Bruce Kasanoff is a Westport-based ghostwriter and former Planning & Zoning commissioner who works with entrepreneurs. He is also — most importantly for this story — a Metro-North rider.
Well, he rides when the trains are running. Which is not as often as he — or the rest of us — would like.
Yesterday, Forbes.com published his opinion piece: “Fix This Bridge, Or Connecticut Dies.” Bruce began:
I’m a big fan of bringing out the best in others, but even an optimist like me knows that when people act like they have rocks in their heads, to make progress you might have to bang some heads together.
Commuters who live in Connecticut and work in New York City are all in favor of banging some heads together. Most depend on the Metro-North train system to bring them in and out of the city. Over the past two years, service has gone from pretty good to consistently horrible – and it’s about to get worse.
Bruce described the issues, like fatal accidents that led (via additional safety requirements) to longer train rides and the stuck-twice-in-8-days South Norwalk bridge. He continued:
Connecticut Governor Dannel P. Malloy was outraged by the latest failure, which I know because his office immediately issued a press release that said, “Let me be clear, this is outrageous.”
The problem is, Metro-North doesn’t own the bridge. Connecticut does.
The governor blames Metro-North. The train system blames Connecticut. Connecticut blames the federal government. Yadda, yadda, yadda.
By the way, the repair tag for that bridge is somewhere around $465 million, according to ConnDOT, but my guess is someone just made that number up.
Meanwhile, hedge fund executives ride that train. Asset managers, too. The people who fund half the world, ride that train. If no one can figure out how to keep the infrastructure working between here and New York City, how good a job do you think we are doing keeping bridges and trains and highways safe in Nebraska and Florida and Arizona… and where you live?
Here’s a hint: walk, it’s safer.
The truth is, we stopped paying for our infrastructure decades ago, in favor of a higher standard of living. Now our infrastructure is falling apart, and it’s going to cost a bloody fortune to replace it. Get used to it. Our standard of living is going to go down a bit, and we are all going to have to tighten our belts.
Personally, I don’t care whether we pay for new infrastructure via taxes or tolls. It doesn’t matter to me whether private industry or government solves the problem. But if it becomes impossible to get from the Connecticut suburbs to Manhattan in less than two hours, the value of every property in southwestern Connecticut will plummet by 50% or more. Add up the cost of that decline, and it will dwarf $400 million.
By the way, I’m almost certain that you have similar problems wherever you live. The blame-the-other-guy virus has spread around the world.
Bruce is not impressed with Metro-North’s responses. But he is not letting anyone else off the hook either. He concludes:
It’s time for actual leadership – not just bluster and empty words – from everyone: state and federal politicians, business leaders, private companies, even commuters. If we can’t keep the trains running on time, then we might as well abandon all pretenses of living in a modern civilization.
To read Bruce’s entire piece, click on Forbes.com.)
It is about time someone has the courage to speak the truth even though it hurts. I am now 70 years old. I can’t understand how the most advanced country in the world (once upon a time) has become the equivalent of a third world nation in some areas of the country. Each time I pick up my sister at LaGuardia Airport it strikes me that people from other countries must be amazed that we travel those awful rutted, pot hole filled roads leading to and from that facility. Metro North is a disgrace. Having millions of people unable to ever see a doctor or dentist because they can’t afford it is another disgrace. And all because we have been convinced that we are over taxed. You said it Bruce. We are in for a terrible rude awakening when we are told tomorrow or next month or year that the link between NYC and Westport is broken and will remain so for the foreseeable future. One thing I have learned in my life is that there no such thing as a free lunch. Someone always pays. We need to face the music and pay. I am willing to do my share.
The CT Commuter Rail Council’s June 18th meeting will be at Grand Central beginning at 6:00pm Location details yet will be posted on our website http://www.ctcommuterrailcouncil.org and on Twitter @ctrailcouncil
Somebody better do something fast before disaster arrives..do you all remember the Mianus River collapse in the mid 80’s..it was a political football too.
When you have a governor not being honest and blaming others you have an issue that will never get resolved. Metro North is an organization that is inept, but we also have governor who is I effectively running our state. He could not admit he runs the bridge.
Malloy raised taxes yet gave away hundreds of millions to businesses that will have no effect. Let’s remember he is spending $150 million of hard earned tax dollars to move a hedge fund from Westport to Stamford. Maybe he could have used that money to repair the roads? He is running a huge deficit despite raising income that most in the states history. And now he threatens to bring back tolls. How bad will the traffic be in Fairfield county if tolls come back?
