Integrated Approach Reflected in Transportation Update
Albeit a cheeky title, the Chamber’s By Land, By Sea, By Air: Transportation Update at our July Business Breakfast described the multi-faceted approach being applied to pressing transportation issues in Connecticut. Churchill’s marshalling the troops in a coordinated effort to attack the problem on all fronts seemed even more apt after hearing from representatives from the Department of Transportation, Connecticut Airport Authority and the Connecticut Port Authority.
The overarching theme was creating a seamless experience for multimodal travel in Connecticut. The vision is far-reaching, but some practical steps in that direction are underway. DOT Commissioner Joseph Giulietti began by assuring the audience of local business owners, “The governor is fully invested in this area of the state.” In a changing landscape of commuting patterns and lifestyles, the goal is connecting rails, seaports, and airlines logically to provide alternatives to the congested roadways for people and cargo.
The vision for intermodal travel is embodied in the $210 million ground transportation being built at Bradley. It creates an easy transition from plane to rental car or bus. A rapid transit bus service to Windsor Locks is the first step in making the case for a light rail connected to Hartford’s train service.
Groton-New London Airport is a focus of the Connecticut Airport Authority as they work to restore commercial service, which ended in 2004. CAA Executive Director Kevin Dillon encouraged businesses to share annual travel expenditures through a survey being conducted by the Chamber. “That information is invaluable to me as I go out and interact with airlines. They really crave that level of data, and it’s that data that they will be making decisions on,” said Dillon. With limited runway length, he said good fits would be direct service to Washington D.C. and service to a major airline hub.
The airports are seen as integral to economic growth in the state. Currently, they are providing significant economic impact and jobs. Dillon stated that Bradley has seen a 30% increase in passenger travel, handling 7 million passengers last year, and he believes that could increase to 10 million annually. The connection with Aer Lingus has been valuable for international travel, and work on expanding nonstop flights is focusing on Seattle, a strong business destination for our aerospace and tech industry.
Opportunity and innovation are the guiding principles for the Connecticut Port Authority, presented by Bonnie Reemsnyder, Old Lyme First Selectwoman and CPA chair. Adopting a strategic maritime strategic plan in 2018, the CPA seeks to maximize the use of the state’s three deep water ports and plentiful small harbors—on the coast and inland—to move people and cargo and alleviate pressure on congested highways.
Innovation is happening in Norwalk where produce from 3,000 farms makes its way to Long Island via boat across the Sound. New London’s State Pier will be the beneficiary of $93 million in investment under a deal being negotiated that equips it for heavy lift operations, facilitating the wind power project and future work. Dredging, identified as essential by the CPA in a number of locations, will make New Haven harbor safer and able to handle more cargo. Shipping cargo from Connecticut ports to New York and Boston can have a measurable impact on traffic on the I-95 corridor.
The current administration acknowledges the need for infrastructure improvements as an essential component of economic growth. Giulietti is looking to leverage federal funds by showing a clear ROI for projects and emphasized the value of regional solutions.
Giulietti addressed the current infrastructure and budget challenges facing the DOT. Of 5000 bridges in the state 300 are in poor repair and highways designed 50 years ago are not equipped to handle today’s traffic loads. With 40% of the budget dedicated to debt repayment and revenue growth falling behind bonding costs, the need for a new revenue stream is essential to future bonding, while he was unable to say if tolling in some form would be part of the solution.
A question on climate change impacts led Giulietti to confirm the profound challenge rising waters present. He said that development around railroad tracks makes moving them difficult, but work and planning is taking into account 50-year projections. He added that portions of I-95 are also in danger from the effects of climate change.