Fiscal Sanity & Infrastructure

By Kelly Breckenridge

There is broad expert, public, and political consensus that Connecticut’s transportation infrastructure is deteriorating at an alarming rate and requires urgent, substantial modernization to ensure that everyone who uses our roads or rides our rails is safe.

Connecticut has more than 300 bridges that are structurally deficient, and nearly a third were built before 1950. On the Metro-North Railroad’s New Haven line, the busiest commuter railroad in the country, 76% of the rail bridges were built before 1940, and 57% of Connecticut roads are eligible for federal aid and are rated “not acceptable”. This is the second highest percentage in the country.

The only question is, how do we pay for the work? Unsurprisingly, Democrats and Republicans propose vastly different solutions.

Democrats propose installing tolls as one means to generate revenue. Under the Democratic plan, out-of-state drivers and trucks would cover 40% of the cost of repairing our roads and rails, rather than Connecticut residents carrying 100% of the cost of repairs. The plan includes discounts for Connecticut EZ-Pass holders and frequent commuters, and discounts for low income people and families and small businesses. Additionally, by incorporating peak and off-peak rates into the toll system, Connecticut will still qualify for federal transportation funding. Connecticut is the only state on the eastern seaboard that does not have toll roads. That means out-of-state drivers use Connecticut’s roads free-of-charge, while Connecticut drivers subsidize the transportation infrastructure of other states.

Connecticut’s highways are the sole direct arteries between New York City and Boston/northern New England, but Connecticut does nothing to capitalize on that advantage. Instead, our gas tax serves as the primary source of funding for the state’s transportation system. This isn’t sustainable. Connecticut’s state transportation fund (STF) is on track to become insolvent due to debt service. As currently funded, STF can’t cover the cost of critical transportation infrastructure. Connecticut needs new revenue. Studies show that tolls would generate $800 million a year, while infrastructure modernization will employ thousands, boosting our economic and fiscal recovery.

Republicans, meanwhile, continue to espouse the same failed, unsustainable non-solution they propose for everything: put all transportation projects on Connecticut’s “credit card”, and kick the can down the road. The Republicans’ 30-year, $65 billion bonding plan would saddle our children and grandchildren with massive debt. By 2030, the GOP’s irresponsible proposal would cost Connecticut taxpayers an additional $600 million in debt service, PER YEAR. Over the 30-year term of the GOP’s plan, the total interest payments would equal 150% of the original modernization project. That massively short-sighted, irresponsible and unnecessary flood of debt would smother the state’s economy and fiscal condition, jeopardizing other urgent essential state projects, including clean water projects and phosphorus removal in Ridgefield.

Governor Lamont and Democrats maintain that a “21st century economy cannot be supported by a 20th century transportation system” and they’re convinced that “to get Connecticut growing again, we have to get Connecticut moving.”

The Ridgefield Democratic Town Committee provides this column.