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    Friday, September 22, 2023

    Where's the transportation governor?

    It was painful to watch Connecticut lawmakers wring their hands this week over the prospect of spending $100,000 to run a pilot water taxi program this summer on the Thames River.

    First of all, lawmakers, try to focus on reality.

    The amount of money needed to get the taxi for the new Thames River Heritage Park up and running is much less than a drop in a state budget ocean that is more than $17 billion deep.

    You couldn't swing a cat in the state Department of Transportation, Office of Policy and Management or dozens of other beachheads of state bureaucracy without hitting dozens of administrators who make more than $100,000 a year and probably accomplish very little.

    If you want to wield your little budget tweezers, lawmakers, have at the enormous waste that surely occurs in so many cracks and crevices of bloated state government.

    But don't use them to pluck out a promising new idea, the creation of an innovative park out of existing attractions, that will almost certainly generate much more in new tourism dollars than it will cost.

    Our own new Republican senator from East Lyme, Paul Formica, endorses the taxi funding but supports "caveats" that would require the $100,000 be repaid once the new service becomes profitable. Really?

    This legislative timidity, creating caveats for dribbles of state seed money for a new public park, should be enough to make New London voters queasy about whom they sent to the state Senate to represent their interests.

    The region's other new Republicans in the House, representing Groton and New London, have laudably put this park taxi service legislation at the front of their agendas.

    Alas, they don't have a lot of clout in Hartford, and it doesn't help when their Senate colleague from the region, on the same side of the aisle, starts insisting that the money be paid back.

    This is arguably regional pork, and if I were a lawmaker from another part of the state, I would be skeptical, too.

    And yet this park proposal, which has bubbled from the grass-roots up, with generous volunteerism and planning by local nonprofits, has the makings to significantly impact state tourism and tourism-related tax revenues. Visitors who come here will also eat, stay the night and fill up their cars after they've visited the country's only water-linked park connecting museums, forts and open space.

    The infrastructure and attractions are already in place. Thanks to local generosity, the whole concept has been refined and laid out by the renowned Yale Urban Design Workshop.

    It needs a little nudge in funding, not much money at all. Never mind $100,000. Consider a little more and roll out a new seven-day-a-week taxi service for two months this summer, do a poll of the people who use it and see where it leads.

    I suspect you will get not only tourists but locals, too, probably even daily commuters. After all, our biggest employer has plants on both sides of the river. Maybe there is enough of a market to charge and make the system pay for itself.

    I'm disappointed that Gov. Dan Malloy, who is proposing spending billions of dollars on new highways and more trains, can't make this simple water taxi happen.

    Where is the transportation governor when you need him?

    Malloy was happy to announce, at election time, the creation of a new park at Seaside in Waterford, when he thought it was going to save a Democratic seat in the Senate. (I would bet they have already spent $100,000 on that political fix, and there's little to show for it.)

    But the governor is nowhere to be found when a park suggested by local communities, one that would cost very little to create, is on the drawing board.

    That should make voters around here queasy about whom they sent back to the governor's office for another term.

    This is the opinion of David Collins


    Twitter: DavidCollinsct

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