[FLASHBACK] June 28, 2023 – Hwang (opinion): Metro-North service cuts and CT rail investments just don’t track

Hwang (opinion): Metro-North service cuts and CT rail investments just don’t track

By state Sen. Tony Hwang

June 28, 2023

“There is certainly an irony. It underscores a real need for a long-term vision for the New Haven Line.”

That’s how Connecticut Commuter Rail Council Chair Jim Gildea succinctly and accurately summed up the curious timing of rail service cuts which are set to come even as the state plans to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on track improvements and infrastructure projects along commuter and intercity rail lines (June 25 news story, “State plans for rail service cuts”).

Rail is neither a convenience nor a luxury. It’s an essential economic engine. The Metro-North New Haven-New York Line is the main line into Grand Central Terminal, getting people to work and out of their cars while reducing congestion and air pollution. That’s why the Senate Republican caucus and I proposed a budget alternative which fully funded commuter rail lines. That’s also why the legislature’s Transportation Committee, where I serve as a ranking Senate leader, was in near-universal opposition to rail service cuts. We pointed out that slicing service would run counter to neighboring New York, where the Metropolitan Transportation Authority has not proposed any cuts along sections of the New Haven Line that run to and from New York City. Additionally, service cuts are at odds with separate legislation that passed overwhelmingly to give residents who regularly use rail services more of a voice on the panel Gildea leads.

Just as puzzling? The legislature passed a $7.5 billion two-year bond package which marks a significant increase in Special Tax Obligation bonding issues for the state’s portion of transportation infrastructure improvements. We authorized nearly $1.6 billion in transportation bonding for the fiscal year that begins July 1 and another $1.5 billion for the fiscal year beginning July 1, 2024. This includes a dramatic increase in bond funding for mass transit and improving our bridges and rail lines while helping to create affordable and accessible housing units across Connecticut. As ranking leader on a key bonding subcommittee, I was proud to help in the crafting of this portion of the bipartisan bonding legislation. It will make our state safer and will create hundreds of construction jobs for years to come, but this massive bonding commitment stands in stark contrast to the perplexing message being sent by service cuts.

So yes, there is indeed much irony in this story. There is also much frustration. Jim Cameron, founder of the Commuter Action Group and a strong advocate for Connecticut rail riders, has noted that these unprecedented schedule changes will have a negative domino effect on everything from housing to responsible development to the environment. Reducing ridership, Cameron correctly points out, will increase rail operation deficits and calls for greater service cuts, feeding into what he describes as the “transit death spiral.” Cameron also predicts that appropriate transit-oriented development projects will be scaled back, asking an excellent question, “Why live next to a train station with fewer, more expensive trains?” It’s quite a head-scratcher.

Add to this Connecticut Department of Transportation Commissioner Garrett Eucalitto’s acknowledgement that service cuts and significant schedule changes and reductions represent “a complete break from precedent” which will “create something we’ve never seen before.” In a world where certainty and predictability are so highly valued by our job creators and workforce, these statements do not inspire confidence.
As a long-standing champion of rail and all its beneficial impacts, I will continue to point out the shortsightedness of the proposed service cuts and schedule reductions. Rail commuters who depend on rail transit in southwestern Connecticut should get vocal and active too.

What does that entail? Let your elected leaders know how you feel. Let them know that you see the irony Gildea sees, and the death spiral Cameron warns of. Demand from politicians a financial and policy commitment to a long-term vision of sustainability and efficiency for the Metro-North New Haven-New York Line. We deserve one.

State Sen. Tony Hwang is a chief deputy Republican leader, ranking Senator on the Transportation Committee and ranking member of the Bonding Subcommittee of the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee. He represents the 28th Senate District, which includes Easton, Fairfield, Southport, Newtown, Sandy Hook and portions of Bethel.

The post [FLASHBACK] June 28, 2023 – Hwang (opinion): Metro-North service cuts and CT rail investments just don’t track appeared first on Connecticut Senate Republicans.

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