Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the state Department of Transportation are backing proposed increases in rail and bus service to offset a transportation fund deficit.
Public hearings began last week on the proposed rate hikes, including a 10 percent increase on the Hartford Line in 2018, 2020 and 2021. A 14.3 percent bus fare increase would take effect on July 1. The plan also calls for service reductions on Metro North and the Shoreline East rail lines.
“The actions are necessary due to an estimated $60 million budget shortfall for transit and rail accounts,” according to a press release from Malloy’s office. “The implementation of any service and fare changes are subject to public input and contingent on action by the General Assembly to ensure the long-term solvency of the Special Transportation Fund which is supported by the gasoline tax and other revenues, and pays for CTDOT operations.”
Malloy’s administration outlined a four-pronged plan to stabilize the special transportation fund. It would restore canceled state and municipal projects across the state and prevent the fare increases and service reductions, according to his office. Malloy suspended $4.3 billion in projects in January after learning it will be in deficit by fiscal year 2019.
The plan includes a 7-cent increase in the gas tax, gradually implemented over four years, and tolls by 2023.
The Hartford Line is expected to begin operation in May, offering increased commuter rail service from New Haven to Springfield.
“That’s vintage Malloy,” said state Sen. Len Suzio, R-Meriden. “ ‘If I don’t get my way or get tolls and gas taxes, I’m going to take it out on the public transit riders.’ ”
Suzio, who sits on the General Assembly’s Transportation Committee, criticized Malloy’s plan to spend $100 billion on infrastructure in 30 years.
“That number is preposterous,” Suzio said. “It’s got to be greeted with skepticism.”
The state used to spend $1.2 billion on roads and bridges annually and is now spending $3.3 billion every year, according to Suzio.
Suzio said there could be potential changes to the federal highway act that could deliver dollars to the state.
“It’s prudent for us to pause and wait a minute and understand the changes so we know the implications for the plan,” he said.
State Rep. Emil “Buddy” Altobello, D-Meriden, also a member of the Transportation Committee, said the state needs to find new ways to fund transportation projects.
“We know what’s going to happen, the (transportation fund) is going to be insolvent in a couple of years,” Altobello said. “We have a gasoline tax that hasn’t changed.”
Altobello said he wants to see a detailed plan before he supports tolls, but added the state needs to do something other than funding highway repairs through the annual operating budget.
“We need a better revenue mix,” he said.
Altobello criticized the GOP plan to fund transporation, which relies on increasing general fund bonding.
“That’s risky and smashes the integrity of the transportation fund,” Altobello said.