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River Line Would Be Link To Prosperity



January 04, 2009

We are facing a recession; we should use this time to plan development in a way that is clean, green and cost-effective. I believe transit is the economic engine we need to grow the economy, and to create a more sustainable way of life.

I believe more companies would locate here and more students would stay in Connecticut after college if we had transit in place.

The state is working on a busway from New Britain to Hartford and commuter rail from New Haven to Springfield. What if, in addition to these projects, we built a commuter rail line along the Connecticut River from Hartford to Middletown?

A train from Middletown to Hartford would give both cities greater access and appeal. A train could access underused urban land along the line, which would be ideal locations for new industry and housing. New development not only would increase the tax base in each of these cities, it would attract more people to central Connecticut, where many towns actually suffer from population deficits.

Attracting industry isn't a matter, as many believe, of simply offering tax breaks. And attracting workers is about more than salary. New businesses locate where they are in proximity to a pool of skilled workers. Skilled workers in turn look for the best and most economical way to get to work, affordable housing and good schools for their children.

A Middletown-Hartford transit line would help build the area's skilled workforce. Industry analysts tell us the key to making our economy competitive in the decades ahead will be expanding the skills of existing workers. Transit can get these workers to certification and training classes, and eventually to jobs. Younger workers can use transit to get to technical schools and internships. If all goes well, they can go from their first apartments to their first jobs on the train.

Focusing employment centers along a rail line would provide a life path as well as a travel path. And it would help limit damage to the environment and help us save money. Eliminating the need for every worker to drive his own car to work every day eliminates the cost for every downtown to park that car and every highway and every neighborhood street to accommodate it. A major company opened recently in Berkeley, Cal., with 2,000 new employees who come to work every day without a car.

Building this line is obviously a challenge. It is not shovel-ready, nor is it a state Department of Transportation priority. Could we build this by ourselves? Could we take the gas and car taxes from the region and establish a fund, which included private money, and start building it ourselves?

It's a daring idea in an economic downturn, but things were much tougher in the 1930s, when many great public works projects were built.

We know we need to prepare for a post-petroleum travel world. We know we need to live more sustainably. The question is, do we have the courage, and can we do it while we have a moment to catch our breath?

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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