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Merritt Parkway Grand Opening

From Here to There
Broadcast Premiere: 1998














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NARRATOR: Availability of financing is not the only factor limiting new construction.

DICK MARTINEZ: I don’t think you’re going to see very many new roads built in the state. Environmentally, socially, I think it’s going to be very difficult to get those through the process. What you will see is – is relatively minor safety and capacity improvements to existing facilities. You’ll see some innovative management techniques used to try to improve the flow of that traffic to get people to use a different mode of travel whether it’s a bus, whether it’s a rail, whether it’s riding together. The I-95 corridor from New Haven to the New York State line has what is referred to as incident management within the corridor. The whole corridor is monitored by TV cameras. We have a control station down in Bridgeport which monitors that and we have signs up in the roadway, variable message signs where we can direct traffic around any accidents or any incidences that occur. We also have the same type of system up in the Hartford area,

NARRATOR: On I-95, the Merritt and Route 1, the DOT has a goal of reducing rush hour traffic congestion by 10% within the next five years

HARRY STRATE: That fine tuning of the system is the first thing that we – we always want to do. But there are sections of the state where that’s probably not going to be enough. Southwestern Connecticut, the Hartford area, southeastern Connecticut – other areas – New Haven – other areas of the state where – where demand is – is exceeding even the ability of the existing system to handle it.

CHRISTOPHER BRUHL: We’re going to get at improved conditions by better management of the capacity we have. The only way to manage 

capacity effectively is to rethink transportation as a consumer service not as a physical fact of concrete and steel. What we have to do, therefore, is give people choices that don’t force them to live substandard lives or to give up things they already have. So what we need to do instead is to maximize choice. Give people financial incentives to choose another way or another time to go to work. So what we really see, therefore, is time shifting: go earlier, go later, place shifting: work from home, and mode shifting: out of the car into the train. Those three shifts can easily get us our five percent reduction that we need for congestion and then one percent a year thereafter for about five more years. If we give more choices, more people will go in different ways and we’ll continue to manage our way through the problem.

DICK MARTINEZ: Our average occupancy during the peak hour is only 1.2 people in every car, so there’s a lot of cars that are just single occupancy. If we can increase that number, to 1.5, for instance, we’d have a drastic reduction in traffic on the roadways during those peak hours and actually wouldn’t require any major improvements.

JON COLMAN: There are approximately 450,000 commuters daily in the Greater Hartford Area and 80 to 85% of them are driving alone. Eighty-five percent of those commuters go suburb to suburb which makes it very difficult for non-automobile systems to – to meet their needs because there is insufficient density for transit, in particular.

NARRATOR: What residents value about their mobility and where they live, work and shop, might be the most challenging problem for transportation planners.

JON COLMAN: What we find so lovely about commuting by ourselves is it’s convenient and we can come and go when we want and we’re very happy if we can park next to the desk for free. If we have to start paying for parking, we’re not so happy. If we have to walk from the – from the car to a place where we work, we’re not so happy. But we’re still probably more happy than if we had to be sharing a ride

NARRATOR: In the early 1980s the CT DOT helped to start three not-for-profit corporations to encourage more people to change their commuting habits.

JON COLMAN: Basically, our mission is to get people from driving alone into an alternate form of transportation. Both for economic and environmental reasons, we’re not going to take those two-lane highways and make them four-lane highways, so we’ve got to look at managing the system that we have in place. And when we talk about managing the system we have in place, that means we’ve got to get people into car pools and van pools and innovative forms of transit.

NARRATOR: Ride Share in Windsor, Metropool in Stamford, and Rideworks in New Haven publish The Commuter Register, …

JON COLMAN: The key is it’s a system, it’s a branded system and it’s sold as a system. We don’t anymore market it as van pooling because van pooling doesn’t really mean much to anyone. We market it as a commuter system and we reserve a seat for you just as you would reserve a seat on a train or a bus.

NARRATOR: Financial incentives and restrictive regulations also can greatly influence driver habits.

