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James Redeker Live on Where We Live

Chion Wolf

James Redeker, Commissioner of the Connecticut Department of Transportation, joins us to talk about the latest in infrastructure. What with Metro-North woes, CTfastrak progress, talk of changes to the I-84 viaduct in Hartford, and more emphasis on transit-oriented development, is the state doing everything it can to improve the quality of our trains, buses, bridges, and roads? Check in below to see what Redeker has to say.

9:08 am: Connecticut owns the Northeast Corridor railway and has an agreement with Metro-North to oversee operations and maintenance. The state owns the rails, the wires, and the train cars. We've put in place over $3 billion over the last ten years, says Redeker, including the new M8 cars, to give us a completely new fleet within a few years.

9:10 am: Redeker says that Connecticut is investing in two new substations in the state for power supply to Metro-North to try to avoid the problems we had related to an outage in Mount Vernon, New York.

9:13 am: "I have a very significant opportunity to influence my partners along the northeast corridor," says Redeker, to try to get more federal funding for transportation. "We're trying to keep pace with the backlog, and as we're doing that, upgrade our systems." For example, Connecticut invested in "positive train control" and will be piloting for Metro-North the first phase of that system from New Haven to Bridgeport. "There's a federal law to invest in positive train control." Connecticut has $160 million to invest in it.

9:16 am: Redeker says a company called Transportation Technology Center, Inc. has diagnosed the New Haven train line, the track department at Metro-North, and the "safety culture." The state has invested $18 million since May in right-of-way improvements recommended through that process. "These are over and above the normal federally required inspections," says Redeker. 

9:21 am: "To comply with the latest [federal] order, some speeds have to be reduced," says Redeker of the recent Metro-North derailment in The Bronx. "My position is that this railroad is in better shape than it has been at any time." Redeker says he advocates for aggressive communication, and that he comes from a customer service background. He wants customers to come back from what he called "a breach of public confidence," and that the infrastructure issues have been addressed.

9:25 am: Metro-North is committed to safety, Redeker says, and adds that he's working to communicate to the public the schedule changes that are needed to make things safer now, as well as slowly return to a normal schedule. "We need to run the right number of trains. There's a balance," he says, to make sure demand is served but the rail line is also efficient. He calls Metro-North the most efficient railroad in the country. "The purchase of the M8 cars isn't just predicated on replacing old equipment," he says, it's about looking to the future. "We added more service on the New Haven Line than any time in the New Haven Line's history."

9:28 am: Despite Metro-North being "the most efficient railroad in the country," Redeker concedes that its customers deserve a lot of credit for "what they've put up with."

9:32 am: Redeker lists some major projects -- bridges -- where the state is ahead of schedule, and in some cases under budget. "We're looking at accelerated bridge construction, ways to save money, eliminate delays for customers, shorten the time of project implementation," he says, using money more wisely and getting more done.

9:36 am: We're having technical issues with our phone lines. Tweet, comment below, or send us an email at wherewelive@wnpr.org.

9:39 am: Redeker says all of the Amtrak stations along the New Haven-Springfield rail corridor will be rebuilt. Much signal work along the route is already complete. The new commuter rail line is expected to be working in 2016.

9:41 am: On CTfastrak, Redeker thinks it'll be "game-changing" for the New Britain-Hartford corridor. "Station facilities are in," he says. "The multi-use trail has segments built." 

9:45 am: Redeker talks about Flower Street in Hartford, and how the DOT is trying to increase mobility despite the street closure. He says, "It's about community engagement; commitments that we've made," but safety is the priority. "We can't do it by keeping that particular road open. That may be unfortunate for some. The betterments [the busway] brings will be better and meet the needs of the community," he says.

9:47 am: What will happen to the I-84 viaduct in Hartford? Redeker points to a community discussion process that happened some time ago trying to envision what would work in the path through the city. The viaduct needs to be replaced -- it might cost $3 billion -- but the concepts that emerged from the community have promise. "Our current schedule takes us through some preliminary design, environmental work" through 2017, and then the DOT has to make a decision. "We have time," he says, "but 2017 is when we believe we'll be ready to make a decision on what we're going to do, and when." But it's not clear when an actual new highway through Hartford would be built.

9:52 am: "We're putting down salt and magnesium chloride. It does some pre-melting when necessary," says Redeker, in answer to a question about what we're putting down on the roads in Connecticut during snowy weather. Connecticut also bought some snow blowers after learning how helpful they were in last year's massive snowstorms.

9:54 am: On what is being done about trees along Connecticut transportation routes, Redeker says, "We're doing what we should have been doing for 30 years, maintaining them." Further, the DOT is preparing its first strategic plan ever, which Redeker emphasizes will be shaped by the people of the state. He encourages residents to sign up for alerts on the state website

9:57 am: The state recently launched a distracted driving awareness program, targeted at teens, through the schools. "We hope students will educate their parents, and their relatives," he says.

9:58 am: Redeker says the state is investigating the possibility of installing tolls on highways. There are tradeoffs but any decision is still a year away, he says. "We've had lots of money to spend, and we're doing it well," he adds.

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