I applaud Gov. Ned Lamont for being bold in putting forth his $21 billion transportation plan to upgrade Connecticut’s infrastructure. Is it perfect? No, but it’s very much realistic, and something as comprehensive as this is long overdue.
Now that we know what it entails, it’s imperative that the Lamont administration doesn’t make the same mistakes of the past, namely, sabotaging its chances of moving this plan forward because of an incoherent communications strategy.
There is no doubt Lamont will face tons of backlash from the right and some in his own party because this plan relies on revenue from tolls to repay the low-interest federal loans that would be used to fund each repair project. After all, this is bound to happen when you propose the addition of a user fee.
This time around, Lamont should see it coming and be in a much stronger position to control the narrative. He needs to own this plan, defend it, promote it and stick by it no matter how much flak he receives from the “never-tollers.” His communications team should have already anticipated the expected vitriol that will be spewed in his direction and prepared him accordingly with irrefutable proof points that weaken the opposition’s argument.
First and foremost, Connecticut is a pass-through state connecting New York City to Boston. We should be monetizing this strategic advantage by charging out-of-staters a fee to use our transportation network. Tolls are the only realistic way to help modernize our transportation system with funding from non-Connecticut residents. This is a message that the Lamont administration should be pushing every chance it gets.
Second, no one can refute the benefits of the I-84 widening project in Waterbury and the positive effects it has had on reducing bottlenecks and traffic during rush hour. Most importantly, it was completed a year ahead of schedule and on budget, so it’s in the administration’s best interest to tout the success of this project when confronted with concerns about cost overruns and moving timelines.
Third, a transportation plan this large in scale will have a tremendous positive impact on the Connecticut economy. In addition to bringing about thousands of construction jobs, commuters will get to-and-from their destinations more quickly. As a result, commuters in Fairfield County might be more willing to travel to the XL Center on a weeknight to cheer on UConn, while those in-and-around Hartford would give less pause to using Route 9 to visit Mohegan Sun or Foxwoods.
In a divided state like Connecticut, there’s no doubt the Lamont administration has its work cut out for it. Obtaining the necessary votes certainly won’t be easy. That said, the quickest way for the governor to derail his transportation plan altogether is to once again let the dissenters get the best of him. If that happens, any chance of fixing the issues that clog our roadways will be left to the next administration.
I have no doubt that the governor is sincere in his vision to improve Connecticut’s transportation network. This plan proves that. Where I remain skeptical of him, however, is his ability to sell it with conviction. Here’s hoping the reshuffling of his communications team will help in this regard.
Matthew Chudoba is a strategic communications professional with over six years of agency and internal experience. He is currently is an Account Director at a Norwalk-based communications firm, where he is on the company’s real estate team.