Monday, November 29, 2010

Rell Responds

Well, she sort of responds. I was so upset about the proposal to shut down the Waterbury train line, I wrote the following email to Governor Rell and the local CT delegation:

Governor Rell has proposed shutting down the Metro-North branch lines to Waterbury, Danbury and New Canaan. I am strongly against this proposal. The branch lines are a fundamental necessity. The state should be spending more money to improve the service on the branch lines and promoting commuter ridership, which would reduce traffic congestion on the highways.
For the past two years, I was a regular commuter from Waterbury to New York City. I was completely dependent on the branch line. Without the Waterbury train, there is no way I would have been able to keep my job—I either would have had to quit or I would have been fired.
If the Waterbury branch line is shut down, the only way to get to the main line is to drive to Bridgeport. This would increase the morning commute time for anyone leaving from Waterbury, since there is almost always a traffic backup on Route 8 near Derby. This would also nearly double the cost of the commute to New York City, from about $350 a month to more than $600 a month. When I was commuting to NYC, I was just barely able to afford $350 a month. There is no way I would have been able to afford to drive to Bridgeport. Driving all the way to NYC is even more expensive and time-consuming.
Shutting down the branch line will create a severe hardship for the people who commute from Waterbury to New York or Stamford. Some of the commuters might end up losing their jobs if the branch lines are closed—which will increase the number of people who need the heating assistance.
The Waterbury train line is also used by college students traveling to their campus in Bridgeport. It is used by patients who receive regular medical treatment in Bridgeport. It is used by workers whose jobs are in Bridgeport.
The job market in Waterbury is dead. Job placement specialists are advising those of us who have been laid off to seek jobs in Stamford, New York, New Haven and Hartford. Shutting down the branch lines removes our ability to find employment in some of the few places left where companies are hiring.

I immediately received an auto-reply thanking me for my interest. This afternoon I received a real reply, but it wasn't from Rell herself, it was from her assistant:

Dear Ms. Guest:

Thank you for your correspondence to Governor Rell regarding rail funding. The Governor truly appreciates the time you took to write to her office. Please accept this response on the Governor’s behalf.

Governor Rell does not approve or support cuts to the Metro-North branch lines – Danbury, Waterbury or New Canaan. The list of cuts was prepared by the Office of Policy and Management as a menu of options for the Legislature to consider as a way to fill a funding hole in the winter home heating assistance program for seniors and low-income families. The Governor has worked too hard and too long to ensure that Connecticut’s transportation system is upgraded and continues to move forward. Governor Rell is committed to commuter rail and will continue to advocate for it until she leaves office.

Thank you again for sharing your comments and concerns with Governor Rell and do not hesitate to contact our office in the future.

Linda Sandiaes
Staff Assistant
Office of Governor M. Jodi Rell

I like how Rell has swiftly distanced herself from the proposal, even though she was the one who submitted it. Last week, she was content to take credit for the proposed budget cut (along with proposed cuts to other essential items including school bus transportation and the CT Commission on Culture and Tourism). This week she claims that she had nothing to do with the proposal, it was someone else's fault.

I also had very nice email responses from Anthony D'Amelio and Selim Noujaim. D'Amelio assured me that the Waterbury delegation would be speaking to Governor Rell about the issue later this week, while Noujaim wrote that he was appalled by the proposal and will be fighting it "tooth and nail."

Congressman Chris Murphy was also upset by the proposal to shut down the branch lines and held a press conference at the Waterbury station this afternoon, right before he had to leave for D.C.

A full complement of news media was present, as were quite a few supporters of the train line--Reggie Beamon, Peter Dorpalen, Peter Marcuse, Main Street Waterbury, Waterbury Development Corporation, Mayor Jarjura, Alderman Pernerewski, and State Senator Joan Hartley (who sent me an email just as I was finishing this blog post, letting me know she spoke at the press conference today). I was there mainly to represent the commuters who are dependent on the train (the upside of being laid off--I've got plenty of free time!).

I chatted briefly with Congressman Murphy before the formal event began. It was gratifying to have a chance to point at the old abandoned SNET building (now owned by the state) while explaining that tearing it down would reduce the number of car break-ins, and to point to the security cameras and explain that their video feed really should be going to the Waterbury Police Department, not just to the MTA in New York.

It's a long, slow process, but if we keep fighting, we'll keep seeing improvements.

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