Conn., Mass., RI Governors Meet, Discuss Transportation and Energy

Transportation, improved data sharing and renewable energy were some of the issues where the governors of Connecticut, Massachusetts and Rhode Island said Tuesday they found common ground in their first private meeting with one another, promising to work together in the future.

The two Democrats and one Republican met for about two hours during a private lunch at Eastern Connecticut State University, an event organized by Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, a Democrat. The former businessman spoke of the importance working with Connecticut's two southern New England neighbors.

"When it comes to Rhode Island and Massachusetts and Connecticut, I think personal relationships are really important and that's what we really wanted to kick off again today," Lamont said, noting he hopes it will be the first of many conversations. The three agreed to reconvene this fall in Providence and continue their discussions.

"We came together today to say, 'how can we help each other do our jobs better and deliver for the people of our state?'" said Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo, a Democrat. "Hopefully a few people in Washington might take a page out of this book and say, 'we're going to sit down and cross party lines and compare ideas and compare notes and actually try to solve problems.'"

The three agreed to reconvene this fall in Providence.

Raimondo and Republican Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker each spoke about how they plan to fix outdated transportation infrastructure in their respective states, a key goal for newcomer Lamont. And both offered him some words of advice on how to sell such massive projects to the taxpayers.

In Massachusetts, Baker spoke of the $8.3 billion that will be spent over the next half decade to upgrade the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority or MBTA in the Boston area. He noted how the massive project will include things like track, signal and power system upgrades, but also new subway cars and commuter trains to improve the experience for commuters.

"If we can add 50,000 or 100,000 new seats to our public transportation system as part of this modernization and upgrade, that's the kind of investment that I think people will appreciate," Baker said.

Raimondo urged Lamont not to give up on enacting electronic tolls, a concept that has proven challenging to get passed in the General Assembly. She noted how it took her two years to get tolls approved for trucks, and now the state has more road work happening now than at any other time in state history and thousands of people "working in high-paying, high-quality jobs fixing our roads and bridges." While her state was sued by the truckers over the tolls, Raimondo said her administration feels "very strong" with its legal stance.

"I advised him, in a couple of years from now the controversy will have gone away but the lasting impact of better infrastructure will be there for decades," Raimondo said.

Raimondo also used Tuesday's meeting to again request that the MBTA run more express commuter trains between Providence and Boston, prompting Baker to note it was "not the first time" he had heard the request from the Rhode Island governor. Both governors agreed they need to get Amtrak to cooperate with the concept.

"The thing to remember about everything that involves Amtrak lines appropriately, Amtrak gets first dibs. So if one of your objectives here is to create additional service or nonstop service, you've got to figure out a way to factor that into the rest of the Amtrak schedule," Baker said, noting that's a conversation that has to happen between Amtrak, Massachusetts and Rhode Island. He noted a similar conversation has to happen between Amtrak, Massachusetts and Connecticut, if there's an interest to expand service on the existing commuter rail line that currently runs from New Haven, Connecticut, to Springfield, Massachusetts.

Beyond working with Amtrak on possible train scheduling issues, Raimondo said the governors also discussed seeking Amtrak's help in securing more trains to help ensure additional service will become a reality.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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