As our Connecticut legislators wrap up their “short session” this week, it’s time to assess their work: the things done, the mixed messages sent, and the issues unresolved.
Transportation is responsible for almost 30% of all air pollution in the United States, more than half of which comes from cars and trucks. The EPA says Connecticut is in “serious noncompliance” with federal air quality rules, particularly Fairfield, New Haven and Middlesex counties. Our air literally stinks.
So while I’m glad the state has finally committed to a clean air law, it will take until 2040 for many of its provisions to come into effect. It’s far too long to continue endangering the health of our residents.
But while lawmakers are doing a good thing, albeit too slowly, they are sending a very different message in the short term. As I predicted, they continued the gas tax cut until December 1, shortly after the November election. What a coincidence.
While commuters can save money by driving, bus and train riders are losing their discounts: the free bus ride program will expire at the end of June. Ridership on a busy transit system jumped 17% when the free ride plan was launched, taking cars and their pollution off the road.
And if you mistakenly purchased a peak ticket on Metro-North during the many months when only off-peak fares were required, good luck getting a refund. Why did the railroad continue to sell peak tickets during the pandemic? They said they couldn’t reschedule their ticket machines. Really.
While lawmakers are praising themselves for having made our state’s air cleaner (by 2040), they are encouraging car driving, which worsens our air pollution, while discouraging the use of public transportation.
And, oh yes, as you speed down I-95, let your passengers enjoy a beer. Yes, Connecticut is still failing to pass a law banning “open containers” in cars despite an increase in fatalities on our highways. Why? Because sports fans want to be able to track stadium events.
Bowing to this vocal minority has cost Connecticut $132 million in lost federal aid over the past 20 years. Apparently Washington is smarter than us and doesn’t want to subsidize stupidity.
What other important issues have legislators found time to address while delaying air quality and ignoring public safety? Well, they voted to designate the lollipop as our state’s official candy, responding to a petition from Fairfield third graders.
Yes, it’s quite a lesson in civics for the kids, wheezing from asthma as they savor their lollipops.
Finally, a recovery salute to Stamford Mayor Caroline Simmons, who along with her husband contracted COVID-19.
She says she feels fine but I think she’s delirious. In her pre-recorded State of the City address, she said her team was exploring the idea of a ferry service to New York.
Madam Mayor: As I have written since 2005, this idea has been “studied” over and over again and has been found to be insufficient. Why waste taxpayers’ time and money on an “energy-intensive” transportation plan long rejected by industry experts?
Please apply cold compresses to your feverish forehead. And have a lollipop.
Jim Cameron has been a resident of Darien for over 25 years. He is the founder of the Commuter Action Group, serves on the board of Merritt Parkway Conservancy and also serves on the Darien RTM and as a program director for Darien TV79. You can reach him at [email protected]