a pipe dream," Boucher said in a recent interview. "There is absolutely no money for it anywhere and DOT will tell you that. There's no way they could ever be granted an environmental permit, and there's a massive amount of opposition from Wilton, Ridgefield, Redding, Weston, Danbury, and parts north. This [Super 7] is some politician's cause of the day without being realistic."

But, having suffered hours in traffic tie-ups, many residents in these towns do support Super 7, Duff said in an interview Thursday.

"I believe there are people in Wilton who were opposed to it who now favor it, because the current Route 7 is now a bottleneck," Duff said.  While he supported the improvements on Metro-North's Danbury branch, Duff said modernizing the region's transportation infrastructure should not be an either/or proposition.

Those improvements do "nothing more than try to just placate and put a Band-Aid on something that really needs a much better approach," he said.

While Wilson labeled Super 7 "pretty much a dead issue" politically, Duff said he is not discouraged.

"There is a feeling out there that this will never get built, so there is a sense that 'Why even try?'" Duff said. "I'm not going to be part of the defeatist attitude that says that we should give up ... I think in order to build this you need to have a partnership between the state and the federal government."

And as much as a limited access highway is needed for convenience and economic growth, Duff said safety is also a factor.

"There has been a number of accidents on the old Route 7," Duff noted. "In my opinion, if you build Super 7, it would decrease the kind of accidents you see now. You have truckers and you have people who are going from Norwalk to Danbury. And then you have everyone else — people who are using Route 7 as a local road."

Indeed, some Wilton residents have spoken out in favor of Super 7, including Barbara Quincy, chairman of the Committee to Extend Route 7.

"I think it's an archaic view to say everyone in Wilton wants to dismiss the highway," Quincy said. "I've gotten letters from lots of commuters, and residents in general, who say that the road would help them. Even if you doubled the ridership on the railroad, you wouldn't make a dent in the traffic. SWRPA did a courageous thing by putting it back on their list."

Quincy said renewed public support has prompted her to consider holding new meetings of CER7.

"A lot of people have moved to Wilton in the past five or 10 years and don't really have a concept of the road and how close we were to having it," she said.

Meanwhile, support for the highway from Norwalk officials is undiminished. Planning and Zoning Director Michael Green said the highway would benefit Wilton and Norwalk.

"There wouldn't be as many traffic jams on Route 7," Green said in a recent interview. "With growth in jobs, people need houses, but there's a severe limit on affordable housing in our region, so people will have to commute to work. Right now there's I-95, but it's crowded, and the railway system to the north has limitations."

By reserving judgment on the need for Super 7, Wilson said SWRPA would be effectively passing the issue to the South Western Connecticut Metropolitan Planning Organization. The MPO consists of the chief elected officials from SWRPA's eight municipalities and a representative from the region's three transit agencies.

The MPO's long-range transportation plan refers to Super 7 as an unfunded need, Wilson said. "There's a consensus that Super 7 should be built, but there's no money committed to it."

Wilson is resigned to the fact that neither supporters nor opponents of Super 7 are likely to be pleased with SWRPA's decision, but added perhaps that is for the best.

Said Wilson: "Maybe the fact that both of them will not be completely satisfied means we struck the right balance."



SHAYS AQUARIUM
By CHRIS BOSAK Hour Staff Writer
Saturday, July 9, 2005
NORWALK -- U.S. Rep. Chris Shays, wearing a blue suit and yellow tie, waded knee deep into Long Island Sound at Calf Pasture Beach on Friday morning. His hair and clothes remained completely dry, despite a steady light rain. In fact, Shays did not have to leave the cozy confines of the Olin Technology Lab in the Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk to experience the walk into the Sound. He did all this in real time vicariously through Joe Schnierlein, an educator at the Aquarium. Schnierlein, an intern and a video cameraman, caught horseshoe crabs and small fish near the Coast Guard facility in Norwalk as a way of demonstrating the Aquarium's "distance learning" educational project.

Shays, who would be instrumental in procuring federal funds for the Aquarium, toured the attraction for the first time in years and was amazed at the progress made since his last visit. "There's a great deal of energy here and I'm thrilled to see so many people utilizing the facility," he said. "This just illustrates the energy of Norwalk."

