Fixing Potholes for 30 Years’
Governor Malloy last month released a 30-year, $100 billion transportation plan that includes highway, bridge, rail, and bus projects and a five-year, $10 billion ramp-up to launch them.
He outlined a vision for a “best-in-class transportation system” that supports Connecticut’s economic development and quality of life.
But with the state’s Special Transportation Fund headed for a deficit in two years and insolvency in four, it is unclear which projects will take priority and how they’ll be paid for.
That was the topic of a breakout session on transportation at Connecticut Business Day 2015.
Time = Money
“Congestion and inefficiency impose real costs not only on our company and our customers,” said Pat Thomas, UPS senior vice president of state government affairs, “but also our country’s economic competitiveness. Until our infrastructure is modernized, America’s economy will fall short of its full potential.”
UPS is active in all modes of transportation, including air, ground, rail and sea.
According to Thomas, if every UPS delivery vehicle were delayed just five minutes each day, the company would incur an additional $105 million in operating costs each year.
UPS’ delivery fleet includes more than 96,000 commercial vehicles traveling more than 2.3 billion miles on U.S. roads and highways last year. In Connecticut alone, UPS has 4,000 employees driving 1,200 vehicles more than 35 million miles a year.
With domestic freight demand projected to double by 2050 and truck freight demand expected to increase by 25% in the next 12 years alone, it’s clear the existing highway infrastructure is insufficient.
“We have, at best, been filling potholes for 30 years and not adding capacity,” said Thomas.
Serious investments must also be made in rail freight, seaport connectivity, and other modes of transportation, said Thomas.
“America’s transportation system is a patchwork, built mode-by-mode in silos. When intermodal connections are backed up, it hurts customers and productivity.”
Local business leaders, including Eric Albert of Albert Brothers in Waterbury and Parrish Castor of C&M Screw Machine in Bristol, said gaps in intermodal connections put an enormous strain on Connecticut businesses.
“Freight rail in Connecticut,” said Albert, “is pathetic.”
Show Me the Money
“In an era of ever-shrinking budgets,” Thomas asked, “is there a way to invest limited resources differently?”
UPS, he said, favors increasing the federal fuel tax, indexing it to inflation, and dedicating the revenue exclusively to the Highway Trust Fund.
He and others acknowledged, however, that raising the already high fuel tax (especially with more fuel-efficient vehicles resulting in lower consumption) cannot supply all the revenue needed for transportation maintenance, capacity-building investments, and so-called “shiny new projects.”
Other funding proposals, including interstate tolls, were debated. Most opposed adding tolls on existing roads, but were largely open to the idea of tolls on new, optional express lanes.
Regardless of where transportation dollars come from, everyone agreed that they must not be raided for other uses.
“We’ve been stealing from our Special Transportation Fund, using revenue from the fuel tax to pay for other projects,” said Madison chemical broker and commercial real estate agent Tom Banisch.
Rep. Tami Zawistowski (R-East Granby) agreed, adding that years of raiding the fund for non-transportation purposes has left Connecticut legislators with “a bit of a credibility gap.”
“The idea here,” said Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-Wilton), “is to pass both statutory language and a constitutional amendment” guaranteeing that money earmarked for transportation is used exclusively for transportation expenditures.
Rep. Cristin McCarthy Vahey (D-Fairfield) asked, “Are we willing, as a state, to commit the necessary funds [for transportation infrastructure]?”
Mike Riley, president of Motor Transportation Association of Connecticut, was optimistic that a constitutional amendment will pass in the next one to two years.
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