State Department of Transportation Commissioner Joseph F. Marie, who has been trying to bring high-speed rail to the state, left office in a real hurry this week. Mr. Marie reportedly was summoned to a meeting Tuesday at the Capitol with a senior administration official. A day later, Gov. M. Jodi Rell's office issued Mr. Marie's two-sentence resignation letter and a brief statement from the governor thanking Mr. Marie for his service.
It was a surprising resignation, the kind that suggests an unspoken subtext. But whatever the circumstances, the departure comes at a crucial time for the large agency.
Mr. Marie, appointed by Mrs. Rell two years ago, was the first DOT commissioner in recent memory whose background was almost completely in public transit. That's exactly what the governor wanted. After the disastrous "winter of woe" six years ago, when a third of the state's aging rail cars on Metro-North broke down, Mrs. Rell vowed to improve rail and bus transit in the state. This was a hard sell in an agency that was heavily oriented toward building highways. Unhappy with progress and with several scandals in the department, Mrs. Rell turned to Mr. Marie.
He embraced the transit vision. As commissioner, Marie bought new rail cars and buses, fought cuts in commuter rail service to New York, supervised nearly $1 billion in improvements to the state's New Haven rail yard, and aggressively pushed for commuter and high-speed rail connecting New Haven, Hartford and Springfield. He had at least begun to improve morale and change the culture of the department, from a "highway department in drag," as one planner put it, to an agency dedicated to a multi-modal system of transportation.
The state desperately needs better transit, so it's essential that the work continue. The DOT is preparing a major funding application for the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield line, a process that Mr. Marie was managing. His successor, former deputy commissioner Jeffrey Parker, must follow through and get any help he needs, from the state or from congressional offices. It won't be easy for Mr. Parker, who has none of his own people in key positions. Mrs. Rell, a strong advocate of better transit, needs to do all she can to keep the DOT on track.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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