Hartford Rail Line May Bring Jobs, Opportunity for Key Populations, Study of Public Transit Suggests

As Connecticut moves closer to a significant increase in rail service connecting communities from New Haven to Springfield, MA, with the introduction of the Hartford line, anticipated in May, a report by Demos underscores the potential impact on economic opportunity and segments of the state’s population. The report, “To Move is to Thrive:  Public Transit and Economic Opportunity for People of Color,” which looked at public transportation in metropolitan areas across the country, presents a series of findings on the use of public transit by people of color and on the potential jobs benefits that people of color can gain from investments in public transit.

Its key findings on the use of public transit are:

  • Racial, ethnic, and class inequities in the access to and funding of public transit continue today.
  • Latino and Asian-American workers are twice as likely as white workers not to have a vehicle at home. African American workers are three times as likely. These disparities are heightened in certain metropolitan areas; Latino and black workers lack a private vehicle at as much as six times the rate of white workers in some areas.
  • Asian-American and African-American workers commute by public transit at nearly four times the rate of white workers. Latino workers commute by public transit at nearly three times the white rate.
  • Workers of color are overrepresented among public transit commuters with “long commutes”—one-way commutes of 60 minutes or longer.

The key findings on the jobs benefits from investment in public transit are:

  • America’s employment rates are still low relative to 2000, and there is a strong racial hierarchy in employment rates.
  • The majority of the jobs created from infrastructure investments can be non-construction jobs.
  • All racial and ethnic groups gain jobs from large infrastructure investments and, generally, the larger the investment, the more jobs for each group.
  • Investments in public transit show good returns in terms of the shares of the total jobs going to workers of color.

The report also noted that “growing numbers of Americans rely on public transit in their daily lives. In 2015, passengers took 10.5 billion trips on transit systems, up 33 percent from 20 years ago. Public transit ridership has grown faster than the population. But our public transit infrastructure, like much of our infrastructure generally, is old and decrepit. And many of our transit systems were not designed to handle such heavy use.”

While Connecticut’s cities are not as large as many of the nation’s largest metropolitan areas, they do have populations with larger numbers of people of color than mnay surrounding suburbs.  Providing greater ease of mobility to station stops along the Hartford line could offer impacts suggested by the study.

The Hartford line, which is focused on increasing the frequency of station stops from Springfield to New Haven, will also see additional stations constructed in the coming years.  When the CTrail Hartford Line service launches in May, it will consist of both expanded Amtrak service and new regional trains operated by the Connecticut Department of Transportation and will offer more frequent, convenient and faster passenger rail service between New Haven, Hartford and Springfield.

Plans call for an increase in the number of round trip trains from six daily Amtrak intercity and regional trains to a total of 17 round trip trains a day to Hartford, and 12 trains per day to Springfield. In addition, trains will operate at speeds up to 110 mph, reducing travel time between Springfield and New Haven. Stops are to include rail stations in Windsor Locks, Windsor, Hartford, Berlin, Meriden, Wallingford and New Haven.   New stations are to be added, refurbished or relocated in North Haven, Newington, West Hartford, Windsor, Windsor Locks and Enfield by 2020.

Projections include more than 4,500 construction related jobs and over 8,000 total jobs, including both direct and indirect jobs.  Transit-oriented development, including housing is also anticipated along the route. Recently, plans to convert a long-vacant factory into housing was announced in Windsor Locks.

The national data indicates that workers of color are roughly 2 to 3 times as likely as white workers not to have a private vehicle at home: only 2.8 percent of white workers do not have a vehicle at home, but 6.9 percent of Asian-American workers, 7 percent of Latino workers, and 9.5 percent of African-American workers do not have a vehicle at home.

Nationally, 3.1 percent of white workers use public transit, while 7.8 percent of Latino workers, 11 percent of Asian-American workers, and 11.1 percent of African-American workers commute using public transit. In other words, Latino workers are almost 3 times as likely, and Asian-American and African-American workers are almost 4 times as likely as white workers to commute by public transit, the report indicated.

