A new commuter rail between New Haven and Springfield, Mass. – with stops in Hartford and at Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks – and other transportation improvements will soon be a reality, as a bill that designates $2.3 billion for statewide transportation initiatives passed the Connecticut Legislature earlier this week and is expected to be signed by Gov. M. Jodi Rell shortly.

The bill is the second designating billions of dollars for transportation improvements in the state. The first, a $1.3 billion bill passed last year, focused primarily on mass transit improvements, such as refurbishing rail lines and providing more and better parking, in the southwestern part of the state. This year’s bill, which includes projects intended to be carried out over 10 years, spreads improvements out across the state.

In addition to the commuter line from New Haven to Springfield, the bill includes: a study of a commuter line from New London to Worcester, Mass.; highway improvements designed to improve the flow of traffic on Interstate 95 and Interstate 395; the construction or expansion of stations in Bridgeport, New Haven and Stamford; and facilities for 1,000 more parking spots and connections to buses and other transit systems.

According to the Connecticut Business & Industry Association, “Connecticut’s economic future could in fact depend on whether the state’s transportation infrastructure is efficient enough to move people quickly to job centers and state attractions. The bill proposes approximately $2.5 billion in new spending for the planning and implementation of a variety of statewide, multimodal transportation projects.”

The bill calls for numerous improvements to the state’s mass transit system.

“It says to Mr. and Mrs. Connecticut we cannot all drive – one person, one car, everywhere, every day – and expect to achieve a comprehensive plan for the future,” Sen. William Nickerson, R-Greenwich, told the Associated Press.

‘A Whole New Focus’

The bill passed the state House of Representatives last week, and the Senate approved it Monday night. Rell originally proposed a set of initiatives, and the bill is a result of a compromise between her and state legislators. She is expected to sign the bill, but had not as of press time.

“It’s a clear signal that the issues with our transportation system are real,” said Eric Brown of CBIA.

A spokesman for Rell told the AP the governor will sign the bill into law.

“Gov. Rell believes this landmark legislation will go a long way toward easing congestion on Connecticut highways and encourage greater use of trains and buses by Connecticut commuters,” said Judd Everhart, Rell’s communications director.

“It will also be an incentive to companies operating in Connecticut and those considering a move here, knowing that employees and potential employees will have an easier time of getting to work,” Everhart added.

Transportation issues in Connecticut became a focus of the state government more than two decades ago after a bridge collapsed on Interstate 95. A study in the late 1990s again brought the issue to the forefront. That study, by the Connecticut Institute for the 21st Century, said Connecticut’s transportation issues at the time were dire and that the state was in a perilous position of cutting off its trade routes. The bottleneck in the southwestern part of the state does more than create traffic there, the study said – it creates issues for commerce and trade across the state.

“Since then, transportation is a whole new focus,” Brown said.

He added that this year’s bill is a step forward but has not finished the job, saying, “It’ll have to be a continual focus for many years.”

The founding of the state Transportation Strategy Board also signaled state lawmakers’ focus on the issue, according to Brown.

Other projects in this year’s bill include: improvements to the Shoreline East commuter rail, which provides service between New Haven and New London; completion of a bus route between New Britain and Hartford; completion of the Norwich Intermodal Transit Hub Roadway improvements; highway improvements along Interstate 84 between Waterbury and Danbury; and other highway improvements around Hartford as well as improvements in branch line service in New Canaan, Waterbury and Danbury.

The bill also requires the Department of Transportation to study the feasibility of building a fuel cell power station to generate power for the New Haven line, assess the transportation needs of residents and businesses in eastern Connecticut and start formal discussions with Massachusetts, New York and Rhode Island about ways to enhance regional commuter and freight mobility.

In addition, the bill would make Connecticut’s Transportation Strategy Board part of the state budget office.

The projects and studies are to be funded by $1 billion in bonding and the allocation of about $1.5 billion in revenues from the gross-earnings tax on petroleum products, according to CBIA.