Should money intended for transportation projects be spent on transportation projects?
I think so. As far back as December 2015, the General Assembly was discussing the importance of ensuring that funding in the Special Transportation Fund (STF) be used “solely for transportation purposes.” In 2017, the House and Senate turned this matter over to the electors in a ballot measure. Now it is up the citizens of Connecticut to answer the question.
If you drive a car, use bridges, commute by train or bus, ride your bike or walk in Connecticut, this ballot question is important to you.
A “Yes” vote means that existing taxes and fees intended for transportation must be spent on transportation projects and sets a course for predictable investment in our transportation system’s future. A “No” vote, or ignoring the question altogether, changes nothing, allowing lawmakers to use those funds for other purposes.
Our roads and bridges, sidewalks and bike lanes, trains and buses, are all supported by the STF — and it is struggling to stay solvent. Last winter, $4.3 billion in transportation projects were halted as efforts were made to shore-up the STF. At that time, both rail and bus services faced massive cuts and fare increases. The Greater Bridgeport Region alone, was facing a $1.8 million bus service cut. While funding was restored on the last day of the legislative session, we are not out of the breakdown lane on this one.
It was a long time coming but by December 2017, the STF was insufficient to meet the needs of our transportation infrastructure. There are several reasons for this. The STF depends on the gasoline tax. As our cars become more fuel efficient, we are buying less when we fill up and consequently, less funding goes into the STF. In addition, the gasoline tax was cut by 14 cents per gallon in the late 1990s. This hobbled the STF and it never fully recovered.
To compound the problem, money intended for transportation projects has also been moved out of the STF. It is estimated that up to $650 million has been taken from the STF since 2011. This is funding that could have been invested in vital transportation services and infrastructure — the backbone of our economy. This is why the “Lock Box” ballot matters to all of us.
Transportation is central to our future success. Over the past two decades, there have been no fewer than four panels convened to make recommendations for system improvements. They all concluded the same thing ─ that predictable funding is essential to have a transportation system that is safe, in good repair, and efficient. Protecting the STF is a wise next step.
This November, when asked: “Shall all monies contained in the STF be used for transportation purposes?” the future of the State’s transportation will be up to you.
A “No” vote changes nothing. A “Yes” vote supports the amendment and will prohibit lawmakers from using the transportation funding for anything other than transportation purposes, setting a course toward a modern transportation system that will benefit us all.
Douglas Holcomb is General Manager/CEO of Greater Bridgeport Transit.