The traffic gridlock on I-95 in Fairfield County has become a nightmare for commuters during rush hour. A recent study by traffic data company INRIX ranked Stamford as one of the most congested cities in the U.S.. This is mostly due to traffic that originates in areas that have been identified as sources of congestion.
However, addressing even small areas in Connecticut’s infrastructure requires billions of dollars the state cannot allocate through its current method of funding infrastructure: Debt. Moreover, municipalities cannot pick up the tab on Connecticut’s growing infrastructure deficit because the investment needed is beyond the scope of any municipal power or budget. Therefore, it is the State of Connecticut’s responsibility to adopt methods such as tolls to fund its transportation infrastructure.
Tolls have been an ongoing conversation for many years in Connecticut, but they became one of the main policy proposals of Governor Ned Lamont during the 2018 gubernatorial race. Lamont first proposed tolls on trucks and then a more expansive program with tolls for all vehicles but with discounted rates for Connecticut residents. The Governor’s most recent proposal aims to install tolls in aging bridges to fund construction projects there. Even this newly scaled-back proposal has been saluted with reluctance in the legislature, across party lines. Given that 34% of roads in Connecticut are considered to be in “poor condition,” there is little incentive for legislators to reject plans that would bring in millions of dollars of revenue for one of the most underfunded functions of the state government other than for political reasons.
In the minority of legislators who have publicly stated support for tolls is State Senator Alex Bergstein, who represents Greenwich and parts of Stamford. In an op-ed earlier this year, Bergstein called on the legislature to put politics aside and bring the issue of transportation front and center by supporting a bold plan to fund transportation through tolls. Unfortunately, most state legislators have been reluctant to stand behind Bergstein and continue to oppose tolls without providing a better alternative.
Other alternatives to driving on Connecticut’s congested roads are also becoming unattractive. For example, the Metro-North trains from Fairfield County to New York City now take longer because trains must slow down in areas with bridges where the infrastructure is in poor condition and too fragile to handle higher speeds . The funds required to upgrade the deteriorating rail infrastructure would also be funded in part by tolls, and would complement improvements on the state’s highways by providing an attractive and viable alternative to traveling by car. It is difficult to ask drivers to get off the roads when the alternative is just as inconvenient.
It is important to note that local governments are addressing issues related to transportation infrastructure. In Stamford for example, the state plans to build a new $100 million parking garage to ease access to the train station for Stamford’s large commuter community. Additionally, the City of Stamford has spent the past few months milling and paving main roads in its Downtown, East and West Side neighborhoods. Other projects by the City of Stamford include reprogramming traffic lights so that traffic flows more easily. The impact has been felt immediately, with neighborhoods looking better and data showing faster travel times for drivers.
The efforts in Stamford must be replicated at the state level, but unlike in Stamford (which has a fiscally responsible government), they must be funded through tolls rather than taxes or debt. The state has relied on debt for too long and it is time it stops putting issues on hold for future generations. Connecticut needs better transportation infrastructure if it plans to compete and survive in the 21st century, and tolls are the answer to cover the billions of dollars such an effort would demand.
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Michael Hernandez is a campus correspondent for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at email@example.com.