Needed: A place to live and a way to get to work

Do we even need to say that housing and transportation must go together when planning for Connecticut's future workforce?

Of course we do. This is a state of two-acre residential zoning that assumes at least one, usually two, maybe more vehicles parked in each driveway. On the other hand, it is a state of small and medium-sized cities with widely spaced bus routes that are useful only to people with no other options at all. Neither arrangement works efficiently for getting to work, job training or college classes, nor for highway congestion or public transit revenues. Too many drivers, but not enough rides and not enough riders.

Transportation is a major need and a major expense for working people. That is already true, no matter whether the state adopts highway tolls or not.

The Day welcomes Gov. Ned Lamont's economic and jobs initiative to link new housing development in the state with easy access to transportation. His appointment of Stonington resident Lisa Tepper Bates to head it makes sense as well. She served as executive director of Mystic Area Shelter and Hospitality and as chief executive director of the Connecticut Coalition to End Homelessness. During her tenure there the state became one of the first two to effectively end homelessness among veterans and achieved a three-year decline in homeless residents. On the home finance side, Tepper Bates serves on the board of the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority.

A longtime Lamont supporter, she may have gotten the job while knowing less about transit than housing.  However, the governor has had time to observe that Tepper Bates has proven herself effective in managing systems for basic human needs, including where to put the resources so they will be used. And there are people lined up to tell her what is needed, including participants in a federally funded regional study about future housing development. The study is in response to hiring at Electric Boat and to more sailors being stationed at the Naval Submarine Base in Groton in the future. Planners include the state Office of Military Affairs and the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments.

Tepper Bates told The Day that as senior coordinator for housing and transit-oriented development she will work with municipalities around the state. She said assistance could be technical, financial or of other kinds.

Housing with public transportation access means more options for low- and middle-wage earners, including access to training and to better-paying jobs. This is good for cities. Connecticut absolutely must support and develop its urban centers, which is where the growth is taking place in other states.

The Day urges Lamont, Tepper Bates, and those who work with them to consider these points:

• Define transit broadly: including trains, ferries, car pools, buses that carry bikes, and safe sidewalks. For a truly insightful plan, leave out no options, but be realistic about the numbers of people who can reasonably make use of each one.

• Collaborate with highway planners and port and harbor officials to investigate the potential for river ferries. A ferry run between Electric Boat and Norwich, for example, could meet up with buses to Northeastern Connecticut communities. A cross-river ferry between Groton and New London would lighten the load on the Gold Star Bridge.

• Undertake solutions to buttress or revise bus systems such as SEAT to make them a reasonable option. And it works both ways. If you build it, and make it affordable, they will come.

• Acknowledge the reluctance of many Connecticut drivers to pay tolls by giving them the option of reliable public transit. If the state enacts highway tolls, it will be up to the individual to compare the costs and the convenience, but it will provide a choice.

Lamont sees this initiative as a way to attract workers that will make them want to stay in Connecticut and reverse the much-decried exodus of young and productive people. The concept stands a fair chance of slowly but steadily reversing a downward trend, and who would not welcome that?

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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