I know people who say they instinctively duck when they drive under, afraid the bridges will come tumbling down. There are others who say the seemingly expanding number of potholes seem to symbolize the state’s fiscal woes. But most everyone agrees: something must be done to fix Fairfield County’s infrastructure.
“We recognize that we have ignored deteriorating infrastructure for too long. But we also have to consider that Fairfield County supports much of the state and has some of the most heavily used roads,” said state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, a Democrat representing Westport in the 136th House District.
The Connecticut Department of Transportation’s five-year capital plan calls for about $6 billion. According to DOT, even if the fund were flush, another $15 billion to $20 billion in projects would remain.
Look at it another way. Right now there are about 2,000 bridge repairs or maintenance jobs statewide, compared with 531 such jobs in 2000.
Area legislators who attended a recent talk on transportation agree with one thing: federal grants to finance, maintain and expand the state’s transportation network are going to become as scarce as WHAT. Because of that, there is some chatter that people need to consider highway tolls and perhaps a sales tax surcharge.
“I would consider a sales tax raise abhorrent,” Steinberg said.
However, he said no harm could come of discussing tolls. Steinberg said he would consider tolls if there was a way to mitigate the cost for residents — either through credits, rebates or reduced rates. And the state would have to campaign hard to overcome public opposition to tolls.
“When you do a toll, it disadvantages certain people and not others,” said state Sen. Toni Boucher, a Republican who represents Bethel, New Canaan, Ridgefield, , Westport, and Wilton in the 26th Senate District.
Boucher also said the legality of doing a ‘congestion’ toll needs to be examined. Instead she said the state might do well to consider public-private partnerships using the model of restrooms.
State Rep. Kim Fawcett, a Democrat representing Fairfield and Westport in the 1363r House District doesn’t think Fairfield County residents would go for increased raid fares or new highway tolls if there were no guarantees that the money would only be used for transportation related needs.
“Fairfield County residents believe that tolls would be an unfair tax on people who live in southwestern Connecticut if the revenue were not spent on transportation and infrastructure improvements in that area of the state,” Fawcett said.
So everyone wants a transportation lockbox. But everyone also knows the state has raided special funds in the past — be it transportation or monies won in civil suits against tobacco companies. Those funds were supposed to be used to fund smoking cessation programs. Instead they went to help fill the state’s budget shortfall.
“The point is every time we say money is in a lock transportation it raided,” Steinberg said.
In a similar situation, state Rep. Gail Lavielle, a Republican representing Wilton and Norwalk in the 143rd House District is proposing legislation to ensure that money from Metro-North fare hikes only be used for Metro-North rail improvements and maintenance. So far there is bi-partisan support for the legislation.
“Transportation fees should go to transportation needs,” Boucher said.