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Lamont proposes transit upgrades

September 26, 2018

MERIDEN — Ned Lamont said Monday that if elected governor, he will invest the $100 million in annual revenue from new truck-only tolls and renewed investment from the federal government to improve transportation infrastructure and transit-oriented development.

The result would be more people living in cities, better economic growth, an increase in mass transit use and a reduction in car traffic, the Democratic candidate said.

Lamont and his running mate, Susan Bysiewicz held a news conference at the revamped train station here, which since the spring has been a stop on the expanded New Haven-to-Springfield line that is carrying about 2,000 riders a day.

As many as 300 new apartments, developed by builders in this post-industrial city of about 60,000, is a good example of public-private synergy, he said. Bysiewicz said that another 500 housing units are going up within walking distance of the South Norwalk train station.

State business leaders agree, Lamont said, that the key to economic growth is to solve the transportation problems.

“I hear that wherever I go: ‘We cannot get our people to work. Our customers cannot get to work. It’s gridlock on the roads.’ And this should be priority one for the next governor of the state of Connecticut.”

In addition to fixing roads and bridges, Lamont wants more-frequent rail service; free Wifi on trains; better connections between public transportation and Bradley International Airport; and to explore the possibility of buying the Amtrak train line between New Haven and Hartford. He also wants more-frequent trains on Shoreline East and Waterbury.

Lamont charged that Bob Stefanowski, the Republican candidate who wants to eliminate the personal income tax and corporate profits taxes over eight years, would have to halt many active projects, including the Walk Bridge replacement in Norwalk, because of the loss in revenue.

In response, Stefanowski skirted the transportation question and stayed on his one message — he will cut taxes to create growth.

“While I have to applaud Ned for his creativity, his assertions here are pure fiction,” Stefanowski said in a statement. “My plan will reverse this economic failure and bring Connecticut back in line with regional growth which will result in more revenue to fund critical priorities like transportation and education.”

Truck-only tolls

Lamont’s proposal is a far less ambitious transportation fix than Malloy envisioned.

In early 2015, Malloy proposed a 30-year, $100-billion upgrade of the state’s entire transportation system, including $2.8 billion to widen I-95 in Southwestern Connecticut and install a rapid-bus lane between Stamford and Norwalk by 2020. Though unpopular — especially in an election year — Malloy saw tolls as part of the solution to the state’s transportation problem. Most of the Legislature didn’t agree and the plan did not advance.

Lamont’s truck-only tolls would bring in $100 million a year in new revenue, he said, but it would likely face a legal challenge.

Joseph Sculley, president of the Motor Transportation Association of Connecticut, warned that a pending lawsuit over Rhode Island’s truck-only tolls is now in court on interstate-commerce claims.

“The proposal to toll just out-of-state tractor trailers is so clearly a violation of the U.S. Constitution, that this is almost not even worth discussing any further,” declared Sculley. “This proposal is devoid of facts and is misleading the public.”

Lamont and Bysiewicz’s support for tolls will vanish, however, if on November 6, statewide voters reject the creation of a so-called lock box to keep transportation revenue separate from the general budget. The lock box question will appear on the ballot as a proposed constitutional amendment.

Federal funding

Lamont is also hoping for federal infrastructure dollars that, in the past, have paid for 80 percent of most projects.

If Democrats can take the U.S. House of Representatives in the fall, Lamont said, veteran Rep. John Larson, a member of the powerful Ways and Means Committee, could help the state. “We get 80-20 funding from the federal government like we always used to, we can make a big bit of progress,” Lamont said, noting that gas-related tax revenue have increased slightly in the state’s Special Transportation Fund.

He did not rule out securitizing, a tactic in which the state would accept up-front revenue from a contractor.

“I will look at any creative idea, public, private, securitizing, that gets us going again,” he said. “Make sure that we have the money we need to fix our roads and bridges, and more-frequent rail service, just like we’re seeing in Meriden. Everything we can do to get cars and trucks off the road, more people using public transportation like rail is a good thing for the state of Connecticut.”

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