Transform CT: Crowd-sourcing or amateur hour?

FI-Talking-Transportation-Jim-CameronWho is designing our state’s transportation future? Urban planners? Academic visionaries? Highly trained engineering and planning professionals at CDOT? No, unfortunately the state is leaving those decisions to you and me via a website, TransformCT.org

The idea is to give everyone in Connecticut a chance to voice their opinions about what roads and rails should be built, then debate and “vote” on others’ proposals. The top vote-getters will help determine what gets built. Some call it “crowd-sourcing” though I prefer to think of it as a popularity contest for amateurs.

True confession: 45 years ago I wanted to be a civil engineer and help design “the train of the future.” I attended Lehigh University but quickly discovered that I wasn’t cut out to be a civil engineer. Instead, I got into broadcasting and journalism. And while I have opinions about transport in the future, I’m smart enough to know I am not an engineer.

I can dream about things that just won’t happen. As my daughter used to say, “We all want things, Daddy” but wants, needs and practicalities are all very different.

In 2000 our legislature created a Transportation Strategy Board with subcommittees statewide (on one of which I was elected to serve). The TSB’s mandate was to develop a 20-year vision for Connecticut’s transportation future. And that they did, calling for many improvements including the long-overdue order of new rail cars for Metro-North.

But the Transportation Strategy Board is now gone, wiped out of existence by Gov. Malloy. Why? Because its priorities did not match his. Instead of a statewide citizen/expert panel, now our governor wants you to vote (and pay for) your transportation dreams.

So far TransformCT has attracted 13,500 visits and 2,000 different ideas. Check the website and you’ll find such revolutionary concepts as … “spend the gasoline tax on transportation,” “make our streets walkable,” provide “a quicker commute on Metro-North” and “bike lanes everywhere.”

But buried further down the list are some real gems: “build a subway from Bridgeport to Waterbury,” “add an upper level over (double-deck) our highways,” “high speed rail Hartford to NYC in one hour” (versus 3.5 hours today) and “hovercraft along the coast.”

And what also showed up in many “suggestions” was one key word describing what I think is the raison d’etre of this entire silly endeavor. That word? “Tolls.”

There isn’t a politician in this state with the guts to support the single best solution to our transportation money needs … tolling motorists. But mark my words, that is what TransformCT is all about, building a citizen-wish-list of transportation projects and then telling us, “you asked for it … but now you have to pay for it … with tolls.”

The CDOT is already priming the pump for the inevitable, bringing in out-of-state experts to sell us on the value of tolls.

In an e-mail to me, the CDOT said, “It is the job of the DOT to execute the will of our stakeholders.” Really? Tell that to the 750 daily parkers at the Stamford station who will lose their spaces to a secret deal with a developer putting up a high rise with zero public input.

I would much rather leave the planning for our transportation future to the professional planners, engineers and experts who know what they are doing. But if our pols would rather let you dream big, realize it comes with a price tag.

Be careful what you wish for.

 

Jim Cameron is a longtime commuter and founder of the Commuter Action Group. The opinions expressed in this column are only his own. You may reach him at [email protected]

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