As if crumbling bridges and pot-holed highways weren’t enough to worry about, America’s transportation network now faces a new crisis: a shortage of truck drivers. According to the American Trucking Association, trucks carry more than 70 percent of all domestic freight, bringing in $719 billion in revenue. It’s trucks, not trains, that deliver our Amazon purchases and fill the shelves of our favorite big box stores for the holidays. So while we hate to drive behind them on our highways, we love what trucks deliver. The half-million remaining truck drivers in the U.S. are continuing to dwindle as more people retire and their positions are unfilled.
In the “land of steady habits,” we don’t fix problems — we study them, over and over again. It’s been 10 years since then-Gov. Jodi Rell’s “blue ribbon” Critelli Commission report studying the reform of the state Department of Transportation. You’ll remember that the study came after a construction scandal on I-84. And while much of the report addresses the dysfunction of ConnDOT, I was pleased that the Commission’s chairman, then-Pitney Bowes Chairman Michael Critelli, also picked up on some suggestions for improving rail service. Rail Service Recommendations
Among the key recommendations were:
—Expand parking at all rail stations, but leaving the towns to price and administer the issuance of permits.
“Why don’t we just ban all trucks from our interstate highways in rush hour?”
A mayor of a small Fairfield County town recently asked me this question. He’s a smart guy who obviously had given a lot of thought to resolving our traffic woes and believed he had the answer to the transportation crisis. He wasn’t in favor of tolls, but liked them as a traffic mitigation tool. Charging truck drivers more during rush hour would incentivize them to travel during other times of the day. He was just taking the idea a step further: ban them completely at certain hours.
I used to believe in Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy and politicians. I actually thought the first two brought me gifts and the latter cared about me and my community. Well, those days are gone. We are now neck-deep in the primary round of campaigning for our state’s top officials and I hope you’ve been paying attention. The promises and the B.S. are piling up pretty fast, especially when it comes to the issue of transportation. A few candidates have been brave enough to endorse the idea of tolls while others just mouth vague platitudes like “we should have free-flowing traffic on I-95…”. No explanations of how or who’d pay for it, just the pandering promises. Why not a chicken in every pot, too? For the past few years I have had a standing offer to meet with anyone running for public office to talk about transportation. Republican, Democrat, independent … I don’t care. If you want to build an informed platform on this issue, I’ll give you the history and perspective and you take it from there. I’ll explain Metro-North’s complicated relationship with the Connecticut Department of Transportation. I’ll give you the facts about the pilfering of money from the Special Transportation Fund by both Republicans and Democrats. I know all this stuff, having immersed myself in it for over 20 years. And I know there are no easy answers.
First impressions count. Arrive at any airport or train station, and you immediately start forming opinions of your destination. Is it clean and modern, warm and welcoming? How does the place make me feel? Are the locals proud of themselves?
The recent debate over tolling our highways should remind us of just how divided the state has become. It’s not red vs. blue and not even just upstate vs. downstate. The real divide is between those who commute by car vs.