Gov. Dannel Malloy and GOP gubernatorial candidate Tom Foley took on Connecticut’s most pressing transportation issues in a forum last week in North Haven.
While each spoke separately during the program and offered different perspectives, they basically agreed on the same situation: Connecticut’s transportation infrastructure and systems need upgrading--and more resources to accomplish it.
Stuck in traffic
Businesses have long talked about the major impact the state’s transportation system has on the economy, and their biggest concern is congestion, particularly on the I-95, I-84, and I-91 corridors.
For Connecticut businesses, congestion can result in missed deadlines, missed connections, and lost business opportunities.
“I am not an expert on traffic,” said Foley at the forum, “but I am an expert on what it feels like to be stuck in traffic.”
Combating congestion, he said, means streamlining project development and addressing political opposition to expanding the state’s transportation system.
Foley said he was opposed to congestion tolling on the state’s highways in order to drive people toward mass transit options. As he noted, “mass transit is not the answer for everybody.”
Gov. Malloy cited improvements to the state’s rail and bus systems during his administration that will help reduce highway congestion and address environmental concerns. He said he wants to study the use of tolling systems to better manage traffic and encourage more mass transit use.
Both candidates said that if congestion tolls were used, they would have to come with strings attached.
Gov. Malloy vowed tolls would have to have a lockbox to ensure the funds raised are used for transportation purposes. Foley said that if tolls were implemented, he would insist the revenue be used to lower fuel taxes rather than just create a new stream of income for the state.
Connecticut businesses also are also overwhelmingly concerned that funds dedicated to the state’s Special Transportation Fund be used for transportation purposes alone–and not reallocated to cover other state budget expenditures.
Foley said there is a fundamental difference between spending taxpayer dollars and investing them to get a return for Connecticut’s citizens. The key, he noted, was getting the state’s fiscal house in order, which would free more resources to address transportation needs.
The governor noted that legislation calling for a constitutional amendment to protect the funds in the special transportation fund had already been implemented.
What’s more, any money diverted from the fund during his years in office, he said, was more than offset by increased transportation spending. If a constitutional amendment did pass, however, he committed to signing it.
Foley said if he is elected governor, “we will not need a constitutional amendment”–but committed to supporting one to protect the fund for the future after his tenure.
Gov. Malloy highlighted his administration’s increased spending on transportation projects, but noted that more could have been spent had projects been ready to go.
He said he was tired of hearing people come back from Europe or Asia raving about their airports and rail systems, and that Connecticut should have the same.
Regardless of whom wins in November, both candidates’ focus on highways congestion and the sanctity of the special transportation fund shows that advocates for the business community have been successful in highlighting their constituencies’ transportation concerns.
That is a good sign that someday Connecticut may be able to tout its transportation system as an economic pipeline rather than inhibitor.