Budget debates are in full swing in Connecticut. Recently Mark Conrad (CT Mirror, Feb. 15, 2019) presented interesting data to support the idea that Connecticut should cut waste from the Transportation budget rather than institute tolls. He observed that Connecticut administrative costs per mile of road are ten times the national average, and total expenses per mile were three times the national average. This made Connecticut’s the sixth most expensive state highway system in the nation. Conrad’s data came from the Reason Foundation, a libertarian group according to its website. The Foundation’s Report presents a rich data set to analyze.

Using the report’s ranking for total cost per mile of road, I compare the 10 most expensive states with the 10 least expensive. Five of the most expensive states are near neighbors: MA, RI, NY, NJ, and MD. Their average ranking was fourth most expensive, which puts Connecticut in the middle of our neighbors. (The average ranking of the 10-most expensive states is five.) The average rank of the least expensive states is 45. (Southeastern states: West Virginia, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina, Arkansas; Midwestern states: Arizona Nebraska, Montana and neighboring Wyoming.)

A closer look at the data explains some of the disparity between most- and least-expensive States. The least expensive states had the most lane-miles of road under state control (average rank= 16). The average rank for Connecticut and our neighbors is 39 (44 if you eliminate upstate New York). For administrative costs, economies of scale reduce the costs per mile for long road systems. This assumption is borne out by comparing total costs. By comparing total administrative costs per mile, Connecticut is at a disadvantage in national comparisons, but not within our region.

Other disparities include: climate, cost of living, and density of traffic. Our cold damp winters mean more ice and wet snow. Salt and freeze-thaw cycles are more damaging to roads than powdery snow and dry cold. Again, our region is disadvantaged in simplistic national cost comparisons, and Connecticut compares well with its neighbors. A high density of cars increases wear and tear, hence increased costs. According to the Reason Foundation’s report, the average rank was 10th most dense for Connecticut and neighbors vs. 36 for the 10 least-expensive states. Together, these factors greatly reduce disparities between Connecticut and least-expensive States.

Earlier legislatures put us in this unsustainable mess with irresponsible fiscal policies. Now, we must take responsibility and find equitable ways to work the cost-cut/tax-user-fee-increase sides of the equation.

What is perhaps most interesting is that Connecticut and neighbors had the safest roads in terms of deaths per 100 million vehicle-miles of travel. The average rank for Connecticut and neighbors is fifth fewest deaths, compared to the 32 ranking for the 10 least-expensive states.

These comparisons indicate that Connecticut compares well with its neighbors who share Connecticut’s climate, fiscal environment and costs of doing business. The point is, try as we should, we will not cost-cut our way out of our deficit problems without sacrificing safety. Earlier legislatures put us in this unsustainable mess with irresponsible fiscal policies. Now, we must take responsibility and find equitable ways to work the cost-cut/tax-user-fee-increase sides of the equation. A good first step is the new state lockbox that insures toll money goes into transportation funds. The money is needed, because the Foundation Report indicates that Connecticut’s infrastructure is among the worst of the states for bridges and major rural arteries.

Tolls are a user fee that we pay to other states, and hopefully soon their citizens, and interstate truckers (very damaging to roads), will pay for the use of our roads. Because Connecticut is a “pass-through” state for traffic moving to and from the other New England States, a significant burden will be on out-of-staters and help us recoup money our residents lopsidedly pay to them.

My analysis isn’t rocket science. It’s the sort of thing any citizen can do! Please research beyond simplistic solutions, participate in the debate, and support responsible legislators who will make the tough decisions needed to bring us back to fiscal health!

Lawrence Rizzolo is a professor of surgery and of ophthalmolgy and visual science.

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