Connecticut has lagged behind most Northeastern states in fighting sprawl, resulting in poorly planned, low-density development in many of our suburban and rural towns. Sprawl has meant more traffic congestion and pollution, loss of farms and forests, higher costs for infrastructure and services and a loss of housing variety.
Let's hope that will change.
In an unusually passionate announcement last weekend, Gov. M. Jodi Rell said she's begun a national search for a deputy commissioner of the state Department of Transportation who will focus on mass transit and anti-sprawl measures.
"We need to combat sprawl," Mrs. Rell said. "Our goal is to create more attractive, livable, economically strong communities while protecting natural resources, and our battle to attain those goals must include mass transit." She spoke of bringing affordable housing and business to the areas around transit stops, to create "walkable, bikable neighborhoods."
The governor correctly observes that transit and transit-related planning "have been on the back burner for decades." To turn things around, the "state's economic development, environment, public health, energy and transportation policies need to be coordinated and balanced every step of the way."
Mrs. Rell framed the issue properly. But to succeed, she - or her successor - must oversee and support the effort. This editorial page argued that the DOT commissioner, not a deputy commissioner, should be the expert in transit and transit-oriented development. Nonetheless, the deputy commissioner can be a leader in fighting sprawl, with the strong support of the commissioner and the governor.
In addition, the governor needs to champion a legislative package that will create incentives to build in town centers and transit corridors, provide more help for regional planners and local land-use officials, and make a stronger commitment to farmland preservation.
The governor should initiate a statewide review of zoning legislation, because current zoning laws in many towns are outdated and work against smart growth.
Mrs. Rell has supported $3.5 billion in transportation improvements in the past two years. Her national search for a transit leader is another step toward reversing the helter-skelter development that is threatening the state's vaunted quality of life. With perseverance, these initiatives will grow into a solid smart-growth policy in Connecticut.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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