Transportation projects in Ridgefield aren’t on governor’s ‘hit list’ for cuts
Editor's note: This story has been updated to included reaction from Ridgefield State Rep. John Frey.
State transportation projects in Ridgefield — from the much-discussed Main Street improvements to traffic light upgrades at some state highway intersections — aren’t currently delayed or on the chopping block, despite Governor Dannel Malloy’s action Wednesday to “postpone indefinitely” some $4.3 billion in planned projects statewide unless the legislature comes up with more money for them.
John Dunham, district engineer with the State Department of Transportation, said Thursday, Jan. 11 the list of projects subject to the governor’s announcement “does not affect any project under construction” so it wouldn’t slow down completion of the Route 35 bridge project near the Fox Hill condominiums — which is largely done, with final steps such as stream restoration, line-painting, landscaping and clean-up remaining.
Dunham said there are two traffic signal light improvement projects — one at Route 35’s intersection with Copps Hill Road and Farmingville Road, the other at Route 7’s intersection with Cains Hill Road and Topstone Road — that are “not anticipated to be cancelled at this time” and are in fact due to go out for bids March 14.
As for the Main Street improvements, including a re-do of the intersection at Prospect Street — moving the CVS shopping center driveway north, closer to the park, to be across from Prospect — that remains in the planning stages.
“As of right now there are no plans to halt this project,” Dunham said of it on Thursday, Jan. 11.
The hundreds of state transportation projects, totalling $4.3 billion, that Gov. Dannel Malloy said would be suspended unless more money is found for state’s Special Transportation Fund (STF) did include some that could seriously affect the travel by Ridgefielders, such as the widening of Interstate 95 between Bridgeport and Stamford.
Malloy said Wednesday that his administration will announce detailed proposals later this month ahead of the next legislative session to get money into the STF and allow projects to go back online.
Projects planned and now delayed include improvements to the Interstate 91/Route 15 interchange on the Charter Oak Bridge and a widening of Interstate 95 from Bridgeport to Stamford. Malloy said even routine highway maintenance and transportation aide to cities and towns “are seriously jeopardized.”
“If Connecticut does not take the necessary action to allow us to restart these vital projects, not only will it put the state’s infrastructure into a further state of disrepair, it will hurt our economy,” Malloy said in a statement. “If we want to compete in the 21st century economy, we need a transportation system that works for people and businesses, and we need to invest in transit-oriented development to build the communities where people and businesses want to be. “I want to be very clear – this is preventable, but it requires immediate action,” Malloy’s said. “The legislature must act this year to avoid potentially devastating setbacks to our transportation system.”
Connecticut DOT Commissioner James P. Redeker said the funding problem is not something “that can be punted until future years.”
“As Gov. Malloy noted last month, the solvency of the Special Transportation Fund is in doubt without new revenues. In real terms, that means we need to postpone indefinitely important projects today,” he said.
Ridgefield’s 111th District State Rep. John Frey said the problem had been building for some time.
“Yes, the Special Transportation Fund is depleted,” Frey said. “One major contributing factor has been sweeps by the governor ($164 million in the last four years alone).
“The other is misplaced priorities, which I’ve seen first hand as the ranking member of the transportation bonding sub committee,” he said. “We’ve spent nearly $500 million on the CTFasTrak bus from New Britain to Hartford and $300 million on new rail service from Hartford to Springfield rather than making necessary improvements to existing infrastructure.
“And, frankly, the Route 35 bridge replacement debacle did nothing but erode confidence in DOT,” Frey added.
“I have demanded the state cut costs for many years now and trimming the budget needs to be a priority. But, in this case, it is concerning that crucial transportation projects are not being prioritized...
“The push will be on tolls and more ‘revenue.’ Tolls are primarily being pushed for at the state borders, which will be a burden to Ridgefielders with increased traffic on local roads,” Frey said. “One alternative has tolls on every major highway in the state. A scenario from last year has 11 tolls on I-84 between Danbury and Hartford. Eleven! Meanwhile, I can drive to New York City faster and not pay one toll.”
State Senator Toni Boucher — whose 26th District includes Ridgefield, who co-chairs the legislature Transportation Committee, and who has shown interest in the Republican gubernatorial nomination — was highly critical of Malloy’s announcement.
“In today’s press conference,” Boucher said in a statement released Wednesday, “Governor Malloy said the legislature has put the state in a pickle by shortchanging the Special Transportation Fund and not addressing Connecticut’s crumbling infrastructure. The governor fails to acknowledge his and his administration’s actions pouring the brine into the growing cracks in the state’s roads and railways. They did this by regularly raiding the special transportation fund and putting Connecticut’s infrastructure needs on the back burner.
“Now, with the Special Transportation Fund running dry, the governor announces that major repair and improvement projects throughout the state will cease until more funding is made available. His actions directly impede and endanger those on Connecticut’s roadways and railways in the hope of wearing travelers down. The plan is that residents will acquiesce to Democrats calls for fare increases, gas tax increases, and electronic tolls with the promise that only more money will make things better.
“What Governor Malloy does not talk about is the Prioritize Progress transportation-funding plan developed by Republicans in 2015,” Boucher said. “Republicans recognized then the problems with the special transportation fund and proposed a way to fix it, but were ignored by the governor and Democrat majority, who took money from the fund as recently as Fiscal Year 2017.
“Governor Malloy and Democrats’ unyielding thirst for revenue will only further drive businesses and residents from our state while make those who stay behind poorer.”
Longtime Fairfield County commuter advocate Jim Cameron said the proposed cuts were troubling.
“What worries me most is the Governor's call to freeze $4.3 billion in future transportation projects. Coupled with a potential 15% staff layoff at CDOT, that means fewer ‘shovel ready’ projects in the pipeline if and when funding is found by, for example, President Trump's promised $1 trillion in infrastructure spending,” Cameron said..
“We may even see CDOT having trouble plowing our roads in the next blizzard, let alone repairing potholes.”
— Additional reporting by Melvin Mason