HARTFORD, Conn. — As the public is asked to comment on a long-range plan for transportation improvements in Connecticut, funding those proposals appears challenging.
In recent weeks, Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has stepped up warnings about the looming insolvency of the state’s main transportation fund, predicting the account will be in deficit for multiple years, beginning fiscal year 2019. That could mean the state’s borrowing ability will be at risk and numerous transportation improvement projects, transportation-related services and staff will face severe reductions.
Meanwhile, there’s uncertainty about how much money Connecticut can expect from President Donald Trump’s long-awaited plan to upgrade aging roads, bridges and other transportation. The White House has said Trump will unveil the infrastructure package in January. But there have been reports that the total amount may be far less than what Trump had pledged.
This all comes as the General Assembly, which faces re-election in 2018, has shown a reticence to pass revenue-generating proposals such as tolls or mileage taxes to help fund projects. The new session begins Feb. 7.
“We all have to make a decision here as legislators. Do you want to cut programs? Do you want to cut infrastructure projects? Do you want to raise fares or do you want to look for other sources of revenue?” asked State Rep. Antonio “Tony” Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill, House chairman of the Transportation Committee, earlier this month. “This is what it comes down to.”
Connecticut’s Department of Transportation has scheduled two public meetings Jan. 16 to present the draft Connecticut Statewide Long-Range Transportation Plan. Mandated by the federal government, the plan identifies funding and policy needs between 2018 and 2050. It mirrors much of Malloy’s “Let’s GO CT!” proposal, which identified $100 billion worth of projects.
The draft says Connecticut is at a “critical juncture” considering much of the state’s transportation infrastructure is 50 to 60 years old and needs significant improvements. According to the document, 41 percent of Connecticut’s state and local roads are considered to be in poor condition. Within the highway network, 32 percent of highway bridges are safe but functionally obsolete or structurally deficient.
Additionally, the document highlights concerns with the state’s aging bus and rail systems, noting how four movable bridges along the New Haven Line — the busiest passenger computer rail line in the country — are more than 100 years old and frequently cause disruptions.
“Perhaps most important, a lack of investment has resulted in significant traffic congestion on the highways and delays and travel disruptions across the state’s rail system, creating daily bottlenecks on Connecticut’s most traveled corridors, leading to increased air emissions and costing the state’s citizens and businesses a massive amount of wasted time, money and aggravation,” according to the report. “The problems associated with underinvesting in transportation have reached a dimension that is now affecting the wellbeing of the state’s economy.”
Malloy recently released a list of proposed projects in the long-range plan that could be nixed if the state’s Special Transportation Fund is not shored up. He said that is already putting pressure on lawmakers to act, noting how his office has received calls in recent weeks from legislators and local officials who are concerned about their initiatives being on in jeopardy.
“I think we’re going to do things,” Malloy said in an interview with The Associated Press. “Just because, ask people about the projects that stand to be canceled in their communities.”