Until we decide to bring in state leadership that can matter this problem will not go away. Malloy can blame whoever, but a mirror would help.
From a newspaper in CT:
But the governor isn’t entirely innocent. For he found hundreds of millions for the bus highway from New Britain to Hartford, and its imminent completion is corresponding embarrassingly with the trouble on Metro-North. The governor also has found hundreds of millions for what he calls economic development, grants to politically favored corporations, what others call corporate welfare. And he has worsened the education scam.
The obsolescence of the Norwalk drawbridge has been known for many years. So if upon taking office the governor had decided that fixing the railroad rather than building the busway would be his signature transportation project, Connecticut would not now be facing a problem he admits is outrageous.
Why not have the people who ride the train pay for the infrastructure necessary to keep the trains running? If the riders won’t pay up, why should anyone else?
We pay $4000/year for the privilege of being delayed and/or abandoned on an almost regular basis. Put tolls on the roads and stop taking our money to fund other causes.
Those who drive pay taxes on gasoline to fund road construction. If you don’t like the service, stop using it. There is no reason either mode of transportation should be subsidized by those who do not use it.
Mike: Your gasoline tax dollars no longer cover to keep up for the cost of maintaining our highways.
Here is a link from the WSJ no less:
I did not mean to imply that they did. BTW the article spoke mainly to Federal highway funds. CT imposes its own gas tax, and then uses the tax revenues for purposes other than highway maintenance. The people who use the roads should pay for the roads and the people who use the trains should pay for the trains.
Mike, I think you are being short-sighted when you say, “If you don’t like the service, stop using it. There is no reason either mode of transportation should be subsidized by those who do not use it.” This way of thinking undermines the concept of community. If I seldom use the library should I be exempt from taxes helping to fund it? If I don’t have kids do I not pay school taxes? No, because I’m a member of the community, state, country, whatever. The transportation systems – rail or road, schools, library, etc. as a whole are what make our community, state, and country livable, desirable and something to be proud of.
A key point of Mr. Kasanoff’s post was how ignoring our infrastructure is coming back to haunt us and significantly impacting our quality of life. Commuting has become a miserable experience for Westporters and other Fairfield county residents whether one chooses to use Metro North or to drive. People don’t pay millions of dollars on a home to live in a community where getting back and forth to work is a miserable experience. They pay that kind of money to live in a community with a high quality of life. If we continue to allow that quality of life to decline, the 50% drop in real estate values Mr. Kasanoff warns of is not out of the question.
Our parents, grandparents, great-grand-parents, etc. busted their butts and paid the taxes to build this great country. Why should we be exempt from doing the same? Why would we want to be? It breaks my heart to watch what our forebears have built deteriorate and I’m sure it would break their hearts as well.
When my grandparents started working, there was no federal income tax and the federal government did not consume 22% of GDP. The railroads were PRIVATE entities, and there was no federal funding of highways. The reason the government has become The Leviathan is, in part, because many people are so easily convinced that what the government does “benefits us all”. In reality, most government activities benefit targeted special interests.
Mike, the railroads were private entities that paid off politicians, who then gave them rights of way and other huge benefits. That was a special interest benefiting at its best.
Yes and I thought that is what I said governments do. Even with those benefits the passenger railroads were not viable. The 1956 Federal Highway Act provided the means for trucks and cars to compete with trains, and after the passenger railroads were driven into bankruptcy, the government took them over. So, first the government aids the railroads, then it helps drive them into bankruptcy by subsidizing the construction of over 40,000 miles of highway enabling the number of cars and trucks on the road to almost double in ten years. Does than make sense to anyone who does not own a car company or an oil company?
Mr. Shuldman ignores the fact that convicted criminal (and charges pending) former Gov. John Rowland said no to funding infrastructure repairs as much as Gov. Malloy. Politicians of all flavors opted to not fund the infrastructure maintenance, not any one party. (What paper Mr. Shuldman? Please give attribution. Yes, the busway is a boondoggle).
But to Mr. Kasanoff’s remarks: while the Norwalk bridge is a problem, he may not have been around when the Mianus River Bridge collapsed in the early eighties. Was it challenging and a pain in the neck? You bet. Connecticut did not implode. When the Yankee Doodle Bridge (I-95) in Norwalk traversing the same river that the walk bridge does was closed (circa 1984) for structural deficiencies, did Connecticut collapse? Nope. We dug in and dealt with it.
So if the Walk Bridge fails again, guess what, we’re a strong group of citizens. We’ll manage it. Will we be happy? No. But we’ll deal with it.