HARRY STRATE: We have a discipline called transportation demand management where our philosophy is that we want people to pay more during peak hours, we want to change land use planning regulations to favor more transit friendly development. Politically it’s very unpopular because we’re intervening with people’s free choice and free decision making process. The purpose of dis-incentives is

to change peoples behavior. Obviously regulations are one form to do it. You can’t travel or you can’t take the car or only HOV’s with 2 or more occupants can use this lane, those are dis-incentives. But cost is the other major factor in dis-incentives, can either be parking charges so it’ll cost you more to drive your car and arrive at a certain time at the parking garage. They could involve tolls on a highway.

BILL CIOTTO: If we can make it more enticing, maybe by giving a tax credit or other incentive, maybe we’ll entice, motivate more people to use these mass transits. Now, someday we have to start to begin to realize what are we doing to our children’s children, what are we doing to our ecology, what are we doing to ourselves? I don’t want to say mandate, it’s a tough word to use, but maybe under dark condition you’re gonna have to mandate. Maybe you can drive your car three days a week and he can drive his car three days a week and one day we all rest. Now, what I would be calling for maybe is people would consider giving up that car for a day and riding with somebody else or for two days. I think we can make this happen but it’s going to take a little giving on all our parts.

NARRATOR: In an attempt to encourage ridesharing by commuters, the state established high-occupancy-vehicle lanes on I-84, I-384 and I-91 in the Hartford area. More HOV lanes in the area are being considered.

HOV lanes are in use in about 25 municipalities nationwide, with varying degrees of success. CT DOT officials admit that the lanes are being underutilized but say that as traffic conditions continue to worsen, more commuters will use the lanes.

JON COLMAN: You need to remember that for every vehicle that’s in the HOV lane, that’s two or more vehicles that are not in the regular lanes. One of the main purposes of an HOV lane is to provide relief for the other lanes. And so while you may not see as many vehicles as you’d want to see, remember it’s not a vehicle count, it’s a body count, it’s a person count.


NARRATOR: Today, 96 percent of the travel in the state is by automobile with only about two percent each by rail and by bus.

For the last half of the 19th century, public transit was by street horsecar. When electric trolleys replaced horsecars in 1893, thousands of working-class families were able to move to nearby suburbs for the first time.

JAY GITLIN: Real estate developers who knew where the lines were heading often bought up the land and created subdivisions in advance of the line, even. There were great profits, of course, to be made in suburban subdivisions even then. Americans loved the trolley car, thought it was a great thing. But then the car came along and then they remembered all the things they didn't like about the trolley. They were crowded often times at rush hour when you really needed to take one. Of course, there's also the inconvenience of having to go on someone else's schedule and only go between certain points. The car offered an incredible amount of freedom and privacy compared to that. I think more or less the public simply made it clear that they preferred the car and they wanted the government to get into the road-building business.

NARRATOR: The trolley system spurred the golden age of the city. Street car railway tracks emanated out from the central city like spokes on a wheel. As the automobile grew in popularity, more and more former city dwellers moved to the suburbs, but still remained connected to the city.

HERB JANICK (Prof., American History, WCSU): They did some studies in the ‘30s on traffic patterns in CT and they were astounded to find that most of the traffic around the major cities in CT were in and out. People were still working down town in the business district. They were still shopping down there. And it created tremendous problems for CT cities. It changed the whole nature of the street. Instead of it being an extension of the sidewalk, it became a conduit to move traffic. And now, it is so easy to turn your back on the city because the things you used to have to go to the city to get for shopping or for employment have also gone to the suburbs. So, most people can turn their back on the city without any ill effects to their lives.

NARRATOR: As dependence on the automobile has increased over the years, there has been a corresponding decline in public transportation systems, leading to hardships for some. In Connecticut, ___#_____ households do not own an automobile.

TOM LEWIS (Prof., of Geography, MCC): We're so spread out, you know, the buzz words that we use: sprawl, suburbanization, decentralization, the outer city, the edge city, slurbs, rural urban fringe - we're so spread out that it makes it very difficult to provide mass transit systems that will be available to everyone.

