Editorial: CT transportation has a new driver

Southbound traffic moves along I-95 in Westport, Conn. Nov. 22, 2022.

Southbound traffic moves along I-95 in Westport, Conn. Nov. 22, 2022.

Ned Gerard/Hearst Connecticut Media

When it comes to public transportation, it’s all about speed.

Everyone is looking for a shortcut. Can the GPS find a way around traffic? Will trains ever get faster? Could new sneakers cut time on the walk?

Yet nothing seems slower than upgrading our transportation infrastructure.

Every new Connecticut governor starts out with a vision. Dannel Malloy imagined adding lanes to Interstate-95 and carving a bike path parallel to the Merritt Parkway. Ned Lamont declared the 30-30-30 folly of cutting Metro-North times from Hartford to New Haven, New Haven to Stamford and Stamford to Grand Central Terminal to a half hour each. Commuters would have been ecstatic with the realization of a 45-45-45 plan.

Once upon a time, America was innovative in linking roads, rails and bridges to hasten progress. But it’s a lot easier to work with a blank canvas than to update and replace existing infrastructure, so upgrades perennially get stuck in traffic.

Such are the challenges facing Connecticut’s new Department of Transportation Commissioner Garrett Eucalitto. He rises from the position of deputy commissioner, which he assumed in January 2020.

Consequently, Eucalitto got to see what Connecticut transportation looked like when everything stopped two months later. During those early days of the pandemic, with Metro-North on hold and highways vacated, it was hard not to fantasize that it would have been a convenient time to catch up on overdue upgrades.

Instead, we got to see how Connecticut functioned with the work force toiling from home. It seemed to provide a remedy to the relentless traffic that clogged roads even before and after rush hours. And while many commuters continue to work from home, traffic returned.

But the pandemic reminded us to think again about a blank canvas. Eucalitto didn’t hesitate to point out at his introductory news conference that electric cars will change the landscape as well, reducing income from the state’s gas tax that is channeled back into infrastructure.

It’s right in his wheelhouse. Eucalitto calls himself a policy nerd. He didn’t spend a lifetime working on the railroads like his predecessor, Joseph Giulietti, but can leverage lessons learned from a previous position with the National Governors Association in Washington, D.C., where he advised leaders across the nation on transportation objectives. Painting a picture of the future of travel requires coloring outside state lines.

“No one is more passionate about transportation equity, inclusion and roadway safety than Garrett,” Giulietti said of Eucalitto.

These aspirations could not be more vital in Connecticut right now. The state’s identity crisis over affordable housing underscores the need to find transportation solutions for those who cannot afford rising costs for cars, as well as the gas that fuels them. And recent numbers revealed a grim narrative about safety, as 2022 will end as one of Connecticut’s deadliest years for pedestrians.

At the top of Eucalitto’s to-do list will be coming up with the coin to match the infusion of federal funds that can transform the state’s infrastructure. He also needs to create new strategies to find talent to fill open positions to do the heavy lifting.

Welcome to the driver’s seat, Garrett Eucalitto. We look forward to seeing where you take us.