Nearly every constituent I meet asks me the same question: What are you doing about infrastructure? From Bethel to Westport, it’s painfully clear that our transportation infrastructure is in crisis. According to U.S. News and World Report, Connecticut’s infrastructure ranks 46th in the nation. We have six of the country’s 100 worst traffic bottlenecks and one in ten of our bridges are structurally deficient. When our roads and rails are stuck in the 20th century, businesses and residents are left feeling pessimistic about the state’s future.
Needless to say, infrastructure problems disproportionately affect Fairfield County, the economic engine of our state. Without fast trains and clear highways, the vitality of our community is hampered each and every day. We cannot continue to put Band-Aids on this bleeding wound. It’s time for a concrete and forward-looking solution to our transportation woes.
With the release this week of Gov. Ned Lamont’s “Connecticut 2030” plan, we have that solution. Connecticut 2030 represents a historic investment in our state, one that streamlines traffic chokepoints, makes our roads safer and gives commuters more time to spend with their families.
What would this mean for us locally? First, it would deliver overhauls of Metro-North service, cutting 15-20 minutes off the average transit time into Grand Central Terminal. That’s paired with increased frequency of trains, new rail cars and enhanced maintenance schedules helping ease the commute on branch lines and main lines alike.
In addition, it would bolster our main thoroughfares in southwestern Connecticut. Up to $130 million of investments on I-95 in Westport, including the replacement of the bridge over Route 33, would improve safety and reduce congestion. Overhauling intersections on Route 1 would ease traffic on local roadways, as well. Congestion on Route 7 in Wilton and Norwalk will finally be addressed with overdue maintenance projects, while work on the Merritt Parkway and I-95 in Stamford and Norwalk will increase the speed of traffic in our neck of the woods. These are real changes that stand to transform our journeys to and from work every day.
The challenge that the legislature must face is how we’re going to pay for this better future. While some have proposed adding to the state’s credit card bill with long-term bonding, I’m concerned about further increasing the debt-load that our children and grandchildren will one day pay off. Instead, let’s ask those who drive on our major highways to contribute to the upkeep of our infrastructure. Connecticut 2030 proposes a limited number of toll gantries placed on bridges and intersections that are most in need of repair. The money raised by those who cross a bridge will go directly into repairing that bridge.
We all know that Connecticut can’t continue kicking the can down the road and accumulating debt. That’s why it’s important for a reliable revenue stream to accompany bonding. Foregoing tolls and borrowing the full amount necessary for improvements would send us back into a financial spiral. Connecticut 2030 is a reasonable mix of borrowing and financing, reflecting a compromise with those who have argued against tolling.
Not only does this plan collect almost 40% of funds from out-of-state vehicles – I’ve lost count of the number of out-of-state drivers I see enjoying a free ride while clogging our highways during rush hour – but it includes a built-in discount for Connecticut residents. My constituents have been paying tolls to Massachusetts, New York and New Jersey for years. I think it’s time we ask our neighbors to pay their fair share as they pass through Connecticut.
That’s why I’m impatient to vote on CT 2030 in the Senate and deliver real progress for our community. Connecticut residents deserve a clear, rational plan for infrastructure improvements. They know that high-speed rail and the transformation of our highways won’t happen overnight, but they want to see an achievable vision for the future.
As the legislature considers this bold proposal, I hope every citizen will take a look at which projects will be prioritized, how much they’ll cost, and how much time they will save commuters. You can visit ct2030.com, where the plan is laid out in remarkable detail. We need every stakeholder at the table to take this huge step forward.
The best time to act was yesterday. The second-best time is now. The budget is stable, our credit ratings are on the rise, and the work that’s gone into righting the ship these last several years is primed to pay off. If we don’t move now, we lose a key opportunity to build a better Connecticut for generations to come.
While Connecticut 2030 is a ten-year plan, its benefits can begin right away and will last well into the century. As a stakeholder in Connecticut’s future, I hope we take this necessary step to get our state moving again.
State Sen. Will Haskell, D-Westport, represents the 26th Senate District.