Based in New York, Boston and Washington D.C., Demos is a public policy organization “working for an America where we all have an equal say in our democracy and an equal chance in our economy.”

Knowledge Corridor to Gain Boost as More Frequent Rail Runs Through It

For years, the tag line has been “innovation runs through it.”  In the coming year, there will also be more frequent rail service running through it, and that may make all the difference in the world. When proponents of economic development in what’s known as “New England’s Knowledge Corridor” get together for a conference this fall, it will be with the backdrop of the three anchor cities that span two states – New Haven, Hartford, and Springfield – being more connected than ever, with the start of the new regular rail service between the cities just months away.

The half-day conference, “Leveraging the Knowledge Corridor’s Transportation Assets and Investments to Drive Economic Progress,” will be held at Union Station in Springfield on October 18.  It will serve as the coalition’s 2017 “State of the Region” conference.

The keynote speaker will be Robert Puentes, President/CEO of the Eno Center for Transportation.  Panelists will include five members of Congress from the region:  Richard Neal and James McGovern from Massachusetts and John Larson, Rosa DeLauro, and Elizabeth Esty from Connecticut.

Plans also include talks by Connecticut Commissioner of Transportation James Redeker and his counterpart in the Bay State, Stephanie Pollack, Secretary/CEO of the Massachusetts Department of Transportation.  Officials also anticipate releasing the results of the 2017 New England Knowledge Corridor Business Survey.

"In the Knowledge Corridor, we’re convinced that the transportation assets we have; new ones that will be coming online in the  next year or two, plus; those we are planning to see realized over a longer range time line constitute the bedrock of a competitive 21st century economy that enables ready and affordable access to skilled workers, attractive markets and motivated consumers on a global scale," Tim Brennan, Chairman of New England Knowledge Corridor Partnership and Executive Director of the Pioneer Valley Planning Commission, told CT by the Numbers.

On Monday, Governor Dannel P. Malloy announced that a joint venture of TransitAmerica Services and Alternate Concepts has been selected as the service provider that will operate and manage service on the Hartford Line – which is expected to launch in May 2018.

Work is continuing throughout the summer, including grade crossing upgrades in Wallingford this month, as part of the overall upgrade of the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield rail line – now branded as the CTrail Hartford Line, with expanded service scheduled to being in 2018, according to transportation officials.  Last month, construction in Meriden and Windsor included track construction upgrades.

New England’s Knowledge Corridor is an interstate partnership of regional economic development, planning, business, tourism and educational institutions that work together to advance the region’s economic progress. The region “transcends political boundaries,” officials point out, and it comprises the Hartford, Springfield and New Haven metro areas and is centered on seven counties in the two states, underscoring the area’s “rich tradition of inventions, research and higher education.”

The New Haven-Hartford-Springfield (NHHS) Rail Program is a partnership between the State of Connecticut, Amtrak and the Federal Railroad Administration.  The goal is to provide those living, working or traveling between New Haven, Hartford and Springfield with high speed rail service equal to the nation’s best rail passenger service, officials emphasize.

The Hartford Line will act as a regional link with connections to existing rail services, including Metro-North, Shoreline East, and Amtrak Acela high-speed rail services on both the New Haven Line to New York and on the Northeast Corridor to New London and Boston. There will also be direct bus connections to the Bradley Airport Flyer and to CTfastrak.  With a heightened level of direct and connecting service linking the region, the hope is that towns along the future Hartford Line will become magnets for growth – ideal places to live and to relocate businesses that depend on regional markets and travel.

