Attitudes toward transportation are changing. Time is a valuable commodity and many commuters are shifting away from automobiles in order to eliminate maintenance costs and use commutes to focus on things other than driving. As a result, Transit-Oriented Development (TOD) is an attractive strategy for developers and investors looking to create dynamic commercial real estate opportunities. TOD is usually associated with large urban centers and sprawling metro areas, but it can be tailored to smaller markets by building on the walkable and connected urban fabric found in older cities, suburbs, and small towns.
Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT) Commissioner James P. Redeker is overseeing just such an undertaking, working to modernize some of the oldest and most traveled highways, bridges, and rail lines in the U.S. and giving Connecticut a tool to compete for businesses, workers, and residents. The creation of the Hartford Line is one of the masterstrokes of this effort.
Commercial Connections (CC): Why should communities invest in transit projects?
James P. Redeker (JR): TOD has repeatedly proven to be a driver of economic growth. The American Public Transit Association estimates for every $1 invested in public transportation, approximately $4 is generated in economic return. Numerous studies show productivity and overall economic performance may be improved by TOD that supports the dense labor markets today’s knowledge-based technology companies seek and the smart development (walkable and distinctive downtowns with a high quality-of-life) empty-nesters and millennials increasingly desire.
CC: Are issues like TOD and ‘walkability’ relevant in small- and mid-sized markets?
JR: The basic principles of TOD include walkable communities, relatively high densities, a mix of uses, and vibrant public spaces. These elements are evident in suburban areas throughout Connecticut. West Hartford, Wallingford, and Meriden are just a few examples of our successful, walkable suburban communities and smaller cities. Ultimately, successful TOD is grounded in market feasibility and a neighborhood typology that provides the appropriate type of development and scale for each unique community. For example, TOD in Hartford will have a much different feeling than in smaller communities such as Enfield, North Haven, or Berlin.
CC: Does investing in a project like the Hartford Line enhance commercial property values?
JR: Reliable, high speed passenger rail catalyzes economic development. Communities in Dallas, Utah, Denver, and Minnesota have seen economic growth in the millions and billions of dollars when TOD plans and policies were enacted to capitalize on transit investment. This can include, but is not limited to, master planning and redevelopment, mixed-use zoning, multi-modal connectivity, and public-private-cross jurisdictional partnerships; all of which are achievable and relevant to our new Hartford Line service. Access to high-quality transit, partnered with a business-friendly regulatory framework provides a base in which new office, retail, and multi-unit residential opportunities can thrive and interact with one another in a walkable TOD environment.
CC: How did the CTDOT convey why TOD projects matter and how they’ll enhance adjacent markets?
JR: Through the planning and environmental documentation process, the public was provided information on the rail program. As the program progressed through design and construction, interest in potential TOD sites increased. During this time, as part of a study funded by a grant from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA) Pilot Program for TOD Planning, the Department conducted TOD Desire and Readiness workshops with municipal officials, staff, and stakeholders to further gauge interest in development along the line. Throughout this study, we worked with municipal leaders along the line to convey the benefits of the new rail service and how it could be a catalyst for TOD, which can stimulate the market and generate economic growth.