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Sustainable Eastern Connecticut

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On April 25, 2012, the National Association of Development Organizations (NADO) Research Foundation held the RPO America Peer Symposium, during the 2012 National Rural Transportation Conference in Burlington, Vermont.  This special session, held with support from the Federal Highway Administration, focused on “Sharing Innovations in Regional Transportation Planning.”

Following a panel of three presentations on local roadway issues, a second panel, focused on integrating transportation planning and economic development, began with a presentation by Ken Livingston, of Fitzgerald & Halliday, and Mark Paquette, of the Windham Regional Council of Governments, on creating a regional sustainability plan for eastern Connecticut. The project is located in one of the most rural parts of the I-95 corridor and the eastern seaboard, with a population of 430,331 that is somewhat underserved. A Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant administered through the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, the U.S. Department of Transportation, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency supported the project.

Livingston and Paquette explained how they engaged both traditional and nontraditional partners in the grant process, allowing them to reach the population base that is a key component of the Sustainable Communities grant focusing on housing and jobs. Consortium members also included a wealth of people who would not be involved in a more traditional transportation project led by the DOT. The project expanded the realm of who was involved in the planning process and functioned as a fully integrated plan. In the context of home rule municipalities in Connecticut, where county governments are not dominant, this level of regional thinking is often considered “almost taboo,” and Paquette suggested might have been easier in other states.

The goals of the plan center around improving quality of life in the region, and all of its components (mobility, employment, and housing) return to this point. A large variety of jobs are available in the region, and a total of 113,000 people both live and work in the region, with a larger outflow than inflow of workers. This information was important for studying the demands on the transportation network and how mobility and access could be improved with more options.

Livingston and Paquette emphasized that transportation is a means to an end. The goal should be to increase transportation options and create linkages between housing, jobs, and retail, needs that are not always best served by transit. In promoting affordable transportation, it is important to consider cost to both the user and the provider—sustainable solutions must be innovative and built on partnerships. Another goal of this plan has been to connect the three rural transit districts in eastern Connecticut. The speakers cited a lack of awareness of what resources are available, resulting in some duplication of services. The plan aims to increase understanding of what agencies are already providing service to facilitate further collaboration.

As the project continues, Livingston and Paquette will continue to reach out to constituents to determine their concerns and needs. They plan to create a video as part of the visioning session required by the Sustainable Communities grant to help “tell the story of what’s actually happening in the region.” For more information, visit http://sustaineasternct.org.

A participant asked Livingston and Paquette if they experienced any political pushback in eastern Connecticut for the sustainability grant. They replied that they made a consistent effort to frame the plan as a way to promote quality of life and access to economic opportunities and did not encounter any notable opposition. Paquette also responded to a question about engaging youth in the planning process. He praised the local community college for being very adaptable by offering new training programs, such as one for brownfields remediation technicians.

View more presentations from RPO America

The proceedings of the 2012 RPO America Peer Symposium were researched and written by NADO Research Foundation Graduate Fellow Kate Humphrey under the direction of Associate Director Carrie Kissel.  This work is supported by the Federal Highway Administration under contract number DTFH61-10-C-00050 through the NADO Research Foundation (www.RuralTransportation.org).  Any opinions, findings and conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of FHWA or the NADO Research Foundation.

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