Mr. Murray–there is no doubt other Governors did not take care of our roads and brdiges–but so what. Are you saying our Governor Malloy should not do soemthing becuase others did not? Was he elcted to do nothing–or in your case–blame others? Or was he elected to do better? To improve? To lead?
In Malloys case he looked away from fairfield county and insatlled a ‘bus highway’ from New Britian to hartford that mnay believe will not be used. Many think this is a true waste of our tax dollars.
This is not a political party issue–one you hint at. This should be lookeat from a standpoint of who can get us out of the horrible situation we find ourselves in. Forget dem or rep, who can lead? I say Malloy has done a horrible job and does not deserve to be reelected. Just look at how he was blaiming Metro North for the bridge, when the state is responsible for the upkeep of the bridge. Wow.
Just recently Malloy move hundreds of millions of dollars out of the road fund to other budget issues to try and balance the budget. Not good.
And lets remember Mr. Murray that over 25% of all taxes raised by our state come from FAIRFIELD COUNTY. Without us, this state implodes. Bad enough we are running a deficit agagin, imagine what happens if our area has real issues and people start to leave.
A recent Gallop poll showed thazt 50% in the state want to move out. What happens then?
Oh–the news articel came from the New Haven Register. I did not copy the whole article as I thought most would not read it all.
I guess your argument is–since others did nothing–I (Malloy) should do nothing. Wow–politics at its worse. Management and leadership at its worse. And the state continues to have real issues and potenitally our home prices fall.
Last point, real estate agents in Westport are seeing a significant downturn in sales. Some are seeing clients move closer to the city–darien for instance to avoiud the train and traveling issues. if this continues, home prices will come down, the grand list could come down, taxes could come down, well, you get the point.
I will hope Westporters take this all seriously and look to what solves this problem. Voting this fall could change Hartford, and we could be on the way to a better time. I will remain positive this happens. Malloy does NOT deserve to be relected and there is a very good candidate that understands our problems, and instead of blaiming the governors before him, will work to solve the issues.
One more articel to help understand how this governor made the sitation much worse:
Twice in recent days, all Metro-North (and Amtrak) train service was disrupted for three hours in peak travel times because of one broken bridge: the 118-year-old Norwalk River Bridge in the city of the same name.
Because this swing-bridge is so old and in such bad shape, it wouldn’t close, severing all train service and forcing replacement bus shuttles incapable of handling the crowds. These are but the most recent problems on this bridge, and they won’t be the last.
Governor Malloy says this is “outrageous” and is calling for a sit-down with Metro-North. (Wouldn’t it be great to be a fly on the wall at that bully-session?)
What the Governor doesn’t admit is that Connecticut is responsible for that bridge, not the railroad. Any reasonable civil engineer (and CDOT has many) would have replaced that bridge decades ago.
Instead, in the last two years alone, Governor Malloy (like Rowland and Rell before him) diverted millions in Special Transportation Fund monies into balancing his budget instead of replacing or repairing old bridges. It is disingenuous for the Governor to express outrage at and blame others for a problem he exacerbated, but hey… that’s politics. Blame everyone but yourself.
Instead, the Governor is asking Uncle Sam to use Super Storm Sandy money to pay 75% of the expected $465 million in replacement cost of that bridge, a six-year construction project.
But the old bridge will still be in use until at least 2018 and, doubtless, will fail again. Each time it won’t close, rail service will halt.
Dear Mr. Shuldman,
Thank you for identifying the Register as the publication. No need to post it.
This current administration and the two prior administrations and the elected representatives on both sides of the aisle opted not to fund these repairs. That’s the issue. Take them both to task, that’s all I’m saying. Sadly, I won’t hold my breath for any real change regardless of who runs the show.
As to real estate, I am a local Realtor®. It has been soft in the past month (May), but the first three-four months of this year were healthy. I have not heard a single client, nor Realtor®, attribute a purchase not occurring due to the bridge getting stuck. Yes, total commute time is longer than other areas (as a matter of fact my agency advertises in a Westchester publication and we specifically put the commute times so that potential buyers there realize our area’s travel times are close to or a few minutes different from Westchester County. Plus our taxes are so much lower than Westchester and we publish tax amounts in our homes we are marketing.). On the upside, there seems to be a resurgence in this past week in the market place (yay!).
Matt. Sounds good. Last Friday I heard directly from a RE agent that the road and train issues were effecting home sales. I was shocked but not surprised. But if things are getting better-yeah!! No doubt our tax situation in Westport is good. Many of us fought a few years ago about the huge OPEB and pension liabilities in town and now things are getting down to fix them. Not sure how any towns saw their taxes go down!! We did. We need to keep the pressure on our elected officials to continue to focus on these issues so we don’t become Westchester.