BILL CIOTTO: Only six percent of the people on welfare have an automobile. If these jobs are out in the suburbs, how do they get to these jobs? You know, it’s easy to take a bus and get out to a mall at 10 o’clock in the morning. If you’re coming home at 10 o’clock at night, it’s not so easy.

HARRY HARRIS: The bus system really follows the same patterns as the old trolley systems. It’s all based on center city and getting people to spoke and wheel system. We’re now engaged in a major study to take a look at whether or not we can and how should we change the system to meet the demands of people today.

NARRATOR: Unlike other states, where regional and local municipalities help fund mass transit, operating costs for public transit in Connecticut is almost wholly funded by the state. About 40 percent of the state Department of Transportation’s $298-million operating budget subsidizes the state’s two commuter rail services and 20 bus-transit service providers

JON COLMAN: There’s no municipal support. There’s no regional support. And the State, I think, you know, reaches a point where it says well if you want to do these things, you’re going to have to start anteing up and so far this region has not chosen to do that nor has any region in Connecticut. Transit will simply not make money; there’s always going to be a subsidy.

NARRATOR: In the mid 1970s, the Greater Hartford Transit District began a project with the goal of building a modern electric trolley system from downtown Hartford to Bradley Field. The 19-mile mass-transit project was to have been built on the old Griffin rail line right of way. It had been hotly debated from the start.

Griffin rail proponents claimed the $452-million project would attract about 18,000 riders a day and create a variety of benefits.

PAUL EHRHARDT: We need to make a different kind of strategic infrastructure investments so that in fact we can get out of the box that we’ve put ourselves in over the last 50 years. One of the interesting features of a rail line is that inherently it creates points of commerce. Wherever the community chooses to have a station means that people are going to walk there, they’re going to ride their bike there, the bus stops are going to be established there, and there will be some park & ride facilities at that point of commerce. And it really creates a whole new inviting investment environment for real estate developers. It’s complicated. It costs hundreds of millions of dollars and it takes years simply to do the preliminary planning let alone the engineering, design and construction. The fact of the matter is State participation is the lynch pin, unfortunately our State Department of Transportation hasn’t seen the overall value of such an investment.

NARRATOR: In April, under unrelenting opposition from the state DOT, the Capital Region Council of Governments rejected the Griffin Line project, leading some to accuse the DOT of a continuing obsession with building highways at the expense of mass transit. DOT officials deny a road-building bias.

DICK MARTINEZ: That corridor is not a major corridor of congestion. It would be very difficult for us to allocate scarce federal and state resources to that particular corridor.

HARRY HARRIS: While I can salute the idea, I find it difficult to justify the economics even for someone like myself who is a strong proponent of public transportation.

NARRATOR: DOT support for commuter train travel along the shoreline has been substantial.

In 1985, the DOT and the Metropolitan Transit Authority of New York jointly created the Metro North Commuter Railroad. Today, about 90% of Connecticut’s commuters to New York use the train..

HARRY HARRIS: Right now we have probably the largest, close to the largest and most successful rail line in the country in Metro North, the New Haven line. We have 28,000 people a day traveling on that line and we lose $26 million a year. That’s the subsidy. Every time a passenger gets on Metro North it costs a dollar-ninety in state subsidy to subsidize their operation..

NARRATOR: In 1990 the state started a second commuter rail service – the Shore Line East, providing service between New London and New Haven. The line carries about 600 commuters daily and is subsidized at $5.5 million a year.

HARRY HARRIS: The subsidy from the taxpayers on Shore Line East is more than $16. So every time someone gets on that train, the taxpayers are subsidized to the effect of $16. We have got to do things to increase the number of riders on that road to make it viable for the long term.

NARRATOR: Two weeks after the death of the Griffin Line proposal, the DOT announced that they were rejecting widening I-84 in favor of other options, including HOV lanes, bus or light-rail mass transit.


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Last modified: September 03, 2012