In the wake of a December 2017 Office of Policy and Management report outlining deficiencies in the state's Special Transportation Fund and a subsequent announcement by the governor on Jan. 10 indefinitely postponing hundreds of transportation projects, we asked state DOT commissioner James Redeker to shed some light on the challenges facing Connecticut in 2018.

CBIA: What is the status of the state's Special Transportation Fund?

DOT commissioner James RedekerRedeker: The current STF revenue does not come close to meeting our transportation funding needs to maintain what we have, to say nothing of new capacity or new services.

Worse, without new revenue, devastating increases this July in rail and bus fares and service cuts in transit and highways, along with the elimination of over $4 billion of critical projects over the next five years, will be necessary to support the sale of bonds this year.

For decades, we have borrowed money for new projects and equipment without addressing the revenue needed to pay the associated debt service.

Although we accomplished some very big and long-overdue projects such as the Q Bridge program in New Haven and the nearly completed Hartford Line rail project, that recent progress will be quickly undone without new revenue.

We should not accept that a 120-year old railroad movable bridge in Norwalk regularly fails to close, disrupting travel for thousands of commuters.

We should not accept that replacement of critical aging highway viaducts in Waterbury and Hartford is decades away without new funding.

And we should not accept painful highway congestion that costs motorists hundreds of hours annually in wasted time away from their families and discourages new business investment and economic growth.

CBIA: What solutions is the DOT recommending to keep the STF sustainable over the long term?

Redeker: The math is straightforward. We know what funding is necessary to maintain our existing system of highways and transit services, and we know the debt service for prior decades of investment and necessary future projects.

Postponing new projects to reduce future debt increases future costs and fails to invest to support economic growth.

Revenue options were outlined clearly by Gov. Malloy's Transportation Finance Panel in 2016. Raising existing STF sources—fuel taxes, motor vehicle fees, and sales tax are all possible. Accelerating the legislature's recommended payment of new car sales tax to the STF would be a major step.

On a smaller scale, fees for electric vehicles, real estate transfer fees, development impact fees, and vehicle mileage charges are all being considered by other states. Of course, tolling is among the solutions, but the legislature did not authorize tolls during the last session.

For decades, we have borrowed money for new projects and equipment without addressing the revenue needed to pay the associated debt service.
— DOT commissioner James Redeker
New methods of longer-term financing, including public/private partnerships are necessary.

Whatever solution the legislature adopts, it must avoid the imminent operating cuts in fiscal 2019 and at the same time establish a permanent, sustainable funding commitment for transportation.

The current funding crisis, like the failure of the Mianus River Bridge [in 1983], is a call to bold, long-term funding for transportation that is secured by a voter-approved amendment to the constitution to guarantee these revenues can be used only for transportation.

This is what the public expects and demands.

CBIA: With the STF shored up, what would be the DOT's most urgent infrastructure project priorities?

Redeker: The most critical aspect of a more stable STF is the ability to undertake large-scale projects that will generate economic growth and address critical system condition needs. That requires a predictable funding stream and multiyear funding commitments.

Among the most urgent system priorities are replacement of the I-84 viaduct in Hartford, addressing I-95 congestion, replacement of the I-84 Mixmaster in Waterbury, and completion of a new signal system and replacement of movable bridges on the New Haven Line.

The key economic growth projects include completion of the Hartford Line program, upgrades to the New Haven Line to increase speed and frequency, and projects to eliminate congestion on I-95 and I-84.

These are all undeniably important for the future growth of Connecticut's economy.

CBIA: How would meeting those priorities benefit Connecticut's economic health and business climate going forward?

Redeker: We do a great deal of talking about transportation funding, but we probably don't spend enough time talking about the economic and business benefits of these investments.

Connecticut is sandwiched between two very large U.S. cities in the greater Northeast mega region. The movement of business from cities to suburbs benefited us 30 years ago, but that trend has reversed.

Still, we have an enormous competitive advantage with a highly skilled workforce, comparatively lower cost of living, excellent schools, robust transit system, and a great quality of life.

But none of this matters if our transportation system falls short.

By keeping the long-term view on transportation, we can change the underlying dynamics of our economy.
— DOT commissioner James Redeker
The projects in our capital program pipeline are not only needed to restore and replace aging infrastructure, but they are also the seeds of a new economy.

We need to be bold in our vision and keep our focus and commitment on the long term.

We will be tempted to focus on short-term solutions and the occasional announcement that a Connecticut business is moving to Boston or New York City.

By keeping the long-term view on transportation, we can change the underlying dynamics of our economy and entice people and businesses to make Connecticut their first choice to locate.