Transportation Ranking Members and Area Legislators Help Advance Transportation Bill through Senate

June 3, 2013

Hartford, CT – State Senator Toni Boucher (R-Wilton), ranking member of the legislature’s Transportation Committee, helped gather bipartisan and unanimous support for Senate Bill 975, AN ACT CONCERNING REVISIONS TO THE TRANSPORTATION STATUTES AND THE DESIGNATION OF ROADS AND BRIDGES IN HONOR OR IN MEMORY OF PERSONS AND ORGANIZATIONS. This bill that Senator Boucher and Representatives Scribner and Lavielle successfully advanced through the 2013 legislative session will improve our state’s commuter railroad service and highway infrastructure, protect transportation funds for transportation purposes only and reestablishes the advisory role of the state’s public transportation commission.

“Building on my long-standing advocacy for our vital transportation networks, this bill will help improve our state’s planning process for future growth and protect the rights of our commuters,” said Senator Boucher. “Since we live in one of the most heavily traveled corridors in the entire nation, our state must pay proper attention to our roads and railways by investing in this essential infrastructure. This bill focuses on many of the challenges facing our communities today by considering the needs of rail commuters and keeping transportation funds for transportation purposes only.”

“The Transportation Committee held public hearings on 185 legislative proposals during this legislative session,” said State Representative David Scribner (R-Brookfield). “A number of those initiatives are included in this bill that contains 79 sections. Continued commitments and improvement to our rail service are a top priority. Recognizing the importance of protecting the revenue in the Special Transportation Fund, we included language to do just that. This year’s budget proposal transfers nearly $120 million into the General Fund. This measure will prevent that practice in the future.”

One section empowers the Commissioner of Transportation to develop a railroad modernization initiative to improve the state’s commuter railroad service and infrastructure. This plan includes the electrification of all branches of the New Haven Line, including the Danbury and New Canaan branch lines before January 1, 2023 and to expand the amount of commuter parking at rail stations. The bill requires the commissioner to submit these plans to the legislature’s Transportation Committee by February 1, 2015 for further action.

“I am pleased that the New Haven line’s branches will receive important attention, thanks to the bill,” said State Representative Gail Lavielle (R-Wilton). “It is good policy to prioritize rail investments where demand already exists and where, therefore, an immediate return on investment is highly likely. For the branch lines, demand is well documented. Improving them will not only improve the commuter experience, but will enhance property values, attract businesses and homebuyers, and be a catalyst for economic development.”

Another provision authorizes the state Department of Transportation to investigate and identify methods to improve the notification of vehicle height on the Merritt Parkway. Despite the already extensive notification of commercial vehicle prohibition and height warnings, oversized vehicles have caused damage to bridges and resulted in traffic delays along the Merritt Parkway. This provision would encourage the use of innovative methods to better prevent these unfortunate events.

Third, the bill requires the resources of the Special Transportation Fund to be used only for transportation purposes after July 1, 2015. This fund receives revenues from rail fares, the gas tax and other sources of revenue. In previous years, revenues from the Special Transportation Fund have been diverted to fund other aspects of the state budget instead of properly investing in transportation infrastructure. This measure effectively protects transportation funds for transportation maintenance and investment purposes only.

“Despite our pressing need for not only improvement, but also repair and maintenance, of our transportation infrastructure, the state never seems to have the necessary funds.” said Representative Lavielle. “The revenues we raise from mass transit fares and gasoline taxes have never been safe from plunder for other purposes. If we don’t address transportation urgently, we will discourage economic activity, endanger our citizens, and cause serious deterioration in our quality of life. We will also risk facing fixes that are even more costly. We need to invest transportation funds in transportation. This bill is a vital step in that direction.”

“We’ve kept a spotlight on preserving the Special Transportation Fund all session, and it’s gratifying to see that commitment enshrined in statute,” said State Representative Jonathan Steinberg (D-Westport). “But we still have work to do to assure these funds are applied as designated.”

The legislation also reestablishes the Connecticut Public Transportation Commission. The 19-member commission advises and assists the Commissioner of Transportation, the Governor and the legislature’s Transportation Committee in the performance of their functions and duties relating to the planning, development and maintenance of adequate rail, bus and motor carrier facilities. The commission is required to hold public hearings in each of the state’s metropolitan areas at least once per year to gather input.

“I am proud that this bill gathered bipartisan support, and I look forward to its final passage in the House of Representatives,” continued Senator Boucher. “With several days remaining of the legislative session, I am confident that my colleagues will also recognize the importance of this essential legislation.”

“In addition the bill creates structural efficiencies with the Connecticut Airport Authority, addresses contractual protection of outdoor advertising revenue along highways and rails,” continued Rep. Scribner. “We are proud as leaders of this committee to support this legislation in a focused and responsible approach to address the present and future needs of the residents of Connecticut, providing improved rail service, addressing highway and bridge improvements and maintenance, maximizing the effectiveness of our ports, and our airports.”

Senator Boucher thanked the chairs of the Transportation Committee for their commitment to improving our state’s transportation networks. The bill now moves to the House of Representatives for further consideration.