Democrats and Republicans disagree on many issues, but they can agree on one thing — Connecticut’s transportation infrastructure needs dire improvements.
Nevertheless, questions regarding how these infrastructure improvements will take place and how the state will fund them have been sources of contention between the two parties. Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont SOM ’80, in conjunction with Democratic leaders in both chambers of the legislature, has proposed a transportation infrastructure plan which relies mainly on instituting tolls on Connecticut’s major highways. Republicans, on the other hand, have rallied behind their “Prioritize Progress” plan, which works within current state resources to allocate $65 billion for transportation infrastructure projects for the next 30 years. The Republican plan does not rely on tolls but has met criticism from the other side of aisle.
Both Democrats and Republicans have identified transportation infrastructure as one of the keys to improving the Connecticut economy. Many Connecticut roads and bridges are rated in poor or serious conditions, while commuters into cities — especially New York City — face frequent delays and congestion on both highways and railroads alike.
“As much polarization as there is, virtually everyone has agreed that our roads and bridges need great repair,” said Sacred Heart University political science professor Gary Rose.
To address the longstanding problem, the state set up the Special Transportation Fund in 1984, which is a special reserve dedicated to investing in the state’s transportation and financing the Department of Transportation’s services.
On April 10, Lamont and the co-chairs of the legislature’s Transportation Committee — Sen. Carlo Leone, D-Stamford and Rep. Roland Lemar, D-New Haven — updated legislators and constituents on Democratic proposals to improve infrastructure. The Democratic transportation funding plan’s main feature involves introducing tolls on Connecticut highways. But these tolls mark a turnaround from Lamont’s policy during his gubernatorial campaign.
According to the update, there will be no more than 50 toll gantries in the proposal, and Connecticut EZ-pass and frequent-user discount drivers could expect to pay about 4.4 cents per mile. The roads facing proposed tolls are the Interstate-84, the Interstate-95, the Interstate-91 and Route 15. Lamont also included examples of transportation projects that could be in jeopardy if the Republican proposal passes instead.
The proposed tolls have been met with intense criticism from both Republican legislators and some constituents. In response, Lamont noted that 40 percent of drivers who use these roads come from out of state. Thus, these tolls would shift a portion of new infrastructure’s financial burden to out-of-state residents.
According to an April 11 statement from Senate minority leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, the company Lamont commissioned to provide toll-revenue estimates, CMDSmith, has a “history of inaccuracy.” The statement said that the company — which received $20 million from the state for the consulting work — provided “sketch” and “hypothetical” toll rates and has previously “led to devastating results in other parts of the country.”
Nevertheless, Democratic legislators remain confident in their proposal.
“As a Fairfield County resident, I am surrounded by out-of-state drivers daily that do damage to our roads, bridges and highways,” Leone said in a statement last week. “With the passage of this legislation, we will reduce traffic congestion on our highways, bolster our economy, and have the funding necessary to ensure all of our roads, bridges, and highways are safe.”
The Republican plan which was first published in mid-February ahead of Lamont’s proposed budget, includes no tax increases and no tolls.
But Democrats pushed back against the idea that the Republican plan will allow the state to invest more money in infrastructure without relying on new revenue streams.
“The idea that the Republican plan does not take any additional money from taxpayers is laughable,” said Lamont Senior Advisor Colleen Flanagan Johnson in a statement in March. “Since when is borrowed money free?”
Connecticut Economic and Community Development Commissioner David Lehman told the News last week that Democrats also hope to enact the “30-30-30” plan, which would shorten railroad travel times between Hartford and New Haven; New Haven and Stamford; and Stamford and New York to 30 minutes each.
The Metro-North New Haven Line sees 125,000 daily riders.
Nathalie Bussemaker | email@example.com