Gov. Dannel P. Malloy outlined a major second-term policy goal Wednesday for the first time since his re-election, saying he will engage the public and political establishment in a broad discussion of how Connecticut must invest in transportation to compete economically in the 21st Century.
“I think part of the problem in Connecticut is that we’ve actually not told people the true size and the cost of what needs to be done if Connecticut is to be able to compete in the next 50 years,” Malloy said in opening remarks at a transportation forum at the Legislative Office Building in Hartford.
Malloy declined to offer specifics after his remarks, either about potential projects or new ways to pay for them, such as tolls or higher gasoline taxes. He will deliver an inaugural speech and a State of the State address on Jan. 7, when he begins a second term and the General Assembly convenes its 2015 session.
“I’m going to be talking about transportation in the terms I just outlined for you so that people can make decisions,” Malloy said. “That will be ongoing throughout the next four years. Certainly, we will begin in earnest shortly.”
With the state in a fiscal crunch, transportation offers Malloy a major policy initiative that he can pursue with little immediate cost, given the long lead time of infrastructure projects. In the longer term, large federal contributions to transportation projects allows the state to leverage its investments.
“You are planning. You are analyzing,” said Joe McGee, a vice president with the Business Council of Fairfield County, a group that sees better transportation as key to economic growth. “There’s not a huge expenditure initially. I think it’s a perfect time to do it.”
The state already is committed to a major expansion in commuter rail connecting New Haven to Hartford and Springfield, beginning in 2016. CTfastrak, a rapid-transit bus system that opens on the new Hartford-to-New Britain busway in March 2015, will serve commuters into Hartford and eventually feed into the expanded rail system.
“I think there is a public narrative that has to be addressed here. You’ve got the newest and longest commuter rail system opening in 2016,” McGee said. Once it opens, “Hartford and New Haven are effectively 30 minutes apart.”
The Fairfield Business Council has been promoting a transportation goal of “30-30-30:” 30 minutes by rail from Hartford to New Haven, 30 minutes from New Haven to Stamford, then 30 minutes from Stamford to Grand Central Station in New York.
Malloy’s call comes as the state Department of Transportation has confronted the fiscal limits facing transportation planners. Last spring, the DOT quietly dropped plans to add a third lane in either direction on I-84 from Danbury to Waterbury at cost estimated at between $3 billion and $4 billion.
The governor said he envisions revisiting that project.
“I’m not second-guessing the Department of Transportation. They were making judgments based on what they could reasonably look at based on the state’s willingness to fund. What I believe we have to do is have a full discussion on what is needed.”
McGee said the financial numbers can be daunting. Fairfield County, for example, is looking for a $4 billion investment in Metro North over 10 to 15 years, money that he says should be viewed as an investment with returns in a stronger economy.
The governor, who long has signaled a willingness to business groups to make transportation a second-term priority, is expected to pitch a transportation initiative as an investment.
Malloy said Connecticut has under-invested in transportation for two generations.
“You can’t just complain about it – or you can plan to permanently complain about it. Or you can plan to do something about it,” Malloy said. “I think it’s incumbent upon me to have the Department of Transportation and my administration lay out what it would take to be competitive and then engage in the decision-making process.”
The DOT is now conducting its own exercise in long-range planning, an online effort to ask residents to offer their vision for transportation needs on TransformCT.org. Results are to be reported in March.