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Conn. expects $2M from feds for transit security

(The following story by Mark Ginocchio appeared on the Stamford Advocate website on September 16.)

STAMFORD, Conn. — After negotiating with New York and New Jersey for more than a year, Connecticut expects to get about $2 million from a $47 million federal transit security bill for the tri-state region, state Department of Transportation officials said last week.

The final numbers have not been made official, but the anticipated $2 million would be an increase from the previous year's grant, according to Kevin Nursick, a DOT spokesman.

Nursick said he was uncertain when the official totals for the three states would be announced.

"It hasn't been hashed out yet," he said, adding all three sides had meetings last week to discuss the grant.

The money would be used for "safeguarding our infrastructure and upgrading our communications equipment," Nursick said.

Citing confidentiality, he declined to name specific projects earmarked for the grant money.

The DOT was hammered by rail advocates two years ago when it walked away with just $510,000 out of a $37.5 million tri-state grant.

The lion's share of that grant, $29.5 million, went to New York and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority. The remaining $7.5 million went to New Jersey and its mass transit systems.

The 2005 grant was negotiated by the three states within a few months. It was unclear why the 2006 grant has taken more than a year to finalize.

For both grants, distribution of money was determined primarily by ridership and risk, DOT officials said.

The MTA serves about 8 million passengers a day. New Jersey Transit carried about 750,000 daily passengers, and the PATH trains run by Port Authority of New York and New Jersey carry about 200,000 riders.

Connecticut's railroads carry significantly fewer riders - about 120,000 commuters a day on Metro-North Railroad's New Haven Line and Shore Line East Commuter rail.

Even with improvement from the year before, some rail advocates were not pleased with the state's anticipated amount.

"There's not much you can do for $2 million," said Jim Cameron, chairman of the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council. "With the number of daily passengers we have, clearly that is nowhere near enough."

Cameron said he understands why the transit agencies with the most riders got more money, but the entire region would benefit if all three states and their railroads were adequately funded.

"The railroads are not separate buckets, they're interconnected," he said. "It's no stronger than the weakest part, and Connecticut right now is the weakest part of it."

Other advocates said the state's anticipated grant was fair, given its ridership.

"Every individual transit rider deserves equal protection on our regional transit systems, so distributing the allocation of resources by ridership numbers makes a good amount of sense," said Kate Slevin, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign in New York.

Connecticut may continue to receive less than it should, as long as the federal grants remain regional, said Floyd Lapp, executive director of the South Western Regional Planning Agency.

"We're put in the elephant's house with New York and New Jersey," Lapp said. "We have no chance."

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

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