May 21, 2013
Written by Jim Cameron
Tuesday, 16 November 2010 22:30
Anyone who follows this column knows I’m bipartisan in my criticism. Whoever is in power, Democrat or Republican, I’ve got “suggestions” on how they could improve our transportation mess.
Since she came to office in the midst of a scandal, no other politician has been the target of my commentary more often than Gov. M. Jodi Rell. Today, however, I want to give her the credit she’s due for all she’s done on the transportation front.
Watching the governor ride the first of the new M8 rail cars this week, I was struck by how she had come full circle in only six years. The irony is it took her entire tenure in office to order, design, build, test, and finally deliver these new cars.
In Rell’s first budget address to lawmakers in February 2005, she started to undo years of her predecessors’ neglect of our trains. She told lawmakers they must order 300 new rail cars, and they did. Mind you, she told us then the cars would be in service by 2008. I predicted, accurately it turned out, that 2010 was a better guess.
The governor said riders should pay a small part of the cars’ cost with a modest fare hike, and that, too, was passed by lawmakers.
But Rell also said that commuters shouldn’t pay more until they were actually riding in the new cars … a promise she kept. As manufacturing delays by Kawasaki slowed delivery of the M8’s, that planned 1.25% fare hike was deferred. A politician who keeps a promise. Imagine that.
More recently, Rell also told the New York MTA, parent of Metro-North, there was no way she was going to raise fares in Connecticut to pay for the budget problems of New York’s own making. That was a first in the troubled history of Connecticut/New York relations, but again, the governor deserves credit for doing the right thing.
But not every dream came true during the Rell administration.
Grumblings about a lack of a voting seat on the MTA or Metro-North boards never amounted to more than that … grumbling.
And yes, Rell did change commissioners in the Department of Transportation at a pace that left many people wondering who was in charge: five commissioners in six years. One was a former state trooper, another had run Bradley Airport. The two most recent of them actually had experience in rail transportation.
Rell was embarrassed on several occasions by her DOT, which was wracked by scandals, eventually asking local businessman Michael Critelli to study the agency and issue recommendations for reform. Of course, few of those suggestions were ever embraced.
Long-promised repairs to our dilapidated train stations took four years, and they happened thanks mainly to federal stimulus money. If this work wasn’t “shovel ready,” nothing was.
We’re still not certain if the much-needed New Haven rail facility will ever be fully built, as its price yo-yoed from $300 million in 2005 to $1.2 billion in 2008. The governor’s solution — pay consultants $630,000 for an audit. Their report found only $11 million in potential cuts.
Still, Rell was a big rail fan, realizing the importance not only of fixing Metro-North but of planning for the future. Together with fellow lame duck Senator Chris Dodd, she secured a serious down payment on high-speed rail between New Haven and Springfield. Well, maybe not true “high-speed,” but certainly higher speed than Amtrak currently offers.
I’m not sure how Gov.-elect Malloy will do on transportation, though he clearly understands the problems from his years as mayor of Stamford. His dreams for better mass transit will be most tempered by our economic crisis.
But to outgoing Gov. Rell, all commuters should give a loud thank-you for all that she accomplished. She’ll be a hard act to follow.
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