Lamont: State can’t postpone investment in transportation

February 27, 2019

New London — Standing underneath the twin spans of the Gold Star Memorial Bridge on Tuesday, Gov. Ned Lamont said the bridge represents the type of work that the state can’t postpone with the hope that a future generation will take care of it. 

“This is something we’ve got to do now,” he said during a news conference at the Thames River State Boat Launch. “It’s really the economic future of our state, as well as a safety issue, and that’s why we’re here today.”

Lamont, joined by local officials, the deputy commissioner for the state Department of Transportation and Connecticut Construction Industries Association members, called attention to the bridge as key to the region’s and state’s economies — and the need to have a stable revenue stream in place to pay for transportation infrastructure.

“This is the time for us to be investing in our transportation,” Lamont said, highlighting a tolling plan in which an estimated 40 percent of the revenue would be paid for by out-of-state drivers.

Lamont has proposed two tolling options before the General Assembly: tolls for trucks only, which could bring in 800 million a year and would allow Connecticut frequent drivers to get a “maximized discount,” according to a news release from the governor’s office. 

As he prepared the budget, the state still was awaiting resolution on Rhode Island’s truck tolling plans that have faced legal challenges, Lamont told The Day’s Editorial Board on Tuesday.

Lamont said, for now, his administration would hold off on bonding for a 300 million rehabilitation of the 76-year-old northbound side of the Gold Star that will extend the life of the bridge by 30 to 40 years, state DOT Deputy Commissioner Anna Barry said. DOT recently wrapped up repairs on the southbound span.

“We believe this work will have a positive effect on mobility and commerce for the entire region and the entire state,” Barry said during Tuesday’s news conference.

New London Mayor Michael Passero stressed the need to preserve the Gold Star, which he described as “a very, very important lifeline not only for this city, but for the state of Connecticut and for New England,” that connects New York and New Haven with Providence and Boston and carries more than 100,000 cars a day. The bridge is important to employees of Electric Boat, the area’s economic driver, as submarines are built in Groton and the design and engineering are on the New London campus, he said.

“It’s part of the lifeblood of New London,” Passero said. “Right now the off-shore wind industry is looking at New London as the hub to build the next green energy source for our country and this highway is going to be important to that. New London has an intermodal transportation hub. We have ferries, we have rail, and this highway is the third leg of that, so we thank the governor for coming in today to show the commitment to rebuild our infrastructure.”

Groton City Mayor Keith Hedrick agreed that the area is a major transportation hub with an interstate that connects Boston and New York, a deepwater port, a railway and an airport.

The bridge also will be critical as the workforce expands in the future.

“In the next five to 10 years, Electric Boat has an expansion of about 5,000 employees, and those employees are going to need a way to get over, and this is the major thoroughfare that they’re going to use,” Hedrick said. “They go back and forth, and this is a major investment in infrastructure, so I appreciate the governor for his commitment to this.”

State Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, and state Reps. Christine Conley, D-Groton, and Joe de la Cruz, D-Groton, issued a joint news release stressing the need to prioritize the Gold Star and use tolls as a funding source. Conley said she was pleased the governor and DOT recognize the bridge’s importance to the region, and de la Cruz said the bridge is “vital for commuters and commercial traffic, and especially for our manufacturers like Electric Boat.”

“If we are serious about business and job growth in this state, and if we are serious about the safety of our daily commuters, we will pass a comprehensive tolls bill this session and we will use some of that future revenue to repair the Gold Star Memorial Bridge, which is in dire need of upgrades,” Osten said.

Day Staff Writer Benjamin Kail contributed to this report.