All of which dovetails perfectly with the “selling points” routinely used to promote the Corridor:

  • Academic Powerhouse – One of the country’s highest academic concentrations and largest capacities for research, with 41 colleges and universities and 215,000 students
  • Exceptional Achievement – Consistently among the nation’s top 10 in percentage of the population with advanced degrees, science-engineering doctorates and new patents registered
  • Big, Concentrated Market – The nation’s 20th largest metro region, with over 2.77 million people, is comparable to Denver and St. Louis, but with twice their population density, which means ready access to labor and consumers
  • Large Workforce – A labor force of 1.34 million, 50% larger than the Charlotte metro area
  • Business Hub – 64,000 businesses – 60 percent more than the Austin metro

"Providing frequent, reliable, commuter rail service connecting New Haven-Hartford-Springfield, the three major cities that anchor the Knowledge Corridor and its over 2.7 million people, will be nothing short of a game changer enabling the cross border region’s to reach its potential as an economic powerhouse within New England while simultaneously linking it to the white hot economies found in the Boston and New York City mega regions," Brennan added.

The CTrail Hartford Line rail service will operate at speeds up to 110 mph, cutting travel time between Springfield and New Haven to as little as 81 minutes. Travelers at New Haven, Wallingford, Meriden, Berlin, Hartford, Windsor, Windsor Locks and Springfield will be able to board trains approximately every 30 minutes during the peak morning and evening rush hour and hourly during the rest of day, with direct or connecting service to New York City and multiple frequencies to Boston or Vermont (via Springfield).  New train stations also are in various stages of development in North Haven, Newington, West Hartford and Enfield.

Also, very much a part of the strengthening transportation options with the potential to spur economic development is Bradley International Airport, which recently has added international flights on Aer Lingus (last year) and Norwegian Air (last month) and a direct-to-San Francisco route via United Airlines.

Connecticut Airport Authority Executive Director Kevin A. Dillon said the aim is to “build on Bradley’s strengths and continue our focus to deliver more convenience and connectivity for our region.  Flying to Europe from Bradley has never been easier and more affordable.”

The Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT) conducted a bidding process and cost-benefit analysis for the Hartford Line program and selected TransitAmerica Services and Alternate Concepts, which are forming a joint venture solely for the purpose of serving the Hartford Line. This marks the first time that CTDOT has been able to select and contract with an experienced service provider for a major transportation program, a more cost-efficient alternative to the agency creating a separate internal unit and hiring employees to manage the Hartford Line, according to state officials.

Connecticut Road, Rail, Bridge Infrastructure Continues to Earn Scrutiny

Often described as “an accident waiting to happen,” the condition of Connecticut’s road, rail and bridge infrastructure continues to earn scrutiny from policy makers and the public.  In the transportation-congested Northeast corridor, the intertwining highway and rail bridges, often stacked above and below one another or alongside each other, underscore the potential consequences of infrastructure failure.  The state legislature is poised this week to devote a portion of the state sales tax in the coming years to the start of a long-term transportation infrastructure revitalization plan proposed by Gov. Malloy. “Improving safety features on Connecticut’s roads and highways would likely result in a decrease in the state’s traffic fatalities and serious crashes,” a report in December 2014 by TRIP, a nonprofit organization that researches transportation issues, pointed out.  “It is estimated that roadway features are likely a contributing factor in approximately one-third of all fatal and serious traffic crashes.”underbridge

The report noted that “highways are vitally important to continued economic development in Connecticut, particularly to the state’s tourism, farming, agriculture, manufacturing, and insurance industries. As the economy expands, creating more jobs and increasing consumer confidence, the demand for consumer and business products grows. In turn, manufacturers ship greater quantities of goods to market to meet this demand, a process that adds to truck traffic on the state’s highways and major arterial roads.”

Amtrak's ridership through the Northeast corridor, including Connecticut, is up 50 percent since 1998, boosted by the introduction of high-speed trains.  A record 11.6 million riders rode Amtrak in the corridor in fiscal year 2014, the Associated Press recently reported.  Commuter railroads that rely heavily on the rail corridor, like the Metro-North Railroad serving New York and Connecticut, also have been breaking ridership records.

