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$4.3 Billion in Transportation Projects At Risk Across Connecticut

$4.3 Billion in Transportation Projects At Risk Across Connecticut

Hartford Courant, January 11, 2018

By Greg Hladky

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Wednesday that $4.3 billion in state transportation projects will need to be postponed indefinitely if the General Assembly fails to quickly appropriate more money.

The transportation projects at risk include replacing the Hartford I-84 viaduct, widening of I-95 from Bridgeport to Stamford, and revamping the Waterbury I-84 “mix-master,” the governor warned. Routine maintenance and transportation funds for municipalities would also be affected, Malloy said.

Malloy said he will offer his own proposal for new transportation funding before the General Assembly begins its 2018 session next month, and did not rule out highway tolls or increases in gasoline or sales taxes as potential options.

Malloy said that, in deciding what new revenue plans to propose, he is “trying to gauge the legislature’s appetite to do the right thing… I would like to move forward as rapidly as possible,” he added. Malloy, a Democrat, has announced he won’t run for re-election in 2018.

Connecticut lawmakers have repeatedly rejected tolls and major tax increases as solutions to the fiscal crisis faced by the state’s Special Transportation Fund. This is a legislative election year, which is likely to make it even more difficult for legislators to approve politically unpopular revenue increases in 2018.

State Department of Transportation Commissioner James P. Redeker said eight state transportation projects were put on hold in November to save $26.4 million. Another four rail and highway projects, with a total cost of $277 million, are now scheduled to be postponed in April if no additional funding is approved.

The biggest of those projects that could be put on hold in April is a $228 million plan to relocate and reconfigure the interchange of I-91 and Route 15 in south Hartford. An additional 16 projects, calling for $395.5 million in state spending, would need to be postponed in June if no new money is found, Redeker said.

The legislature must act this year to avoid potentially devastating setbacks to our transportation system. — Gov. Dannel P. Malloy

Malloy said that, even if tolls were immediately approved, getting the system up and operating would mean the state wouldn’t begin to see highway toll revenue for five years. He said his proposals would include both short-term and long-term fiscal solutions.

More transportation revenue needed back to top

The DOT is already proposing a 10 percent rail fare increase and a 25-cent boost in bus fares to take effect in July. The DOT is also proposing rail service cutbacks unless the legislature moves to bring in more transportation revenue.

“If Connecticut does not take the necessary action to allow us to restart these vital projects, not only will it put the state’s infrastructure into a further state of disrepair, it will hurt our economy,” Malloy said. “If we want to compete in the 21st century economy, we need a transportation system that works for people and businesses, and we need to invest in transit-oriented development to build the communities where people and businesses want to be. I want to be very clear — this is preventable, but it requires immediate action. The legislature must act this year to avoid potentially devastating setbacks to our transportation system.”

But the state Senate’s top Republican, Len Fasano of North Haven, insisted that Malloy and his Democratic allies in the legislature are to blame for the current transportation fiscal crisis.

His [Malloy's] goal was to damage our state to bolster his argument for more taxes. — Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano

“Over the last four years alone, Gov. Malloy and legislative Democrats took $164 million from the state’s special transportation fund to balance their budgets,” Fasano said. “Gov. Malloy then authorized a transportation funding plan he knew couldn’t be supported by the fund.”

“His goal was to damage our state to bolster his argument for more taxes,” Fasano said of Malloy’s transportation policies.

The governor rejected the GOP criticisms, saying the “three ridiculous plans” for transportation recently offered by Republican lawmakers didn’t provide even enough new revenue to cover essential repairs for road and mass transit programs.

According to Malloy, the transportation funding situation would be even worse if he hadn’t pushed through a plan to devote an additional half-cent on the state sales tax to the special transportation fund.

Right now, Malloy said, “You can’t get through Fairfield County to drive to the rest of the state” because of the nasty traffic congestion along the I-95 corridor. He said this state is already suffering economic losses because of the inadequate transportation system, losing businesses that prefer to go to states like New York and Massachusetts that Malloy said have invested far more in roads and mass transit.

Malloy has said Connecticut’s transportation system will need almost $1 billion in new revenue during the next five years in order to pay for needed maintenance and improvements and avoid major rail, bus and road cutbacks.

Projects that have major federal funding and those essential to public safety will continue to move ahead, Malloy added.

The list of projects that could be put on hold would mean that “every town in the state would be affected,” Malloy said. “This is not a hypothetical list.”

Malloy warned in December that such a list would be coming soon. He said it appears many lawmakers “thought we were kidding… but the chickens have come home to roost.”

Six projects in West Hartford are impacted due to Malloy’s suspension, two of which — the North Main Street bridge and Braeburn Road culvert rehabilitations — were funded in part by the town, officials said Wednesday night.

The North Main Street bridge project, located just north of Wyndwood Road, was in the final design phase and officials planned for construction to begin this spring. Town officials said the bridge, constructed in 1901, is safe but in poor condition. The total cost of the project is $1.6 million with about half funded by the state.

The Braeburn Road culvert project is located east of Braeburn Elementary School and officials said it is “severely corroded.” Officials we’re in the final design phase an anticipated to start construction on the $200,000 project this spring. The state was to fund $129,000 of the project’s costs.

West Hartford Town Manager Matthew Hart said that the town sees “maintenance of infrastructure as critically important” and urges the governor and legislators to work together to resolve this.