Urban planners and government leaders from across the country are expected to be paying close attention to the results of a newly-launched study of how convenient commuter train service impacts the economic growth and development of communities.
The School of Business and the School of Engineering’s Connecticut Transportation Institute have received a $262,000 grant for “Phase 1” of a study to investigate the real estate impacts of the new CTrail Hartford Line passenger train, which started service in June.
“Transportation is a crucial component of a region’s development,” said Professor Jeffrey P. Cohen, the principal investigator of the study. “If we look at the development of major cities, including Hartford, they grew larger and stronger as transportation options became more plentiful and robust. Better transportation allows people to get where they need to be faster, and encourages growth in those cities and the regions nearby.”
The analysis was commissioned by the Connecticut Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration. The 62-mile commuter-train route connects New Haven, Hartford and Springfield, Mass. In addition to the three large cities, the train stops in Wallingford, Meriden, Berlin, Windsor and Windsor Locks.
The opportunity to study a new rail system is a rare and exciting opportunity, since new rail service hasn’t been offered in Connecticut in years, Cohen said. He expects a strong impact on real estate in the areas near the commuter hub, including the addition of new businesses, residential buildings, restaurants and stores.
“We’re already seeing an impact in Meriden, which started planning for it in 2012,” Cohen said. “We are fairly confident that we will see other changes in the municipalities that are served.”
Public Transportation Renaissance
Cohen believes that if people embrace the new commuter service, it will spur interest in high-speed rail travel between Boston and New York City.
“That would set us up for a new level of growth in Connecticut because our state would become an even more desirable place to live and work,” he said. “If successful, the Connecticut rail could move us in that direction.”
“I think we are on the brink of a resurgence in public transportation,” he said. “Our highways are very congested and it would be difficult, if not impossible, to expand their capacity, particularly in Fairfield County. So if it isn’t feasible to build more highways, the alternative is increasing mass transit bus and train service.”
500 Maps and Rigorous Statistics
Cohen, whose expertise involves various forms of the relationship between transportation and real estate, has researched the impacts of the new CTfastrak rapid bus transit service and the impact of airplane and road noise on neighborhoods.
For the CTrail project, Cohen and his team will use aerial photography and Geographic Information Sciences (GIS) to examine the impact of the commuter train.
The project will be conducted in two phases. The first will examine how the neighborhoods around the stations looked at the time of the announcement of an inter-agency work group on the project was formed in 2012 and how the neighborhoods have changed between 2012 and the start of rail service in 2018.
The second phase will occur later on, and will examine how real estate has been impacted between the start of service in 2018 through the next several years.
In addition to creating over 500 GIS maps superimposed on aerial photographs to demonstrate the changes in development in each of Phase 1 and Phase 2, Cohen and other researchers will also conduct some rigorous statistical analysis of the data in Phase 2 to ascertain how the rail line impacted real estate values and may have spurred transit-oriented development.