Regional Transportation Plan

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PART 4:



TRAFFIC AND TRANSIT PLANS


BY MUNICIPALITY OVERVIEW

 

 

 


For any transportation project in the Region to obtain a commitment of federal transportation funds, it must first appear within the HVCEO maintained statements of municipal needs below:

4A. BETHEL TRAFFIC AND TRANSIT PLAN
4B. BRIDGEWATER TRAFFIC AND TRANSIT PLAN
4C. BROOKFIELD TRAFFIC AND TRANSIT PLAN

4D. DANBURY TRAFFIC AND TRANSIT PLAN
4E. NEW FAIRFIELD TRAFFIC AND TRANSIT PLAN

4F. NEW MILFORD TRAFFIC AND TRANSIT PLAN

4G. NEWTOWN TRAFFIC AND TRANSIT PLAN
4H. REDDING TRAFFIC AND TRANSIT PLAN
4I. RIDGEFIELD TRAFFIC AND TRANSIT PLAN

4J. SHERMAN TRAFFIC AND TRANSIT PLAN


PROJECTS INITIATED BY CONN DOT
In general there are two options for transportation project development. First, Conn DOT is often the initiator of improvement projects in the municipality, even without a request by local government.

On state roadways safety problems must be addressed, turning lanes added, new signals installed, and maintenance activities scheduled. These are often at considerable expense and make use of federal funds received at Conn DOT. So without any advocacy at all, the municipality receives some basic improvements.

And when it comes to these state initiated improvements, mostly to the state roadway network for which it is responsible, Conn DOT is conscientious about seeking local opinions and input. In addition, as needs statewide are great and financial resources limited, there is little interest in forcing investments upon an unwilling community.

But ultimately there may be a difference of opinion, such as the need to widen from two to four lanes in an area noted for its village character (such as Ridgefield’s Branchville section on Route 7), or on the raising of the height of an overpass that will allow larger trucks to pass (as on Route 53 in Bethel).

In these situations the municipality has recourse to a veto power exercised by HVCEO under federal law over the regional list of the area's federally funded projects known as the Transportation Improvement Program for the area.

But realistically, the mayors and first selectmen on HVCEO are not anxious to stop federal funds that Conn DOT wishes to see flow into the area. Rather, that their consent is ultimately needed tends to keep state and local officials cooperating and shaping projects in their early stages such that they can succeed.

A subset of projects are those required by the state but funded at private developer expense. These types of upgrades are mandated by the State Traffic Commission when a traffic generator has an impact on a state roadway, and therefore must help address that impact, usually thru a combination of roadway widenings, installation of turning lanes, and new traffic signals.


PROJECTS INITIATED BY MUNICIPALITY
While much of the available federal financial resources are funneled into Conn DOT initiated projects, perhaps just as much is applied to projects for which the initiator is not Conn DOT but the municipality. This is the second option, a complex process without a single application form or definitive municipal dollar allocation as guidance.

At the outset of determining which congestion relief projects to pursue, it is important to know that not all must be located on state roadways. Some local roads, if they are higher classifications of important collectors and arterials (see map), also qualify for federal funds.

Also, non-transit projects that do the most to relieve state roadway congestion or that facilitate investment in major economic development receive the most attention from the state. For large economic development projects, state economic development agencies and the Governor’s Office sometimes intervene with Conn DOT.

The best initial approach is to expend time up front developing sound project proposals. HVCEO receives federal transportation planning funds for research to assist municipalities with this step.

A critical component of municipally initiated project development is to seek the input of Conn DOT transportation professionals early on, as improvement concepts are formulated.

To facilitate this process Conn DOT maintains, within its Bureau of Engineering and Highway Operations, a well organized Project Development Unit (PDU) to receive and evaluate new ideas. The PDU required that municipalities submit their proposals thru HVCEO, which in this and in other ways acts as a localized field agent for Conn DOT.

After review, if the municipality and Conn DOT agree that a project is worthy, the next question is finding sufficient funds to design and construct the project. This is, or course, the hardest part.

There are multiple federal funding categories utilized in Connecticut, each with slightly different rules as to use, and much competition.

One small category, Surface Transportation Program - Other (STP-O), is distributed by subarea allocation within Connecticut. HVCEO and the other regions are empowered by the federal government to set priorities for this funding source.

An example of an STP-O project for Danbury is the central area coordinated signal system. In Bethel, the new bridge over Limekiln Brook on Old Hawleyville Road. HVCEO also sets regional priorities for STP-E funds, the federal enhancement and streetscape program.

HVCEO has taken some intermunicipal competitiveness out of its STP-O decisions by use of a “fair share” allocation tied to municipal population. But flexibility of allocation is possible, as when Danbury agreed that Brookfield could exceed its STP-O fair share for widening of Federal Road in Brookfield up to the Danbury City Line, as that congestion relief logically assisted both municipalities.

Federal funding categories with much larger dollar sums, such as STP-A, have no mandatory subarea allocation and are thus largely controlled by CT DOT. Here old fashioned advocacy by the municipality, its legislators and HVCEO, is needed. The key is to have a point person in the local government coordinate the efforts.

Sometimes projects begin with the more limited STP-O program, and then stall because that limited category cannot accommodate the large cost revealed after preliminary design is completed. Then the municipality can hope to have its STP-O project converted by Conn DOT to the larger STP-A category.

Coordinated statements and appearances by the legislative delegation are always valuable. These activities can be aimed at the Conn DOT Commissioner or the Governor’s Office.

But it again must be stressed that it is best to have first shaped the desired project such that it has the support of Conn DOT professional staff, as their opinions are given great weight at legislative hearings. The discussion there can be centered around bills that give direction to Conn DOT on a particular transportation project.

Even after some initial progress is made there are still hurdles. While smaller scale maintenance projects usually proceed to construction by their own momentum, such movement is never common with the larger cost roadway capacity projects.

These may at first proceed relatively smoothly through their design phase. But then advancing to the more costly construction phase is stalled, and another advocacy phase is needed.

This halt of progress is not always apparent to local leaders, for the official Conn DOT statement of an optimistic completion date has been authoritatively issued. But the completion date is then continually revised and revised again.

The cause may be silent, such as two state agencies not in agreement about some aspect of project impact and without anyone above them intervening to negotiate. The answer is again for officials representing the community, both local and state, to show interest when there is a delay.

In years past it was possible to lobby the Connecticut General Assembly for 100% state funding for a local road improvement project. But in recent years state funds have decreased for such purposes.

Rather, state funds for traffic relief and transit improvement are reserved to serve as the required matching shares for federal transportation funds. Still, the State Bond Commission continues to make state funds available for some key traffic improvements, such as I-84 Exit 1 and Exit 2 capacity expansions.

Sometimes a municipality pursues a project with Conn DOT where the effort reaches a relatively quick consensus. This can occur when the need is small enough such that DOT District 4 maintenance forces can complete the needed changes with existing manpower, without escalating the improvement to the status of a “federal project” at all.

Overall, the key to municipal transportation project development is to acknowledge it as a multi-year process, to which someone in the local government can be assigned to pursue for the long haul. For the monitoring of Route 7 improvements in New Milford, Brookfield and Ridgefield, state representatives have taken on this project “champion” role.

In sum, success requires strong initial planning, regularly project monitoring, lobbying and effective use of Conn DOT and HVCEO.

Contents | 1.  |  2.  |   3.  |  4.  |  5.  |  6.  |   7.  |  8.


 
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