Delegation announces ideas to improve Danbury line

In his budget address to the General Assembly on Wednesday, Feb. 18, Gov. Dannell Malloy finished up with his plans for Connecticut’s transportation system. He described it as “a complete overview of the projects Connecticut could undertake over the next three decades.”

He spoke at length about roads, reiterating as he had done earlier this year, his plan to expand the five-mile stretch of I-84 from exit 3 to exit 8 to relieve “unacceptable congestion.”

He also said additional lanes and new access points are needed on I-95 between Bridgeport and Greenwich. He also spoke of other road improvements throughout the state, bus service and even walking trails.

His comments on trains covered numerous rail lines, but he did not specifically mention the Danbury Branch Line except to say the station at Merritt 7 in Norwalk would be reconstructed. Other improvements affecting Wilton commuters would come along the main New Haven Line.

Last week, state Sen. Toni Boucher (R-26) joined her colleagues from southwestern Connecticut, including state Sen. Scott Frantz (R-36) and state Reps. Tom O’Dea (R-125) and Gail Lavielle (R-143), in announcing a series of bills aimed at improving the Metro-North and Danbury-to-Norwalk branch line.

“Transportation is a top priority for our district and our state and the issue is on the top of the governor’s to-do list this session,” said Ms. Boucher.

“It is critical that the district rail lines are improved for the general welfare of commuters and for commerce. Getting from point A to point B safely and on time has to be a focus.”

Mr. O’Dea, a ranking member of the Transportation Committee, said the update and upgrade of Metro-North’s lines are “seriously overdue.”

“Commuters have suffered under unacceptable conditions as unnecessary obstacles are thrown before the workforce we depend on as the engine of our state economy,” he said.

“These bills will take us through the critical first steps of changing those conditions, and providing the necessary investments which will ensure safety, reliability and efficiency.”

According to a Feb. 13 delegation transportation press release, 45% of Connecticut’s tax revenue comes from Fairfield County residents, many of whom commute long hours to and from their places of work. Furthermore, the press release says, “the poor condition of Fairfield’s transportation infrastructure is surprising considering how the region’s vitality is so critical to Connecticut’s economy.”

“Commuters on the Danbury Branch Line have long felt like the poor stepchildren of Metro-North,” said Ms. Lavielle, who is a ranking member of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Transportation.

“Even with the recent upgrades to the signal system, service is still unreliable, the trains frequently break down, and there are significant delays almost every day. It is time to bring the Danbury line into the modern world and give our commuters a break.”

Ms. Lavielle said upgrading the line and enforcing its performance standards to provide faster, safer, more reliable and frequent service would “stimulate the area’s economy, reduce traffic congestion in the Route 7 corridor, and dramatically improve the quality of life for rail commuters and everyone who lives in our region.”

“Passing these bills would go a long way toward making this happen,” said Ms. Lavielle.

Metro-North has had serious operational and infrastructure issue in the last two years, said Mr. Frantz.

“It is more important than ever that the people of southwestern Connecticut stand with elected officials to make sure any improvements are supported,” added Mr. Frantz, who is also a member of the Transportation, Committee.

Proposed bills

This week, the Transportation Committee held a public hearing on the proposed bills to improve transportation specific to Metro-North and the Danbury to Norwalk Branch Line. The bills included:

Proposed Senate Bill No. 498: An Act Requiring Improvements to the New Canaan Rail Line;

Proposed Senate Bill No. 690: An Act Concerning Electrification of the Danbury Line;

Proposed House Bill 6330: An Act Authorizing Special Tax Obligations Bonds of the State to Upgrade the Danbury Branch of Metro-North;

Proposed House Bill 6350: An Act Concerning an Expansion of Commuter Rail Lines to the town of New Milford;

Proposed House Bill 5926: An Act Concerning Performance Standards for the Operation of the Danbury Rail Line.