Neil O’Leary and Rudy Marconi Honest conversation about tolls should not be stalled
Chances are you’ve taken some form of transportation in the past week, to get to work or bring your kids to school; and chances are you’ve noticed the traffic, the crowded Metro-North train, and the potholes. We are a society on the move, and our ability to get around safely and easily is tied directly to our quality of life and economic growth on the municipal and state level. That is why we at the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities and the Council of Small Towns, as representatives of the towns and cities of Connecticut, believe that we need to have an honest conversation about tolls.
Connecticut’s infrastructure is in dire need of repair. The Connecticut Society of Civil Engineers gave our roads a D-plus, meaning they are in poor or fair condition. Our bridges fared only slightly better and merited a C-minus. Only our rail system, the busiest in the country, fared well, gaining a B-minus, but at the cost of slowdowns because the infrastructure is not there to make repairs quickly. Most of the network is over 55 years old, and our roads and rails need to be brought up to acceptable levels before a crisis happens, not after.
Part of the problem is that funds have been pilfered away from transportation needs into the general fund, creating perennial shortfalls in transportation projects. Recently, more than 80 percent of voters in last November’s election ratified an amendment that would create a lockbox that would prevent fuel tax receipts from being siphoned away. But those receipts have decreased in light of new fuel-efficient and electric cars. Funding to repair this infrastructure must come from somewhere, and tolling is one of the possible solutions being floated around.
Gov. Ned Lamont was unwavering during his campaign that he would look into tolls, most likely in the form of trucks-only plan similar to one adopted in Rhode Island. But in December of last year, the governor’s transportation committee recommended full tolling, which they estimate would bring in nearly a billion dollars to renovate our infrastructure. His presentation of both plans to lawmakers and citizens alike only increases the necessity of serious conversation about our infrastructure needs.
Connecticut drivers are certainly not unfamiliar with tolling; every time we cross into New York or Massachusetts — or just about any state from Maine to Maryland — we pay tolls and support their infrastructure, but residents in those states are essentially getting a free meal when they cross into Connecticut. Unlike the toll booths that went away in the early ’80s, Automated Electronic Tolls don’t require slowdowns, and may incentivize a resurgence of carpooling efforts.
Combine with that the fact that Metro-North’s chronic issues in infrastructure work that have caused severe delays and that nearly every major highway exchange in Connecticut made the American Transportation Research Institute’s “Top Bottlenecks,” and you will understand the need to modernize and repair our crumbling infrastructure.
There are so many reasons why Connecticut is an attractive place to live and do business, but the argument falls apart for prospective residents and businesses with visions of waiting for a delayed train or in a sea of red lights with traffic at a standstill before you.
Gov. Lamont said that he “cannot fix this economy without fixing our transportation system and bringing it to the 21st century.” We at CCM and COST appreciate the governor’s leadership and honesty on this issue, and he’s right that our economy is tightly wound up with our infrastructure. This is a serious conversation that we need to have for the safety of our residents and the economic growth of our municipalities, state and key businesses.
Neil O’Leary is mayor of Waterbury and president of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities. Rudy Marconi is first selectman of Ridgefield, past president of the Council of Small Towns and a CCM board member.