That same report, however, indicated that half of the route's 1,000 bridges are around a century old. Not all are at the end of their useful lives, but at current funding levels, it would take 300 years to replace all of them, according to the Northeast Corridor Commission of transportation officials, the AP reported.

“The terrible tragedy in Philadelphia is only the most recent reminder of the tremendous backlog of basic repairs and safety upgrades we have accumulated as the result of years of underinvestment in this critical asset,’’ U.S. Senator Chris Murphy said recently.  He’s proposing that $555.8 million in the president’s budget for Northeast Corridor rail improvements to be directed at rail-safety projects only.  Murphy calls the $555.8 million a “drop in the bucket,’’ noting that the Northeast Corridor repair backlog currently stands at $21.1 billion.

railAs one example, state officials are working on a plan to replace a swinging bridge over the Norwalk River, built in 1896.  "As a piece of engineering, it's just amazing," John Bernick, assistant rail administrator for the state Department of Transportation told the AP. "But, it's certainly reached its retirement age.” The computer that operates the bridge is from the 1980’s, and replacing the bridge could cost as much as $650 million.

Last October state officials announced a plan, using state and federal funds, for the design and replacement of that century-old Walk Bridge, which malfunctioned in two separate incidents within a two week period last summer. The project is be funded with 34 percent state funds and 66 percent federal funds. Officials anticipate the design for the replacement bridge, which began last July, to be complete by 2016.  With a contract bid package complete by late 2016, construction of the replacement bridge could begin in 2017 with a completion date in 2020.

A report in 2010 from the Federal Highway Administration found that out of 4,186 bridges in Connecticut, 378 bridges were considered structurally deficient and 1,028 bridges were considered functionally obsolete.  In 2008, a report by TRIP, indicated that the average age of bridges in Connecticut was 40 years, and that 46 percent of the state’s bridges were built prior to 1960.  The organization’s updated report, in December 2014, found that 35 percent of Connecticut bridges are in need of repair, improvement or replacement. Ten percent of the state’s bridges are structurally deficient and 25 percent are functionally obsolete.

Annually, $143 billion in goods are shipped from sites in Connecticut and another $119 billion in goods are shipped to sites in Connecticut, mostly by truck, the 2014 TRIP report indicated.  Forty-one percent of Connecticut’s major locally and state-maintained roads and highways have pavements in poor condition, while an additional 41 percent of the state’s major roads are rated in mediocre or fair condition and the remaining 18 percent are rated in in good condition.Congestion

In addition, Connecticut has more than 3,400 bridges and culverts on municipally maintained roads, according to the state Department of Transportation. Construction and maintenance of these expensive structures is the responsibility of the cities and towns who own them.  The state legislature, which is scheduled to adjourn on Wednesday, is considering a proposal that would increase the available funds under the State Local Bridge Program to assist local municipalities for FY 2016 applications to $15 million and would add $10 million for FY 2017 applications.

The TRIP report concluded that “making needed improvements to Connecticut’s roads, highways and bridges could provide a significant boost to the state’s economy by creating jobs in the short term and stimulating long-term economic growth as a result of enhanced mobility and access,” warning that “without a substantial boost in federal, state and local highway funding, numerous projects…will not be able to proceed, hampering the state’s ability to improve the condition of its transportation system and to enhance economic development opportunities in the state.”



Construction of New Rail Stations Set to Begin in 3 Connecticut Communities

The start of construction is imminent this fall for new rail stations in Wallingford, Meriden and Berlin as part of the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield (NHHS) Rail Program.  The new, expanded commuter service, to debut in 2016, will be branded the “Hartford Line,” as a key component of an increasingly robust multi-modal regional transportation system being developed in the state and region. Improvements at the three stations include high-level platforms on both sides of the track, overhead pedestrian bridge with new elevators and stair towers, platform snow melt systems, electric vehicle charging stations, ticket vending machines and passenger information display systems,  high-resolution video surveillance systems, increased parking capacity and roadway access improvements, improved accessibility and bicycle racks.2014.10.22_Hartford_Line_s

