California’s governor organized last week’s Global Climate Action Summit in response to the Trump Administration’s active retreat from global commitments. As the federal government continues to take steps reversing climate protection policies, states will have to continue stepping up to provide leadership.
Connecticut is responding to that challenge. In June 2017, Connecticut became one of the first states to join California in the U.S. Climate Alliance, now consisting of 17 states and territories committed to upholding the Paris Climate Agreement. Last spring, the Connecticut General Assembly reaffirmed the state’s long history of bipartisan leadership on climate when large majorities in both the House and Senate approved landmark bills setting aggressive targets for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and expanding renewable energy by 2030.
Achieving those targets will require significant changes in how we do everything from generating electricity to heating our homes. But the largest source of greenhouse gas emissions in Connecticut is transportation. Emissions from transportation are higher today than they were in 1990, and they have been increasing in the last few years.
This November, voters will have an opportunity to ensure that Connecticut has the resources needed to modernize our transportation system. Voting “Yes” on the Transportation Revenue Lockbox Amendment will protect funding for repairing our state’s roads and bridges while expanding access to public transit. Those investments will help reduce the traffic congestion that costs commuters time and money and chokes our cities with harmful pollution.
Since 2005, legislators have diverted more than $250 million of transportation funds to balance the state budget. But if approved, the Lockbox Amendment will prevent such diversions in the future.
It’s important to remember that this ballot referendum is not a partisan issue. In 2017, the General Assembly approved the constitutional amendment language by bipartisan majorities almost as large as those that approved our new climate and energy goals. That’s because when we make strategic investments in transportation, everyone wins.
The Lockbox Amendment protects the Special Transportation Fund by prohibiting lawmakers from using those tax dollars for anything other than transportation purposes. The Special Transportation Fund was established in 1984, one year after a 100-foot section of the northbound I-95 bridge over the Mianus River collapsed in the middle of the night.
At that time, Connecticut had just 12 engineers responsible for inspecting more than 3,400 bridges. Today, more than 300 of the state’s bridges have been graded structurally deficient, and 41 percent of our state and local roads are rated in “poor condition.”
The good news is that a study conducted by Duke University found that every dollar invested in transportation infrastructure returns $3.54 in economic impact. Modernizing our transportation system will create good local jobs – both in construction and in operating and maintaining an expanded transit system. It will also help attract and retain employers, strengthening our tax base.
But it’s not just about economics. Transforming our transportation system is also about addressing systemic injustices. Improved transit services will provide better access to training and jobs for workers who need them the most. Reducing car and truck emissions will provide some relief for city residents suffering from high rates of asthma and associated medical costs. And struggling urban centers can be revitalized by transit-oriented development.
The Global Climate Action Summit highlighted the moral imperative we have to act now to protect the climate. Every day we wait, the consequences of climate change get worse – for us and for our kids and grandkids. But the climate crisis also presents an opportunity to build thriving local economies that are not only more sustainable but also more just and equitable.
Connecticut’s legislators responded to public pressure from a diverse coalition of transportation advocates and approved a constitutional amendment to protect the Special Transportation Fund from further budget raids. Now it’s up to the voters to finish the job. Vote “Yes” on November 6 to create the transportation lockbox. Investing in transportation is investing in Connecticut’s future.
John Humphries is the lead organizer for the Connecticut Roundtable on Climate and Jobs (www.CTClimateandJobs.org), a nonprofit that builds alliances among Connecticut’s labor, religious and environmental groups to combat climate change and promote economic and environmental justice. He also serves as a member of the Governor’s Council on Climate Change.