This piece was written prior to the new proposal to implement user fees on truck drivers only and before Senate Republicans proposed FASTR, an alternative plan that relies heavily on re-directing money from the state’s rainy day fund. The authors feel that both sides should reconsider the limited and strategic use of tolls. A steady and reliable source of funding is required under both the governor’s and the Republicans’ plan, both of which depend on low-cost loans from the federal government. User fees are the best source. These fees the only way to get out-of-state drivers to pay their fair share to keep our roads and bridges safe and reduce bottlenecks that impact our economy and quality of life. Without user fees, 100 percent of the burden falls on Connecticut taxpayers, plus interest, that we and our children will be paying for many years to come.
The state of Connecticut’s deteriorating infrastructure is an issue Democrats and Republicans agree needs to be addressed. Now is the time for Connecticut’s legislators to come together in support of CT2030 for the betterment of our safety, economy and quality of life.
While not perfect, CT2030 is a bold and realistic plan that provides badly needed funding to fix our outdated transportation system. The plan is a significant compromise for those who have resisted tolls. It reduces the number of proposed toll gantries from 50 to 14 and maximizes federal grants and low cost loans. At the same time, it prioritizes projects that drastically reduce congestion to alleviate some of the worst bottlenecks in the country, while also repairing ailing bridges and speeding up Metro North.
Among other things, CT2030 builds on the success of the I-84 Waterbury realignment and widening project that increased the average rush hour speed by more than 45 mph, lowered travel times from 30 minutes to four and reduced the monthly crash rate from 38 to three. Similar improvements will be made on roads with bottlenecks across the state. CT2030 also provides funding for speeding up commute times between Union Station and Grand Central Station by roughly 20 minutes in the short term (and significantly more by 2030). Bus riders will also benefit from increased investment in the route system, including real-time information that will reduce their wait times.
Most importantly, the 14 gantries will collect user fees from those passing through our state. How frustrating —and unfair— is it to see all those out-of-state license plates and know that we pay to use their roads while they pay nothing for ours? And, the 18 wheelers that tear up our roads will pay significantly more.
Granted, the price of getting out-of-staters to pay their fair share is that we in Connecticut also have to contribute. But, in-state residents will pay a discounted 40-80 cent rate and fees are capped at one round trip per day. According to a 2015 survey conducted by the Brookings Institution, the average commute in Connecticut is 5.9 miles. Assuming drivers pass through one toll on their 5.9-mile commute at the cost of 80 cents per day, their yearly fee would be approximately $200. Further, the revenue goes directly to fix the dangerous bridges and bottlenecks they drive through. Connecticut residents will actually see how their contributions are put to use as they spend less time idling in traffic. Just ask the folks in Waterbury.
What happens if we continue down the same do nothing path and CT2030 doesn’t move forward? Well, we can assume that the most dangerous bridges will be repaired. No administration will want its name associated with another Mianus bridge collapse. Where will the money come from? Most likely from increases in sales and gasoline taxes (and with the rise in electric and hybrid vehicles, it won’t nearly be enough). How much will that cost the average Connecticut resident? A lot more than the user fees paid under CT2030.
And to those who lament that no administration can be trusted with the funds collected from tolls, in addition to the constitutional lockbox that recently became law, diverting money jeopardizes $750 million in federal funds and even more in low interest loans that will be contractually bound to be re-paid from user fees. It would be reckless, not to mention illegal, for any administration to attempt to do so.
We are at a critical juncture here in Connecticut over transportation. Gov. Ned Lamont has given us a path forward; now we need both Republican leadership and those on-the-fence Democrats to make a statement supporting CT2030. Let’s show the rest of the country that Connecticut operates differently than Washington. Enough with kicking the can down the road. Enough with the stale arguments about overburdening Connecticut taxpayers. Enough with the name-calling, insults and lack of trust. In the end, we all want the same thing: a better Connecticut. Democrats and Republicans should come together and agree that CT2030 will give us that.
Matthew Chudoba is a Republican who lives in Danbury and works in Norwalk at a communications firm. Gail Berritt is a Democrat and a lawyer who lives in in Westport.