Last week, a number of prominent Connecticut public officials gleefully announced overdue plans for construction around the station proposed by Windsor Locks. The press conference focused on federal funding as well as proponents’ plans to link transit to local development, or transit-oriented development. But connecting transportation hubs like Windsor Locks Station to Bradley International Airport remains an ongoing saga in Connecticut.
Last year, more than $ 62 million in state and federal funding was approved to help fund a new station in downtown Windsor Locks, including $ 45 million from the State Bonds Commission. The plans include a market, apartments and a waiting area for airport shuttles.
But state and local authorities are counting on Congress to approve the infrastructure bill to complete dual tracking of CTrail’s Hartford Line and Amtrak trains. If plans are launched next month, construction could start next spring and be completed in a few years.
While the Hartford Line was only built in 2018, it sparked and even propelled development around various stations. This includes the Meriden stop and plans for additional stations in West Hartford and Enfield, among other towns. These proposed initiatives are long overdue and serve as a reminder that Connecticut can be accessible and less dependent on the automobile.
While public transportation has been largely an urban problem, multimodal approaches often attract younger and older residents, especially in dense regional areas. For Connecticut to develop successfully, especially in this decade, varied transportation options and efficient development must be planned.
Transit-oriented development is nothing new. Neighboring states have grown around existing transportation hubs, particularly New Jersey’s transit village proposals and Maryland’s Smart Growth initiatives. Transit-oriented development is just one approach to tackling mixed-use development and dealing with overdevelopment or sprawl.
But Connecticut and many of its municipalities have a lot to learn about effective development approaches. While we cherish local decision-making or autonomy, regional planning is Connecticut’s Achilles heel. Divided municipalities and few approaches to development limit the economic growth of our state. And, interestingly, no Connecticut university offers an accredited graduate planning program, which says a lot about our economic development and transportation priorities.
Transit in Connecticut is often a overlooked opportunity and a bureaucratic affair. We have so many transit authorities and districts that barely allow passengers to transfer systems that a universal pass for various trains and buses is almost impossible to design. Even connecting transit systems is a rare feat along the Hartford Line, as the train runs parallel to CTfastrak for miles.
Another suitable example is getting to Bradley International Airport by public transport. There may be an hourly CTtransit bus service, but passengers on the Hartford line must transfer to Union Station in downtown Hartford, as there is no direct service from the existing Hartford station. Windsor Locks. I have taken these transit routes and planning a train from New Haven to Hartford and then taking a 45 minute bus to the airport is a strategic ordeal.
In light of Windsor Locks’ plans for a new station, we hope there will be an effective link between the station and the airport. Connecticut, and the Greater Hartford area in particular, deserve pragmatic planning initiatives. Building transit-oriented development around existing and newly created transit points is a start. But connecting public transport lines to each other and to a critical regional airport must be a priority. Connecticut could do a better job connecting transit hubs to each other, especially for the benefit of our state’s economy.
Jonathan L. Wharton, Ph.D. is Associate Dean of the School of Graduate and Professional Studies and teaches political science at Southern Connecticut State University in New Haven.