Shays, R-4, visited the Aquarium briefly during the annual Red Apple Dinner in April and suggested to new Aquarium president Jennifer Herring that they get together for a tour. "This was just the first step," Herring said about what she hopes are continued discussions with Shays about federal funding. On June 15, the board of trustees of the Maritime Aquarium approved a new mission and vision statement. Part of that mission includes protecting the Long Island Sound through education in the form of living exhibits, marine science and environmental education. Those exhibits will also be more sharply focused on the Aquarium's mission of helping people recognize the Sound as a valuable resource.

The Aquarium is considered for entertainment and educational funds, according to Shays. On Friday, the Aquarium used the opportunity to show off its state-of-the-art educational tools. The Aquarium is already using its "distance learning" tool at area schools. Students may sit at their desks in school and watch an Aquarium educator perform live demonstrations from a remote area.

Norwalk Mayor Alex Knopp stressed during the presentation that the Aquarium and all Norwalk schools will be linked by the upcoming fiber optic municipal area network, that will also include the police and fire stations and City Hall. Knopp added that science will soon become part of the    Connecticut Mastery Test and the Aquarium's distance learning may be an integral part of the science curriculum at Norwalk schools. On Thursday, Schnierlein displayed just-caught aquatic animals and gave descriptions and histories of them as Shays, Knopp, Herring and about a dozen other people watched television screens on the third floor of the Aquarium.

The connection was made possible by a transmitter located on a stack at Manresa power plant. Jack Schneider, animal curator at the Aquarium, led the discussion at the Aquarium while Schnierlein answered questions at Calf Pasture Beach. Schneider said the program can have a lasting impact on school children as the Aquarium "establishes a rigorous scientific protocol so it has real meaning for kids."

Shays, without needing to hold a microphone or wear a headset, fired off a few questions to Schnierlein. "Can we see Peach Island?" Shays said. Schnierlein obliged and directed the cameraperson to pan over to show Shays a glimpse of the small island in Norwalk Harbor that was recently  added to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service's National Wildlife Refuge system. Herring led Shays on a tour of the Aquarium following the distance learning demonstration. The rainy day and scheduled summer camp visits had the facility packed with children. Herring showed Shays the popular shark tank from above and then directed him to the rare albino alligator, which is a summer resident at the Aquarium.

"There are real financial needs and good educational programs going on," Shays said. "We have to figure out how the federal government can be more helpful. The education and science-based research adds to the credibility in the request for federal dollars."

"I think he was impressed," Herring said of Shays.  "Half a million people visit here each year. The people experience the wildlife of Long Island Sound. We help people better connect with nature and hopefully get them interested in preserving the Sound for future generations." More federal funding will only help that cause.



Was the same meeting where Westport did this...
Municipal leaders want a more user-friendly DOT
Stamford ADVOCATE
By Martin B. Cassidy, Staff Writer
Article Launched: 10/28/2008 03:00:46 AM EDT

NORWALK - Leaders of Fairfield County towns and cities Monday said the state Department of Transportation must be more open, cooperate more and cut some of its bureaucracy.

Wilton First Selectman William Brennan summed it up.

"Why does everything have to take so long?" Brennan asked DOT officials during a meeting of the South West Regional Metropolitan Planning Organization held at the Norwalk Transit District.

Wilton wants the DOT to move on proposals to spruce up and reopen the Metro-North Railroad station. But a vendor who hopes to maintain the building and run a newsstand is delayed by contract procedures, Brennan said.

"Why can't it be, 'Get this done and get the station reopened?' " Brennan asked DOT Commissioner Joseph Marie. "We've got engineers who would be able to do it, but it takes a long time to get through the bureaucracy."

Marie said he was reorganizing the DOT to be more responsive and efficient in dealing with towns and cities.

"While no relationship is perfect, we realize we haven't always met expectations in the past," Marie said. "We've been making sure we have the right people in the right places. I'm committed to long-lasting and meaningful change at the DOT."

