NORWALK?-- Host to tens of millions of commuters each year, Interstate 95 has "about double" the amount of traffic it was designed for, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said Sunday during a town hall discussion about the snarled enigma that is Connecticut's public transportation system.
As alternatives to driving, trains are expensive and crowded; bus routes and schedules are inadequate, audience members complained; commuters who do use Metro-North said they are forced daily to vie for limited parking at the train station. Low-income people who cannot afford to drive aren't able to get to work on the present public transit system, noted the director of a data-analysis firm. The $300m in additional federal funds allotted to Connecticut over the next five years is "still not nearly enough,"?Murphy said, at a time when Governor Malloy is proposing a traffic overhaul to the tune of $100 billion.
As the name of Murphy's statewide listening campaign suggests, Fairfield County residents are "Fed Up" with the condition of Connecticut's transportation system.
The 80 seats in Norwalk Public Library's auditorium were mostly full as people from Norwalk and environs come to vent their frustration and hear responses from Murphy as well as Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling, State Senator Bob Duff and Mark Abraham, director of DataHaven, a New Haven organization that uses public data to examine correlations between transportation and quality of life.
The event started a few minutes behind schedule.
"Do you think the senator's stuck in traffic?" quipped one woman in the audience.
In his introduction of Murphy, Duff said transportation is "probably one of our top issues in the state of Connecticut,"?and recounted a recent trip to Shanghai during which he rode in a high-speed magnetic train.
"Those are the kinds of things we need to be doing here,"?Duff added, emphasizing the need for "vision"?in the state's transportation solutions.
Murphy, taking the podium, called traffic congestion within Norwalk "the good news and the bad news of a city that is growing economically;" the first slide of his presentation bore the caption "Traffic is unbearable."
As a Connecticut native, "I know, just from a psychological perspective, how damaging traffic congestion is,"?Murphy said, eliciting a chuckle from the crowd.
During his talk, Murphy said that in addressing the state's transportation woes, it will be necessary to make "politically difficult"?decisions--raising the gas tax, for example, or somehow getting commuters to alter their habits, or ceding control of property around Metro-North stations to state or federal control.
(Murphy is co-author, with Tennessee Republican Senator Bob Corker, of a bipartisan proposal to raise the federal gas tax--a proposal which, Murphy admits, has not as yet met a great deal of enthusiasm on Capitol Hill.)
Connecticut's transportation problem has a "big scope," encompassing psychological and economic issues as well as logistical ones, Murphy said, but one thing is clear--something has to change.
"The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over and over again and expecting different results,"?Murphy said.
During a presentation that included disturbing figures about how many total days are spent commuting over a lifetime (30, in some cases), Abraham emphasized the impact of inefficient public transit on people who can't afford to own a car.
"There are a lot of jobs that people have to turn down because the bus systems just don't go out there anymore," Abraham. Even in places like New Haven that have relatively good bus systems, the busses don't run late enough to accommodate the increasing number of people working evening shifts, he added.