Ridgefield Democratic View: Lost opportunity on truck tolls
Every Connecticut resident should be disappointed by the decision to not move forward with trucks-only tolls at gantries at 12 key highway project sites. Why? Because now we will foot the entire bill for restoring our roads and bridges to a state of good repair.
We’ll pay all the interest on our transportation infrastructure debt at rates higher than those we’d have paid by using toll revenue (40%-50% from out-of-state trucks) to qualify for federal TIFIA and RRIF loans (for highways and rails, respectively).
This outcome means scaling back plans for improved transportation options for those who struggle to get to work on time (or at all, lacking transportation) and pay penalties when they arrive late at their child-care facilities. It jeopardizes pollution-cutting plans to reduce traffic delays on highways and make economical public transportation more widely available, faster, and thus more appealing than driving a car.
Who’s to blame? An opposition that had only one “plan:” Cut more from an already tight budget and borrow more (either through bonds or taking from the just replenished Rainy Day Fund). Both actions likely mean cuts — jeopardizing essential programs for the most vulnerable, pushing more costs to municipalities and reducing the state’s fiscal stability.
Who’s to blame here? An opposition that refused to work in bipartisan fashion to bring Connecticut in alignment with states (red/purple/blue) that have tolls as a component of transportation infrastructure funding. An opposition that proposed no better funding solution to trucks-only tolls, then threatened to filibuster the legislation.
Who’s at fault? An opposition that turned a problem-solving conversation about tolls into a divisive issue pitting legislators and towns against each other.
Who are the heroes here? The lawmakers and transportation experts who worked tirelessly for the past year to educate the public. They repeatedly spelled out the cost to taxpayers of past decisions to cut spending on infrastructure, resulting in higher costs now.
They reiterated the math: That fuel tax revenue has been flat, growing 1.2% from 2010 to 2019, while debt service for the Special Tax Obligation bonds that fund most of the state’s transportation infrastructure program has grown 50% over that same period.
That trucks-only tolls revenue of $172 million (net of expenses) used for key highway and bridge projects would free up other funds to upgrade our rail and bus systems.
Who are the heroes? The infrastructure engineers that, despite substantial cuts in staff and inadequate funding, still ensure our safety by maintaining, among other things, 3,719 road miles, 2,783 traffic signals, 103 miles of state-owned rail service, 600 buses, and 488 highway buildings.
Critical transportation infrastructure projects will be funded, but at greater cost to all Connecticut taxpayers, both in real dollars and in lost opportunities.
Now, when you hear of families and businesses choosing to move out or not locate here, remember who stood in the way. But remember especially the heroes who fought hard in 2020, and will continue to fight, for forward-thinking, responsible transportation infrastructure planning and funding.
The Ridgefield Democratic Town Committee provides this column.