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State Transportation Bills Get Thumbs Up

DON STACOM

May 06, 2009

With most Republicans dissenting, a key legislative committee endorsed bills Tuesday to promote a light rail study, new sidewalks and bike lanes, and local initiatives toward regional government.

Democrats, who control the General Assembly, easily outvoted Republicans on the committee who argued that all three bills carry excessive costs.

"This falls into the category of good things we can't afford right now," state Sen. Dan Debicella, R- Shelton, told colleagues on the appropriations committee as they discussed whether Connecticut should study locations for building new light rail lines.

The bill would require the state Department of Transportation to assign staff or spend more than $1 million for consultants to examine where light rail routes would be practical.

"Light rail is something we can probably use a lot more of, but $1 million is something we can't afford," Debicella said.

The proposal came from Sen. Toni Boucher, R- Wilton, a mass transit proponent whose Fairfield County district is known for traffic congestion. The cities of Stamford and New Haven are already looking into building light rail lines through their downtowns.

After voting for the study, Rep. Roberta Willis, D-Salisbury, acknowledged that her rural district isn't suited for light rail.

"But when you look at transportation, you have to look at the big picture," Willis said. "The DOT needs to be moving toward these kind of projects."

Democrats also endorsed spending 1 percent of state-funded road repair grants on sidewalks and bike lanes. That bill is supported by pedestrian and cyclist groups who say that Connecticut needs to promote alternatives to driving.

"The goals are laudable, but when towns are in stress and budgets are being cut, we shouldn't be in effect reducing funds available to towns by 1 percent," said Rep. John Hetherington, R- New Canaan.

But Rep. Scott Frantz, R-Greenwich, supported the measure, saying he expects that towns and cities will be creative in using the money.

The committee also backed a bill to reward communities that pursue regional initiatives but said there's no new budget money set aside for those awards. State lawmakers have emphasized in recent months that because of anticipated budget deficits, towns and cities must do more regionally to reduce governmental operation costs.

All three bills now go to the state Senate.

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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