In his May 30 submission, Robert Hale of New Haven submits that Connecticut DOT “remains wedded to investment decisions that prioritize private vehicle use instead of transit.” The fact that 64 percent of the ConnDOT operating budget is eaten up by transit subsidies (even though only about 5 percent of Connecticut commuters take transit to work) says otherwise.
The money for these transit subsidies comes mostly from fuel taxes and vehicle registration fees – things paid by owners and operators of motor vehicles. These vehicle operators are led to believe that these taxes and fees are paid for the privilege of using the roads and bridges they drive on, and in return, the money will be reinvested into said roads and bridges. Instead, the money is spent on transit (or other non-road purposes).
That hardly seems like a car-centric approach to transportation. This is also one of the main reasons for the push for tolls, but I digress.
Hale writes regarding the Hartford line railroad that “the schedule still contains several two-hour gaps and a four-hour gap in northbound service during the midday.” Has he considered that the reason for that could be a lack of ridership? Why should trains or buses be run if there are little to no riders? After all, at an April 4, 2019 Office of Policy and Managment Finance Advisory Committee meeting, ConnDOT representatives stated that statewide transit ridership has declined by about 6 percent. This is consistent with a national trend, and helps explain all the empty transit buses I see driving around the Greater Hartford area.
Some transit advocates have argued that spending road tax money (fuel taxes and registration fees) on transit subsidies benefits car and truck drivers because they believe it gets people out of cars and onto trains and buses, thus reducing highway congestion. The fact that Connecticut has some of the worst traffic in the country, despite spending 64 percent of the DOT’s operating budget on transit subsidies, proves that theory wrong.
Hale suggests getting rid of an Interstate highway as a way to ease traffic. What?? Interstate highways allow cars and trucks carrying our freight to move unimpeded at a rapid pace, save for traffic backups.
Converting a highway to a boulevard with traffic lights, stop signs, turning lanes, etc., will exacerbate all of our traffic problems. The real way to address the traffic bottleneck on Interstate 84 in Hartford would be to fix the chokepoint where three through lanes constrict to two through lanes in both directions. To be more explicit, the state should widen the section of highway in question. Either that or build some version of a Hartford bypass, where the highway goes around the city, which would free up land to have the proper number of lanes to accommodate the through traffic. But to date, transportation planners involved in the I-84 Hartford viaduct project do not appear interested in doing that.
Yet in other states, new highway lanes, roads, and bridges are being built. This allows people and goods to move faster. Not to mention, building new roads creates good construction jobs. The economies in those states benefit by those decisions. If only Connecticut would have a more road-centric approach to transportation, or economy would likely benefit.
Instead, Connecticut is looking at a one-two punch of anti-vehicle transportation policy that will not help the state’s economy. Some policy makers want to charge congestion price tolls for the highways that we already have. Essentially, they want to make it too expensive to drive on these highways, because that is ultimately the goal of congestion pricing.
Secondly, Connecticut seems content to keep trying the same approach that has failed to yield any positive results, which is to spend road tax money (including the proposed toll revenue) on transit, and hope and pray that the next time is the charm. That hasn’t worked out so far.
While Hale believes that state transportation policy favors motor vehicles, I can only wish that were actually the case. Our economy would likely improve if we made it easier for cars and trucks to travel in Connecticut.
Joseph R. Sculley is President of the Motor Transport Association of CT.
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