Details About the New Haven to Springfield Commuter Rail Line

On Monday, members of Connecticut’s congressional delegation took a three-stop tour to promote updates and investments in the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield (NHHS) Rail Program. The first phase of this new commuter rail line is supposed to open in 2016 and only includes double track rail service between New Haven and Windsor, rather than all the way to Springfield. This phase includes 17 round trip trains running every 45 minutes during peak commuter hours and every hour during non-peak hours, as well as shuttle service to Bradley International Airport. When the project is complete, which is currently projected to be 2030, it is expected to include double track all the way to Springfield and will allow for 25 round trip trains running every 30 minutes during peak hours and every hour during non-peak hours and additional connections to Boston and Montréal.

Plans for a New Haven-Hartford-Springfield commuter rail line have been under consideration since as early as 2001, under the Rowland administration. An earlier plan only included rail service between New Haven and Hartford and was considered as early as 1994. The 2001 plan involved trains running in both directions every 30 minutes during peak commuter hours and every hour during non-peak hours.

The total expected cost of the NHHS Rail Program is currently $750 million. So far, the state of Connecticut has secured $365.6 million in funding for the project. This funding includes $190.9 million in Federal Railroad Administration grants and $141.9 million in state funding. The state still needs to come up with $384.4 million in order to fully fund the project.

One of the major goals of the NHHS Rail Program is to generate sustainable economic growth, which communities hope to achieve through transit-oriented development at current and future stations along the line. Transit oriented development initiatives are currently underway at current and future stations in Meriden, Enfield, Windsor Locks, Windsor, North Haven, and Berlin. Many of these initiatives involve plans for mixed-use development adjacent to the stations, which includes commercial, retail, housing, and parking.

According to a 2005 DOT study, the rail line has the ability to attract four different types of potential users. These potential users include commuters accessing employment hubs in New Haven, Hartford and Springfield; intercity rail ridership to points off the corridor, specifically connections to the Amtrak service in New Haven and Springfield; users that would have access to Bradley International Airport; and off-peak non-commuter and weekend users. The study projects that daily weekday ridership for the start-up phase would be between 3,000 and 5,000 people per day. Including all the proposed stops, the average travel time from New Haven to Springfield is projected to the one hour and 30 minutes, which is comparable to the current drive time between the cities on existing highways. The study projects an annual operating cost of $10,079,000 and revenue of $1,117,600, which leaves an annual deficit of $8,960,400.

Since 2009, about $73 million in federal stimulus money has been spent on major renovations to train stations along the route. Since the election, Gov. Malloy has been more definitive about the project and it sounds like the Enfield station is definitely going to happen, which is great news for North Central Connecticut. These are the types of infrastructure improvements Hartford needs to make it competitive with other thriving urban centers across the country.

Thoughts on the Deficit

No matter who is governor of Connecticut, the problem of projected state budget deficits will likely never be addressed completely in the near future. This problem is mainly an institutional one because a governor has more to gain politically by using budget gimmicks to address short-term deficits than by making the tough decisions that are necessary to address the problem in the long term. Part of the problem is the fact that governors make certain campaign promises to get elected, which often tie their hands in any efforts to meaningfully address major budget issues.

When Gov. Malloy ran for governor in 2010, he would often criticize his predecessor, Republican Gov. M. Jodi Rell, for agreeing to use budget gimmicks to take care of projected deficits. However, when Gov. Malloy faced a projected deficit earlier this year, he agreed to use some of the same budget gimmicks that he criticized his predecessor for using. Last month, Gov. Malloy’s budget staff reported that the state faces a $100 million deficit in the current fiscal year and a $1.3 billion deficit in the next fiscal year. It is likely that the Governor will use similar gimmicks to address this large deficit.

Throughout this year’s gubernatorial campaign, Gov. Malloy kept insisting that there was not going to be a deficit for the current fiscal year. At one point, he even projected that the state would have a surplus for the current fiscal year. Less than a week after winning the election, Gov. Malloy’s budget staff announced that the state actually faces a deficit of $100 million for the current fiscal year. If the timing for this announcement seems awfully convenient, there is a reason why. In 2012, the Democrat controlled General Assembly passed a bill that pushed the due date for consensus revenue estimates from Oct. 15 to Nov. 10, which conveniently falls after Election Day.

Although the budget is typically proposed by the governor’s administration and ultimately changed and approved by the General Assembly, most of the blame for any issues, such as a deficit, is placed on the governor because he or she is the one official who represents the entire state. The General Assembly is made up of 187 members, who each represent a different portion of the state, so it is easy to pass the blame around.

In order to fix the problem of future deficits in the long term, Connecticut needs a leader with the political courage to fix the state’s fundamental budgetary issues without worrying about the political consequences. The crop of candidates in the recent election definitely did not seem to be up to the challenge. The only thing we can do is hope for a better choice of candidates in the next statewide election.

Analysis of the Gubernatorial Race

On November 4, Gov. Dan Malloy defeated challenger Tom Foley for a second time to serve a second term as Governor of Connecticut. The most surprising part about the results was the fact that Gov. Malloy beat Mr. Foley by a greater margin than in 2010, which was one of the closest gubernatorial races in recent history in Connecticut. This race was up to the Republicans to either win or lose, especially since Gov. Malloy never received an approval rating over 50% during his first term.

The main reason Gov. Malloy was able to win reelection by a greater margin than last time was because Tom Foley ran a poor general election campaign and never clearly articulated his vision for Connecticut’s future. Say what you will about Gov. Malloy, but at least he has a vision for the state as a cutting edge hub for bioscience, education, research and jobs. Mr. Foley never communicated a clear vision for Connecticut and mainly spoke about things he thought Connecticut voters wanted to hear, such as lower taxes, a friendlier business environment and better schools. The main focus of Tom Foley’s campaign was on the fact that he was not Gov. Malloy.

Voters tend to prefer candidates who stand for something, rather than candidates who are against something. The overall negativity of the race from both sides definitely turned off many voters. Voter turnout was significantly lower than four years ago. When voter turnout is lower, it is typically unaffiliated voters who stay home, which can turn an election into a battle of the bases. In Connecticut, a battle of the bases is going to be won by the Democrats because they enjoy a significantly greater registration advantage than Republicans. In order for the Republicans to win a gubernatorial race in Connecticut, they need to get unaffiliated voters to the polls.

In the end, Gov. Malloy seemed to win reelection because he wanted it more. He made sure that his campaign and the CT Democratic Party did everything they could to get out the vote for him on election day, which included some questionable tactics. On the other side, it seemed like Mr. Foley thought Gov. Malloy’s low favorability ratings would help him coast to victory on election day. When running a campaign, candidates should make sure they do everything in their power to engage voters to ensure they have no regrets on election night.