I agree with you thought if both sides of the isle. However, in CT we are run strictly by the dems. This is what is troubling. Really no checks on what they do. And clearly it is not good. I am not being political, just the truth. And the reblicans that have been elected have been too quiet. They can easily be blamed too. If they were more vocal letting us know how bad things are and how wasteful the spending has been maybe it would be different. Now we are starting to see more from our own elected officials from the rep side. But where have they been?
I truly believe if we look at what Malloy has done then he should not get reflected and we need someone that is willing to fight. Enough with the state unions and pension and OPEB. CT is the 2nd worst state in the US when it comes to unfunded liabilities. Like what happened in Westport, just paying for that will take so much out of the budget. Remember, Westport budget has about 8% or more just going towards OPEB AND PENSIONS. the state is worse.
We need someone who wants to fix this mess. Not say it is the previous person who caused it. We need someone who will commit to fixing these issues not continue them.
Ct is now one of the worst states in the US. I can send you many articles and stats to support it. Roads and railroads are just a result of how bad things are.
Paying for use is a slippery slope that we should not go down. Should a senior citizen not pay town taxes that goes to the schools? That would dramatically increase taxes for some and make Westport a very expensive town if you want your children educated.
In addition our home prices are set by the ability to have a decent commute to NYC. If only those that use the service have to pay, then the cost to live in Westport could get extreme for those that commute. While I do not need metro North for my commute I am happy some of
My state tax and federal tax goes to helpfully maintain these services. It helps keep my home price up. And makes Westport a town some want to live in.
This is not a money issue. It is a priority issue both at the governors level and Washington. We know governor Malloy stole money from the transportation fund to help balance the budget as he have away 11 more years of allowing overtime for pensions that is driving our liability sky high. He also is giving money to business cronies so they can move from Westport to Stamford. He is doing even more of that.
While we pay the most in state income taxes it appears we get the least from Malloy. Again this is not a money issue, it is a leadership issue. I wonder how Steinberg voted when it came to budget questions regarding our transportation and railroad issues.
Bart, I think the “slippery slope” argument cuts both ways. If you are going to pay for someone else’s train ride, why not pay for his ice cream? Subsidizing use puts us on the path to a misallocation of scarce resources.
Don’t all of us depend on rails and roads beyond our own use of them? We need them to deliver virtually everything we use, from food and gas to clothing, appliances and, yes, our cars. We need them to get us to the hospital. We need them for our bosses and colleagues to get to our places of employment. I don’t see how anyone can say he or she does not rely on roads and rails, even if we never drive a car or take a train.
We can identify easily who uses these facilities and they are the ones who should pay for them. Don’t “all of us” benefit from the use of cell phones? Should the government buy us all cell phones?
The passenger railroads were once privately owned, they were not viable. They are still not viable.
Passenger railroads are viable in much of the world — with government subsidies. We are a 3rd world nation when it comes to transportation policy.
Almost anything is “viable” with government subsidies. Many third world nations subsidize their railroads.
So you’re in favor of government subsidies for this? Great news!
As long as I get the subsidies, I favor them. How about you?
If you take the aggregate income of any train leaving GCT this afternoon – and figure out how many tens of millions of $$’s collectively paid to the State of CT in the form of Income Tax (because we live there, not because any of us actually work there) – balanced against whatever mythical services we receive from the State – I challenge the notion that we are subsidized and in fact would argue that our (NY earned, CT paid) taxes subsidize many services consumed by non-train riders who work in state.
The train riders are subsidized. There is a wealth transfer from those who do not ride the train to those that do.
As long as I can help the common good, I favor it. I am happy to have my taxes help everyone.
You are not helping the “common good” you are helping special interests.
Do you have kids in the Westport Public Schools? Think your taxes pay for their education or do your fellow residents subsidize it for you?
Without Metro North, property in this town is worth 50% what it is today – you’re living in Easton with a beach.
Dan. You got it.
Sorry, Mike (above). I don’t see it that way. I see it as we are all in this together.
Paul A. Samuelson is usually credited as the first economist to develop the theory of public goods. In his classic 1954 paper The Pure Theory of Public Expenditure, he defined a public good, or as he called it in the paper a “collective consumption good”, as follows:
…[goods] which all enjoy in common in the sense that each individual’s consumption of such a good leads to no subtractions from any other individual’s consumption of that good…
This is the property that has become known as non-rivalry. In addition a pure public good exhibits a second property called non-excludability: that is, it is impossible to exclude any individuals from consuming the good.
