Getting There From Here

Originally published on 8/14/2014

Traffic is overwhelming on I­95 and the Merritt Parkway. Commuter rails rely on underfunded infrastructure. We lack freight rail. With traffic, the 45­minute commute between Connecticut and New York takes 1½ hours. Any additional congestion and traffic is a nightmare.

As Fairfield County residents know all too well, driving from our area to New Haven is a huge inconvenience— but that is just the tip of the iceberg. Multitudes of trucks, a lack of freight, and weak commuter rail infrastructure synergize to hold the economy back, slow job growth, reduce property values and pollute the air.

Southwestern Connecticut has tremendous assets— a location near the financial capital of the world, beautiful scenery, warm communities, top-notch schools for students and a highly educated workforce. People want to live here. People want to work here. The transit burden has held us back for years and is starting to feel normal to southwestern Connecticut.

Tax incentives to small businesses can be useful interim measures if implemented in conjunction with long-term programs to fix underlying problems. But in isolation, such incentives merely mask the near-term effects of festering, fundamental infrastructure problems which will threaten  the state’s residents and businesses in the long-term. Tax dollars from communities in southwestern Connecticut finance such stopgap programs, but unless coupled with comprehensive transit solutions, our tax dollars are working against us.

There is a viable solution that includes adequate funding to this problem. I propose the New York- Connecticut Transportation Authority (“NYCTA”), an all-encompassing approach to resolve Connecticut’s transportation infrastructure crisis. NYCTA should be an independent, non­governmental entity formed by Connecticut and New York State, to harness both public and open market sources of capital. The operation should own, maintain and be responsible for surface modes of transit under NYCTA jurisdiction. This includes designated highways, bridges, tunnels, and commuter and freight rails.

Freight rail is the most cost-effective way to move massive amounts of goods through the country. The aging track beds cannot handle freight trains because they are not up to today’s standards. The catenary wires and bridges are too low for double­stacked freight cars. Instead of exclusively relying on expensive trucks to carry goods across the state, freight rail will appeal to businesses as a lower cost and faster transportation option. Commuters will save time on our highways immediately; money will be saved from reduced maintenance costs. Furthermore, increasing the use of freight rail will benefit the environment.

Connecticut is at risk. Successful, growing societies require functional transportation infrastructure. This affects everybody. In order to survive in a competitive national and global economy, the state needs to address transportation with a serious, long-term solution. I want to be part of a solution that says ‘yes’ to solutions, rather than sitting on the sidelines watching future generations struggle with the problems from our past.

Phil Sharlach is the Democratic Party nominee for Connecticut State Senate in the 26th District, and a resident of Wilton, CT. The Ridgefield Democratic Town Committee supplies this column.