What’s the most overlooked aspect of the Great Connecticut Toll Debate? It’s the record-breaking $100 billion transportation infrastructure spending plan.
I’m amazed and alarmed that this aspect of the toll question has been largely ignored in the tolls brouhaha. This prodigious spending, proposed by former Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, is the root cause of the projected financial crisis in the Special Transportation Fund.
Here’s the big picture: Connecticut faces the greatest financial crisis in state history, driven by over $80 billion in unfunded liabilities that come due in the next 30 years.
If we spend a further $100 billion on transportation infrastructure over the same period, we will more than double the liabilities that are already pushing the state to the brink of insolvency.
Has anyone even considered the dire financial implications of the grandiose transportation spending plan?
Barring an economic miracle, the combination of unfunded liabilities and $100 billion in additional transportation capital funding is an impossible financial burden for state taxpayers. We simply have no choice but to trim our spending to what we can afford for a functional transportation system
But the legislature has not done its job to vet the Malloy transportation plan. During the tolls hearing the Transportation Committee Chairman called the plan “aspirational.” In other words a “$100 billion wish list.”
Let’s look at the $100 billion transportation infrastructure wish list.
First, the amount allotted to highways and bridges is about $67 billion, about two-thirds of the proposed spending. If tolls should be adopted, this is the spending they would finance, not the entire $100 billion (how does the Lamont Administration propose we pay for the remaining $35 billion?)
Second, about $49 billion of the bridge and highway spending is targeted for “preservation”, i.e., what must be done to get roads and bridges into good working condition for the next 30 years.
Third, if we were to adopt a practical approach to solving our roads and bridges problem, we could limit the spending to “preservation” for our highways and our bridges, $49 billion.
We know that about 25 percent of the $49 billion is earmarked for two projects, the Waterbury Mixmaster ($7.1 billion) and the Hartford Viaduct ($5.3 billion). We also know that the Waterbury project is now being developed as a “rehabilitation project” for $200 million, rather than a “replacement project” for $7.1 billion. If we assume a similar alternative is available for the viaduct project, we could save another $5 billion reducing the infrastructure spending on roads and bridges to about $37 billion.
The savings on the Mixmaster are real and are being implemented now. There is every reason to believe that savings are available on other state transportation projects. The detailed Department of Transportation data clearly shows that we can cut the projected road and bridge spending by almost 50 percent and still have good working roads and bridges.
This is just a cursory review of the projected spending behind the tolls debate. If we engage in a robust public discussion about bridge and highway infrastructure spending, we may find that we can solve the problem without tolls. It’s time for the legislature’s Transportation Committee to do its job and conduct hearings and a thorough review of the grandiose and yet-to-be-examined transportation infrastructure plan before there is a vote on tolls.
A vote on tolls to finance an unvetted record-breaking transportation spending plan is grossly irresponsible. Let’s not put the cart before the horse. Let’s agree about what we must do and how much we must spend before we figure out how to finance it.
Len Suzio is a former state senator and vice-chair of the Transportation Committee.
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