Municipal officials asked Marie about projects that may be at risk because of the weak economy. Marie was not specific but said spiraling construction costs and a projected shortfall of $1 billion in the 2009-10 state budget might stall some work.

"The further out from a project's start we are, the lower the confidence about the eventual bottom-line cost will be. It would be disingenuous of me to say that everything can get done," he said. "One good thing about hard times is it forces everyone to think about doing things better and faster."

Norwalk Mayor Richard Moccia said DOT engineers sometimes fail to move fast enough to seize money-saving opportunities when working with towns.

Several years ago, Norwalk offered to repave the East Avenue overpass during a larger road improvement project, but DOT engineers rejected the idea, Moccia said.

"There seemed to be a lack of respect for local engineers when we offer to help," he said. "Now we have two wonderfully paved sections of East Avenue, and the bridge is still badly in need of repair."

Marie said the additions of Deputy Commissioner Jeffrey Walker to oversee the New Haven Railyard Project and Al Martin to handle transit and rail station projects should improve relationships with municipal officials.

The New Haven project remains a priority - despite spiraling cost estimates - because a repair yard is needed, Marie said. The project was estimated to cost $300 million when it was proposed in 2005, but the amount has quadrupled to more than $1.2 billion.

"Not upgrading the rail yard would be a mistake and leave us unable to deal with the growth that we see ahead," Marie said.

Weston First Selectman Woody Bliss, chairman of the planning organization, asked Marie when the DOT might resume an effort to replace the Merritt Parkway-Route 7 interchange in Norwalk.

Work on the long-awaited project to connect the parkway to Route 7 was halted in 2005 after the Merritt Parkway Conservancy, a preservation group, won a verdict that the design violated federal preservation laws.

Marie said the DOT continues to work with the conservancy to design a project it finds acceptable.

Bliss, Moccia and others said communication from the DOT has improved dramatically in the past year.

"I've met with him twice and found him to be a very knowledgeable guy," Bliss said of Marie. "He has some culture changes to make, and some of that is to take some of the bureaucratic aspects of the department away."

Floyd Lapp, executive director of the planning organization, said the meeting offered municipal officials a chance to meet Marie and explain the difficulties they have had working with the DOT.

"It was like the first day of school, which generally comes down to good things," Lapp said. "There will be follow-up meetings in a few months, where people will begin talking to him more specifically about issues."



Future Council of Governments in Southwestern Region?  2013 - it is the law - and reduction in numbers of COGs means no morfe SWR entity only.

WWHD new Executive Director
The First Selectman of Southbury to take job in a month.  Weston meeting on Emergency Management here.

Westport Weston Health District Names New Director

WestportNow

The first selectman of Southbury, Mark A. R. Cooper, today was named public health director for the Westport Weston Health District.
Mark A. R. Cooper: First Selectman of Southbury has health background.

The District’s board’s appointment of Cooper, effective next month, is subject to approval by the state Department of Public Health.  Cooper succeeds Sue Jacozzi, who has served in the post since August 2005. (See WestportNow Aug. 29, 2005)

At today’s board of directors meeting, Westport First Selectman Gordon F. Joseloff praised Jacozzi for her service to the District and said he looked forward to working with Cooper.

“Sue has gone above and beyond on so many occasions,” he said. “We very much appreciate her efforts and wish her well.

“I especially look forward to working with Mark Cooper because of his experience as a fellow first selectman.”

Cooper, who has a background in public health, has been first selectman of Southbury, a town of about 19,000 in western New Haven County, since December 2001.

Prior to becoming first selectman, he served for 15 years in the Newtown Health District, first as director of environmental health (1986 to 1993) and then as director of health (1993-2001).

He holds B.S. and Master of Public Health degrees from the University of Connecticut.

In Southbury, he has also served on the Southbury Water Pollution Control Authority and the Inland Wetland Commission.

He is a former chairman of the Council of Governments of the Central Naugatuck Valley and serves as a director of the Connecticut Resources Recovery Authority.

Posted 10/09/2008 - our note -  at 05:01 PM




Unrelated, older item...now more Aquarion towns (specifically Greenwich and Darien).

Bridgeport Hydraulic towns in Connecticut - from their own WEBsite (2/1/02) .