Throughout our region, commutes continue to get longer and slower. Bumper to bumper traffic on I-95 and the Merritt Parkway and delays on the New Haven Line have become the continually bemoaned norm in Connecticut. Rush hour now stretches out for four hours during both the morning and evening commutes. The CT Department of Transportation estimates that congestion costs Connecticut residents and businesses $860 million per year in time lost sitting in traffic; and that is without even factoring in the time spent waiting for or on a crowded, delayed train. This time and money lost is taking a toll on the state’s struggling economy. Connecticut has yet to fully recover from the 2008 recession and job growth in the state continues to lag behind the rest of the region.
With leadership and action from Hartford, we can fix this crisis.
In January Governor Malloy announced $4.3 billion in transportation funding cuts. Connecticut’s Special Transportation Fund is insolvent and without new revenue sources to shore up the fund, proposed cuts will become reality. Projects planned for this spring have already been deferred and the DOT is currently conducting public hearings on proposed transit fare hikes.
What can be done?
Governor Malloy has put forward a set of proposals to generate new revenues, including a 7 cent increase in the gas tax over four years and implementation of electronic tolling.
This is a smart approach, the gas tax can be implemented nearly immediately if we have the political will. E-tolling will take time to do the necessary planning studies, procurements and installation.
It’s been 20 years since Connecticut lowered its gas tax from 39 cents to 25 cents per gallon, and it hasn’t raised it since. To put that in context, over the course of two decades, movie tickets have gone from $5 to $13. So why do we balk when we need to raise the gas tax which funds the way we move around each and every day?
Tolling adds a new dimension, providing both a valuable additional stream of transportation revenue for the State and also incentivizing drivers who have another option, like a commuter train or car pooling, to use it. This helps reduce CT’s epic highway congestion and also provides funding to improve our roads and commuter rail. While a gas tax increase will help us address our immediate revenue needs, tolling is the future. Over time the gas tax will become obsolete as cars become more efficient and there are more electric cars on the road.
The transportation system needs funding in order to work and it needs funding now. The gas tax can and should be raised immediately as we also start planning to implement a longer term user-fee (tolling) strategy. And both these new revenue streams need to be protected with a secure lock-box that will prevent funds intended for transportation from being used to to fill gaps in other parts of the State budget.
We need to stop arguing about who is at fault and focus on solutions. The cost of sitting in traffic or being stuck on a train that’s going nowhere fast is slowing all of us and crippling our state’s economy.