A century ago, the only way to drive between New York and Boston was on Route 1, the Post Road. If you think traffic is bad today, imagine that journey. So in 1936, 2,000 men began work on the state’s largest public works project, the $21 million, four-lane parkway starting in Greenwich and running to the Housatonic River in Stratford. The adjoining Wilbur Cross Parkway didn’t open until years later when the Sikorsky Bridge across the Housatonic was completed.
Train crashes, passenger deaths, grade-crossing accidents, derailments. These are not just the recent history of Metro-North, but events dating back decades. A friend of mine loves reading the microfilms of our town’s weekly newspaper and has been feeding me clippings of all the stories about the New Haven line. The news reports sound all too familiar.
Back in April I wrote about the challenge we face to pay for Gov. Malloy’s $100 billion transportation plan. And I expressed sympathy for his bipartisan, blue-ribbon panel tasked with coming up with funding alternatives, the Transportation Finance Panel. To be honest, I think that panel may be on a fool’s errand. They’re trying to pay for a wish list of projects not of their making and many of which may not be necessary, let alone affordable. Maybe we only need $50 billion. But it’s not their mandate to question our “transportation Governor.”
Television and published reports have recently covered the talks going on in Hartford about ways to fund Gov. Dannel Malloy’s $100 billion, 30-year transportation infrastructure plan. These include discussion of a plan to tax motorists according to the number of miles they drive. Before this plan is even considered, I have a radical idea: tally up every nickel that has been diverted from the Transportation Fund over the past 20 years — by BOTH PARTIES — along with what social programs or agencies were the recipient of those diverted funds. Then, every nickel of those diverted funds should be clawed back from their budgets and re-deposited into the Transportation Fund and used for the intended purpose of transportation infrastructure maintenance.
Today you can travel toll roads from Maine to Illinois to Virginia and use the same E-ZPass. And Connecticut drivers… get ready, as everyone admits that tolls are in our future. But even law-abiding E-ZPass holders should know that Big Brother may be watching them, miles from any toll lane. The NYC Dept of Transportation uses hundreds of E-ZPass readers in Manhattan, it says, to monitor the flow of traffic. Your E-ZPass could even let authorities determine if you were speeding as you pass between readers, though the NY Thruway insists that’s not in the plans and wouldn’t stand up in court. The choice is yours: pay cash, wait in long lines and remain anonymous… or get an E-ZPass, enjoy the discounts and speedy trips but leave a record of your travels.
Remember Gov. Dannel Malloy’s stealth proposal for a “Transit Corridor Development Authority,” described by some as “eminent domain on steroids?” Well, the initial idea to allow the state to acquire any land within a half-mile of train stations was modified, then killed in the legislature. And that’s not the only thing that got stuck recently.
As someone who has battled two decades for more spending on transportation, you’d think I would be happy with the state’s new biennial budget. But when you drill down into the details, there’s reason for concern. Gov. Dannel Malloy promised a down-payment on his $100 billion transportation dreams. And he did get one-half of one percent of the state sales tax repurposed for that… but it only pays down the Connecticut Department of Transportation’s enormous debt service.
There is no question that Gov. Dannel Malloy’s proposed $100 billion transportation plan for our state is, as he puts it, “bold.” The question is, is it achievable? The problem is that the governor’s plan isn’t a plan. It’s a wish list, with something for everyone in the state. Nobody has vetted the various projects to say what makes sense and what doesn’t. Nor has the governor offered any ideas on how to pay for them.
The Connecticut legislature is considering a bill (HB 6818) that would order the transportation commissioner to establish a toll-collection system on the state’s major highways at its borders. The bill would also set up “safeguards to ensure that any toll revenue is deposited in the Special Transportation Fund (STF) and used only for transportation purposes.” Witnesses — many from the state’s border communities — submitted testimony in opposition to the idea. A few were in favor. Here is an excerpted sampling of both. The full list of witnesses and their written testimony can be found here.
At a time when new tax revenue, economic development and job growth are urgently needed, Connecticut stands poised to welcome one of the most innovative and sustainability driven companies to the state. Allowing Tesla to compete and sell their vehicles to Connecticut consumers helps further the state’s desire to be home to new, innovative companies.
In Newington, my lifelong home, there is increasing concern about Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposal establishing a statewide transit development authority and its intentions to oversee his ambitious transportation plan. This proposal is not a friend of Newington — or any other municipality with open space.
The New Haven line is the single busiest in the nation. Without Metro-North bringing workers to and from the city, the Gold Coast around Fairfield County couldn’t exist. That should concern all Connecticut residents, because the county pays an outsized share of income taxes into state government coffers and contributes to much of the state’s relative wealth. The health of Connecticut’s economy is tied to the health of the railroad.