There was a time, not long ago, when there was little political will to make mass transit a serious part of Connecticut's transportation system. Cars were king. Trains were seen as, well, a relict of a bygone era. The smart money was on building bigger highways and letting our neglected train system take a back seat.

A few of us took every opportunity to point out that a modernized, efficient and workable mass transit system would both boost our economy, encourage business development and help our environment by making it possible for more people to leave their cars at home.

Fortunately, Gov. M. Jodi Rell heard us and sought new transit-oriented leadership at the Department of Transportation (DOT). Due to her leadership, the improvement and modernization of Connecticut's mass transit system finally took off. As Gov. Rell said, people talked and talked about doing something but little was done until she took office in 2004.

Now, DOT considers our bus and train system to be equally important as our highways -- and she has made much needed investments in all of these areas.

Consider the Rell-era investments in mass transit and highway, including:

"¢ $667 million for 300 new rail cars for use on the New Haven Line;

"¢ $300 million for new rail maintenance facilities;

"¢ $103 million for a new train station in West Haven;

"¢ $187 million for operational improvements and congestion mitigation measures for Interstate 95 between Greenwich and North Stonington;

"¢ $150 million for improvements to other state and interstate roads; and

"¢ $7.5 million for new transit buses.

Other transportation initiatives undertaken during the Rell Administration include:

"¢ Enhanced rail service; including station improvements on Shore Line East;

"¢ Purchase of 24 new M-8 rail cars for use on Shore Line East;

"¢ Redevelopment of the service plazas on Connecticut's highways through a unique public/private partnership;

"¢ Developing new rail station parking in Stamford;

"¢ A new New Haven Line rail station and parking in Stamford;

"¢ A new "511" traveler information system;

"¢ Creation of separate Engineering and Highway Operations Bureaus within DOT and reorganization of the Bureau of Finance and Administration.

Also, I expect the next big project to be completed will be the replacement of manual signals along the Danbury branch line with modern remote-controlled computerized signals. This much-needed project had been stalled -- and its state and federal funding jeopardized as a result -- for more than a decade.

Thanks to Gov. Rell's willingness to listen to what I and other transportation advocates had to say, the computer signalization project will be finished in 2012. This will make it possible to make other much needed improvements, such as electrification, which would make the Danbury branch line compatible with the main line. Meanwhile, just finishing the computerized signalization project will make it possible to add seven more trains to the morning and evening commutes.

Transportation news is just as good in other parts of the state. Governor Rell has led the way for the development of a high-speed commuter rail line linking New Haven, Hartford and Springfield, Massachusetts. In fact, just last month, Governor Rell joined members of Connecticut's Congressional delegation in Meriden to announce a $121 million federal grant for the much-anticipated Springfield-to-New Haven rail line.

Although critics abound, no one can deny that we owe a great deal of our transportation infrastructure progress to the determination, leadership, and vision of Gov. Rell. After decades of neglect, she jump started numerous stalled road and rail projects and has seen them through to completion, a transportation legacy that will endure long after her term concludes.

You can see the relief on the faces of weary commuters. The Governor's efforts to make our mass transit system more efficient, more modern, and more commuter-friendly should continue after she leaves office. After all, a sound transportation system is an economic imperative in revitalizing our great state.