Imagine that those school-day charmers Goofus and Gallant have grown up, graduated from school, and have now gotten jobs at the Connecticut Department of Transportation.
In the past week, I have attended two public meetings held about CONNDOT projects. In Hartford, Goofus runs the busway project and closure of Flower Street. In East Hartford, Gallant has engineered the road diet on the dangerously fatal Burnside Avenue.
Last Thursday evening, at the Studio at Billings Forge, representatives from the Frog Hollow NRZ, the Asylum Hill NRZ, and the City of Hartford, along with concerned neighbors, met with Hartford’s Development Director Tom Deller and DPW Director Kevin Burnham.
For a brief part of the meeting, DOT Deputy Commissioner Anna M. Barry joined us. She had to leave early, and did so (for full disclosure, I did too – but I am not being paid to attend the meeting).
That CONNDOT sent someone like Barry, who is new to CONNDOT and not fully familiar with the history and acrimony and broken promises of the Flower Street situation is par for the fable. Inexperienced Goofus always arrives late and leaves early.
Deller took 30 minutes to explain the fight with Goofus at CONNDOT. There is a May 7 deadline to settle the dispute over Flower Street or return to a hearing. CONNDOT does not want a hearing, though, because it needs an agreement with the City in order to secure additional funding.
But, the agreement is all on CONNDOT’s terms, and everything CONNDOT promised us in the neighborhoods for years has now been revoked. Goofus never keeps promises.
The design charette that Real Art Ways did to help come up with interesting stations? CONNDOT will use standardized stations.
Keeping Flower Street open to pedestrians and bicycles? CONNDOT will permanently close Flower Street to all traffic. In a few years, they might build a concrete and chain link pedestrian overpass like the one stretching across I-91 to Riverside Park.
“This is not going to be a satisfactory situation,” Deller said. “Either Flower Street closes or we continue to fight.”
For the businesses on Capital Avenue that will suffer economic losses, Deller explained CONNDOT will provide an unknown measure of funds to subsidize and hopefully stabilize them.
CONNDOT has also promised some monies for neighborhood beautification. CONNDOT has promised to study and then fix the Asylum Hill trident, but with unknown monies and an unknown schedule. Goofus doesn’t have a calendar.
For other issues like Greenway connectivity, addressing bicycle and pedestrian safety on Broad Street and bus routing, Deller expressed disappointment in bad planning and zero confidence in CONNDOT fulfilling any of its promises.
Yet, he wants to hold CONNDOT’s feet to the fire, and the City is lucky to have a guy like him going up against the Department of Tar. Or, in this case, the Department of Tsar.
“CONNDOT has done what they wanted,” Deller said, although, he said the City has CONNDOT in a tough spot now.
Listening to Deller’s report, it occurred to me that CONNDOT operates as an occupying force in our neighborhoods. What it says goes. All the meetings to ask how the community could help shape this massive public works projects were a fraud. David Corrigan when generous when he called CONNDOT disingenuous.
I trust Deller’s word. His experience in Providence, where they daylighted a river, brings much to the table. For him to have to deliver CONNDOT’s message, when he clearly is at odds with it, takes professionalism. He earned much respect for his approach.
So, when Deller said during his presentation that whatever agreement he and the City strike with CONNDOT he wants in writing, because he doesn’t trust the State and he wants a document he can sue over, I shouldn’t be surprised. Goofus isn’t, because this is how he operates. Goofus wastes time and money.
Both the City and the State, as governing bodies, face tens of millions of dollars in deficits, and neither can afford to litigate against each other. So why is CONNDOT being so belligerent? Who at CONNDOT is in charge of this project that has allowed relations to degenerate so poorly? It must be Goofus.
This situation is not over. I called four members of our state legislative delegation, Rep. Matt Ritter, Rep. Doug McCrory, Sen. Eric Coleman and Rep. Ed Vargas about the problem. Two returned my calls: Ritter and Vargas. Ritter is fully briefed and working on solutions, and Vargas is on board. Goofus must be defeated, because Goofus only knows winning and losing.
Walking into a CONNDOT sponsored meeting about the road diet on Burnside Avenue in East Hartford, the stretch of asphalt famous for killing three cyclists in an 18 month period from 2010 to 2012, I expected the mean-spirited totalitarian mug of Goofus.
Instead, CONNDOT’s sent Gallant to the East Hartford Town Hall council chambers Tuesday, April 30, 2013.
Tim Bockus, the director of public works in East Hartford, said that in the past five years, he has seen a noticeable change in the culture at CONNDOT. “They listen to us now,” Bockus said. Color me confused. But I like Gallant better than Goofus.
Gallant sent a team about 10 staffers to East Hartford to meet with the community, including Doug Hummel, the officer in charge of purchasing rights of way to make the project happen, and Sharon Okoye, CONNDOT’s bike-ped coordinator.
Erik Jarboe, CONNDOT’s project engineer, gave an excellent presentation about the $2.8 million redesign of Burnside, paid for with 90 percent federal monies. “Good designers visualize themselves as users,” Jarboe said.
Sitting in the council chambers pews, I wondered: where are these good designers visualizing walking through a concrete and metal box on Flower Street? Where are the good designers imagining themselves pedaling down Broad Street at 5 p.m. as every car leaving Asylum Hill is trying to get on I-84 to return to the suburbs?
Gallant’s road diet for Burnside Avenue promises five foot bicycle lanes, lots of striping, cut-ins for CT Transit busses so as not to interrupt the bike lanes, and an educational component for cyclists and pedestrians. Gallant sets deadlines for his projects: the road diet will be completed by February 2014.
Jarboe took time to identify the partners that CONNDOT has been working with here, including Capitol Region Council of Governments, BikeWalk CT, and others. Gallant plays well with others.
CONNDOT took questions and answers, and listened attentively to the suggestions of the citizens in attendance. I was dumbfounded. Gallant is polite and wants what’s best for everyone. How is this possible?
The Governor runs executive branch agencies by delegating authority to commissioners. Malloy appointed James Redeker as the new commissioner. Figure that during the Rowland and Rell years, dozens of engineers and good people lost their jobs at CONNDOT.
Imagine that a culture of who-gives-a-flying-fig-leaf emerged from those who survived the bloodletting. Perhaps Redeker has been able to change that culture in some places. But in other places, that Goofus culture of bullying, disrespectfulness and dishonesty has been difficult to quash.
Redeker needs to reign it in, and fast. I wonder if he is even aware of the level of acrimony his agency is causing. A representative democracy is ill-served by agencies run amok with Goofus setting his own agenda. A disobedient Goofus undermines self-governance, since Goofus then nullifies the election.
Here’s to Gallant running CONNDOT now and in the future.