John B. Larson, the East Hartford Democrat who represents Connecticut’s 1st Congressional District, has a pretty good sense of humor, so might he be a prankster too?
To highlight national transportation infrastructure needs, the other day Larson brought the chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., to Connecticut to ride the Amtrak train from New Haven to Hartford — and just a few miles out of New Haven the train broke down. Larson, Shuster, and their entourage had to travel by car to the press conference they planned in Hartford.
Infrastructure needs indeed. It was perfect. When the train broke down they hardly needed the press conference anymore. Had Larson somehow spiked the engine?
Accompanying the congressmen was Connecticut’s transportation commissioner, James P. Redeker, who is part of a state administration that seems oblivious to the point made by the comic rail excursion. That point goes far beyond the usual surveys, promptly filed away without action, about road and bridge obsolescence.
A week before the congressmen’s brief trip on the Amtrak train, three lanes of Interstate 95 between Bridgeport and Stamford had to be shut down for emergency repairs on a bridge, causing two-hour traffic delays. Last month the derailment of a Metro-North commuter train on the Bridgeport-Fairfield border caused dozens of injuries, destroyed rail cars, and interrupted service between Stamford and Boston for several days. The wreck has been tentatively attributed to inadequately maintained track. Last year Metro-North, a regional agency to which Connecticut belongs, estimated that its neglected maintenance and renovation needs total billions of dollars.
Amid all this Governor Malloy has made his premier transportation initiative the construction of a bus highway between Hartford and New Britain at a cost to the state of hundreds of millions of dollars. The bus highway addresses a need that not even a dozen people thought the state had and will create a white elephant that will require a big operating subsidy. And the new state budget diverts tens of millions of dollars from transportation funds into the General Fund, guaranteeing more neglect of infrastructure even as state and municipal employees are getting raises. (Transportation systems don’t enjoy collective bargaining and binding arbitration.)
Representative Larson is not quite the innocent bystander here. Like the governor Larson supports a proposal to spend billions to build a high-speed commuter railroad system between New Haven and Springfield, a route along which there are few long-distance commuters and few not already served well enough by Interstate 91. There’s nothing in that high-speed proposal for the low-speed commuter railroad system through southwestern Connecticut to New York City, a system that has a huge passenger base and that indeed is the foundation of much of what remains of the state’s economy.
That is, state government is puffing away at pipe dreams in transportation while the basics of its transportation system crumble. Policy here is incoherent. Like the commuter train that crashed the other day, it has gone off the rails.
So it’s no wonder that the General Assembly’s great contribution to transportation in its session just concluded was only to declare Connecticut’s claim to have been the location of the first powered flight. There is good evidence that Bridgeport resident Gustave Whitehead flew an airplane over that city in 1901, two years before the Wright Brothers flew over Kitty Hawk in North Carolina.
The problem is that Whitehead never made anything of his invention, while the Wright Brothers did, just as history has credited Columbus as the discoverer of America though there is good evidence that many other explorers from Europe and even Asia preceded him.
Like Columbus, the Wright Brothers were first for sure only in self-promotion. But Connecticut’s elected officials especially should respect that
Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester, Conn.