I do pay for someone’s ice cream. I also pay for other food. It’s called food stamps and comes out of my taxes. And other than the abuse food stamps cause, I am perfectly fine paying my fair share. I also feel fine paying my fair share of transportation costs, police costs, state highway costs etc. I strongly believe we could
And we will
Never go to a pay as you use scenario. Just pull out all those home owners without children in our schools and get ready for a huge price shock to educate your child.
“Fair share”? Who gets to determine what is a “fair share”?
My morals set how much. My desire to help does. My decision that I make some money and some are less fortunate so I do.
While i would easily argue Obama is taking advantage of all this, and he has no boundaries, and he is building a country of ‘want’ and not ‘earn’ there is a minimum I feel is correct.
Then we should each let our “morals” decide how much is our “fair share”. I’m all for that.
Interesting point, Mike. What is the “fair share” for contributing to “06880”? Once a year, I ask for donations — to help cover the time I spend on this (at least 2 hours a day), and expenses (such as paying to keep it ad-free, and for photo editing programs). I’ve got a donation button on the home page too. Some people pay whatever they consider their fair share. Others don’t — they “subsidize” the rest. I’m just sayin’…
Dan. Brilliant. Brilliant.
I think you answered your own question. People reveal what they think is their “fair share” when they make a donation…or not.
And those who do not make a donation — but continually comment — reveal something about themselves, too.
What do you call the 43% of American citizens who pay no federal income taxes, but still enjoy the benefits of citizenship?
Mike I get it. And don’t blame you with your frustration. Again POTUS has created a ‘want’ and ‘I should have’ society where we are being required to give up more. And without any gratitude or discussion. So I get it.
There is a huge divide that is being developed and expanded between Americans that I have never seen before. Almost scary how people are getting angry at both ends. And out governor is adding to it.
How this all disparate sis a great question. Some will say tax more. Make them pay more for things they don’t get. And at the same time they solve nothing. Roads and bridges are falling apart. Trains are a real disaster. Yet we pay more and more. And we have life long politicians that say ‘trust me’.
I say we elect someone with no political baggage. Who owes nobody. And who will make the real tough decisions.
Then maybe the trains will work. Taxes go down. People feel they are getting the value for what they out in
Exactly what is the incentive for the government to make the trains run on time?
If you can figure out how to identify an elected official with no political baggage, please let me know.
Mike. I get your frustration. An elected official should feel the fear of not get elected if they can not do a good job. If anyone in Fairfield votes for Malloy then we have ourselves to blame. This governor came out screaming about the Norwalk bridge, tried to blame metro north, only to be caught–the state takes care of the bridge.
This is how it should work. If Malloy felt the pain and the threat of losing, he would take care of the trains.
Let’s remember Fairfield County contributes over 25% of the taxes Malloy collects for CT.
But if we don’t show our anger, if we don’t let it be known we will vote not by party lines but by who can get the job done, then you are right.
Your vote counts. Just look at how we have been successful in Westport. We made it known we wanted change. No more spending as usual. No more hiding the facts. Now we have 401k plans instead of definite benefits. And we are working towards truly funding OPEB. And our taxes went down!!
Almost every young upwardly mobile person sitting around me on the trading desk right now (in Midtown Manhattan) is considering a move to the ‘burbs as their families start to grow – thanks in most part to the outrageous NYC real estate prices as even neighborhoods in the Bronx become trendy and expensive.
Unless they are pre-disposed to living somewhere (e.g. they grew up in Franklin Lakes and want to raise their children there) – the absolute #1 issue isn’t schools or taxes or home prices – it’s the length of the commute.
At an hour on the train plus time on each side – Westport is about the end of the line. As MNR struggles and that 60 minute express has become 65 and then 70 and then 75 – combined with big interruptions (remember the two week power fiasco last Fall?) – it will hit each and everyone of us in the wallet.
We may bemoan teardowns and McMansions, crowds at Compo, and the mallification of Main Street – but those are signs of prosperity – and the alternative is not pretty.
Let’s look at the bridges. They are so expensive because the federal government still designates these rivers they cross (Saugatuck, Norwalk, Mianus etc.) as navigable rivers. This means that they must accommodate ocean going vessels. If the rivers were re designated, the replacement infrastructure could be minimized and enough room could be provided to let a sailboat through. And we could fix the I95 bridges over these rivers .more cheaply too.