Funded through the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (PRIIA) created under President Barack Obama in 2008, and State of Connecticut bonds proceeds, the NHHS Rail Program is aimed at providing significant new regional passenger rail service options.  Existing stations on the Hartford line are in New Haven, Wallingford, Meriden, Berlin, Hartford, Windsor Locks and Springfield.  Plans call for future stations in North Haven, Newington, West Hartford and Enfield. base_map

Officials point out that one of the primary objectives of the NHHS program is to serve as a catalyst for transit-oriented development (TOD) around the stations. The state Department of Transportation is working with towns to help leverage the investment in railroad infrastructure to capture local development benefits. TOD, in the form of compact, mixed-use districts, is pedestrian-friendly and contributes to vibrant and active communities. By promoting the use of transit, TOD also reduces reliance on automobiles, resulting in energy cost savings and improved air quality.

In June, officials from the U. S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) toured parts of the NHHS Rail corridor, and state officials recently visited a proposed rail station site in Enfield.

The new NHHS rail service is expected to operate at speeds up to 110 mph, cutting travel time between Springfield and New Haven to as short as 79 minutes. Travelers  will be able to board trains every 45 minutes during the morning and evening peak hours and every 90 minutes during off-peak periods when the new system is operational.

A year ago, a West Haven rail station was added to the New Haven line.  Located midway between Milford and New Haven stations, West Haven was the first new station to open on the New Haven Line since Fairfield Metro Station was added in 2011. West Haven Station was designed by Vanasse Hangen Brustlin and built by a Connecticut company, Manafort Brothers of Plainville.

A New York City-based construction firm, Judlau Construction, has been awarded the $58.8 million contract to build the new railroad stations in Berlin, Meriden and Wallingford, the New Haven Register reported last month.  The firm specializes in large public works projects and design-build services, and currently ranks #132 on Engineering News Record’s list of the Top 400 Contractors, as well as #32 among Top Domestic Heavy Contractors. (In 2011, the company ranked #113 on the Top 400 list and #33 on the Top Domestic Heavy Contractors list.)

In June, the Chicago Tribune reported that the company was being awarded a $64 million construction contract by Illinois Tollway as low bidder for construction of new highway entrance ramps.  The Tribune also reported that Judlau “admitted improper hiring practices and paid a $7.5 million penalty in connection with an alleged minority hiring scheme” in New York, which the company said it had “self-reported” to the U.S. Attorney’s office.  The Tribune reported that “according to a 2012 civil lawsuit settlement with the U.S. attorney's office, Judlau and its partner in a Metropolitan Transportation Authority tunnel project admitted engaging in improper hiring practices involving minority- and women-owned businesses, otherwise known as disadvantaged business enterprises, or DBEs.”

State's Public Transportation Commission Calls for Service Improvements, Safeguards to Transit Fund

With the start of the legislative session, one of the many reports landing on legislators desks include a series of six recommendations for improving public transportation services, developed by the Connecticut Public Transportation Commission and outlined in their recently released 2013 Annual Report. The recommendations, according to Chair Kevin Maloney, “do not call for any major new State-funded initiatives, though some of the recommendations would require incremental expenditures to current projects or services.”

The Commission, a 14-member advisory body comprised of gubernatorial and legislative appointees, and including members from industry and the public, developed the recommendations following seven public hearings in Norwalk, Putnam, Bristol, Orange, New Milford, Enfield and New London, and monthly meetings throughout the year.  The Commission:

1.  Strongly supports efforts to safeguard the Special Transportation Fund, stating that resources of the fund “must be reserved to address the needs of Connecticut’s roads, bridges and transit systems.”  The report noted that:

