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YEAR IN REVIEW Connecticut

Thursday, January 03, 2013 - 10:58 AM

A Metro-North commuter train arriving at Westport station (photo by Matt Hintsa via flickr)

(Neena Satija - CT Mirror) As we celebrate the beginning of a new year, it’s time for that obligatory look back on the last one. Some big stories for Connecticut commuters in 2012:

A major storm prompts rail closures for the second year in a row. In 2011, Metro-North suspended service during Tropical Storm Irene and suffered severe damage to its Port Jervis Line; this time around, it was the New Haven Line’s New Canaan branch that was badly hit. But most praised the quick recovery of the tri-state area transportation system, much of which was back online within two to three days after the storm. The full consequences of the damage incurred by the storm are probably yet to be felt, however, with damage to the New York’s MTA system in the billions — and, as of Jan. 2, a federal aid package for the region affected by Sandy has yet to be voted on.

An old rail line gets … well, older. As Metro-North officials keep telling us, the New Haven Line is one of the oldest in the country. Commuters had several painful reminders of that this year, as everything from derailing trains to power problems (or perhaps squirrels???) to signal issues to 100+ year-old bridges that wouldn’t close stranded them for hours. And yet, some data suggest it was still actually a better year for the rail agency than 2011, when severe winter weather and extreme heat caused even more issues.

Fare hikes, followed by … more fare hikes! Metro-North prices jumped 5.25 percent in January of 2012. By the time the legislative session in Connecticut rolled around several months later, a few lawmakers tried to make sure more hikes wouldn’t be in the cards — but they weren’t successful. Ticket prices jumped up again this year, by 4 percent.

Tolls?! Often considered the third rail of Connecticut politics for the past three decades, tolls quietly entered the conversation last year as a way to pay for badly-needed transportation projects and infrastructure upgrades. The calls got louder by the end of the year, and the state will begin studying the prospect of tolls on I-84 and I-95 in earnest in the coming months.

CTFastrak. Following plenty of spirited debate, the Connecticut General Assembly approved a $567 million to built a 9.4-mile road from Hartford to New Britain that will be exclusively for buses. Known affectionately — and derisively — as the Hartford-to-New-Britain busway, the huge project (mostly funded by federal money) saw skepticism even from those who eventually became its greatest proponents. Now, construction is well underway, to the chagrin of many — including some downtown Hartford residents.

A conversation starts about the future of rail travel in the Northeast Corridor. OK, so it’s really just the environmental review process that’s starting, and maybe some people are kicking around some early ideas for what rail travel could really look like between Washington, D.C. and Boston in the next few decades. Also, we don’t really have money to do any of this stuff, on a federal or state level. But still, it’s good to dream!

A fight over parking in Stamford. Given that the waiting list for a monthly parking pass at Stamford’s train station — the busiest in Connecticut — is about two years long, there really is a fight going on about this. First, Connecticut’s Department of Transportation asked people for their input on plans to improve the parking situation at the station — but wouldn’t tell people anything about those plans. After much public fuming, the state created an advisory panel consisting of five citizens who were given a tiny bit more information about those plans than the rest of us. Most of us still have no idea who has submitted proposals to replace a parking garage at the station, and what exactly their proposals are — for which they will get $35 million in state aid. The DOT is expected to make a final decision soon.

Here’s to bigger — and hopefully, better — stories for commuters in the coming year.

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