  • transfer of Fund monies to the General Fund deprives Connecticut’s infrastructure and services of these much-needed resources
  • the transfer of Fund monies violates the trust that the Special Transportation Fund’s supporting revenues and user fees will benefit the transportation services and facilities upon which those who pay the gas tax, gross receipts tax, fares and license and permit fees rely
  •  “the continued deferred investment in our transportation infrastructure that the diversion of Special Transportation Fund resources causes will erode Connecticut’s attractiveness and make it harder to compete with other states for businesses and residents”

2. Recommends sustained support for adequate for the continued operation and growth of the Coastal Link bus service, operated by Greater Bridgeport Transit, Norwalk Transit and Milford Transit along the Route 1 corridor, be provided. The line – which the report describes as “highly successful” and “perpetually in jeopardy” due to insufficient funding - carries over 4,000 passengers per weekday and over 1.2 million passengers annually, and the butransportation reportses running this service are frequently at or above capacity with some occurrences where riders must be turned away.  “At a minimum,” the report recommends, “additional investment of state funds would be required to support additional buses to provide a consistent level of services and improve service quality.”

3. Commends ConnDOT for restoring funds to the Municipal Dial-A-Ride program – a “much needed program” that provides mobility to seniors and persons with disabilities across the state, and is “especially important to small rural communities.”  Funding had been reduced by 25 percent in 2011, which was restored in the FY2014 state budget, according to the report.  Approximately 130 municipalities apply for program funds each year.  The report notes that Connecticut is the seventh oldest state in the nation, with the over 65 population projected to grow by 64 percent by 2030. 

4. Encourages ConnDOT to apply the techniques used to inform the public about the progress and projected benefits of CT FastTrak (previously known as the Hartford-New Britain Busway) with information on other high profile projects such as the Stamford Transportation Center.   The report states that a “more vigorous and pro-active outreach effort...may pay dividends in lessening political headwinds and gain public support for these projects.”   Such actions “for other major transit projects such as the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield commuter rail service would also serve both ConnDOT’s and the public’s interests.”

5.  Urges State cooperation with an on-going effort by the Housatonic Railroad to develop a privately-run, unsubsidized passenger rail service between Danbury and Pittsfield.  With the commitment by Massachusetts of substantial funding for that state’s portion of the project, this proposal is starting to gain some momentum, the report indicates.

6.  Recommends “more effective dissemination of information about new and existing transit services,” recognizing that “the public does not have sufficient awareness of and information about existing transportation services to take full advantage of these services.”  The Commission indicated that this was a “recurring theme” at the Commission’s public hearings, and called for both high-tech and low-tech solutions.  The report noted that “addressing this need can be challenging,” because “ConnDOT has no dedicated marketing staff and no marketing budget,” and “marketing for individual services is often sporadic and inconsistent.” connecticut

Additional topics were noted in the Annual Report as a result of issues raised during public testimony, including:

  • the increasing popularity of cycling and the resulting demand for more bicycle amenities and facilities,
  • the desire of several smaller transit districts to implement designated and signed bus stops to increase system visibility and assist their riders,
  • the need for better communication on train platforms to alert riders as to which track an arriving train will be using,
  • the increasing demand for inter-regional bus services, repeated accounts of train fares going uncollected, and
  • the demand for bus and rail services which cross Connecticut’s boundaries into adjacent states.

The Commission is chaired by Kevin Maloney, President/CEO of Northeast Express Transportation, Inc. which operates NEXTAir, NEXTCourier and NEXTDistribution.  Commission members include Christopher Adams, Richard Carpenter, Morton Katz, William Kelaher, Yvonne Loteczka, Kevin Maloney, Edward McAnaney, Robert Rodman, Kiernan Ryan, Russell St. John, Richard Schreiner, Richard Sunderhauf, Alan Sylvestre, and John Zelinsky.  Among the ex-officio members are DOT Commissioner James Redeker, Sen. Andrew Maynard and Rep. Antonio Guerrera.

The Commission continues to meet monthly in accordance with state statute, with the next meeting scheduled for March 6 at New Haven’s Union Station.