Malloy says transit plan will need priorities [Danbury News Times]

January 14, 2015

Article as it appeared in the Danbury News Times

Last week the governor announced an ambitious, multibillion-dollar, long-term vision for transit improvements.

On Monday, he acknowledged the plans would have to be prioritized.

“We’re not in a position to start mega-projects in the next couple of years,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said. “This obviously has to be a ramp-up as we get those largest projects ready to go.”

Malloy spoke after the State Bond Commission, which he leads, approved $5.75 million for designing several new railroad stations, and enhancements to the Merritt 7 stop on the Danbury Branch of Metro-North. The rail funding is in addition to $4 million allocated last July for preliminary work for the planned Barnum Station on Bridgeport’s East Side.

Longer term projects would include widening Interstate 95 to relieve traffic congestion and improvements along Interstate 84 in Hartford and Waterbury.

During the monthly meeting of the commission, which is controlled by Democrats, state Sen. L. Scott Frantz, R-Greenwich, questioned the governor’s ambitious transportation vision at a time when the General Assembly is facing a billion-dollar budget deficit in the fiscal year that starts in July.

“The bonded indebtedness of the state Connecticut has never been larger,” said Frantz, a member of the commission. “And I’m going to say it’s about $21.6 billion. Yes, interest rates are low but the thing that everyone has to keep in mind is that once you start to issue all these bonds that number starts to add up and you have to pay back that principal regardless of what interest rates are.”

The commission also allocated $2.2 million to finance an electronic book platform for state libraries and $57 million to finance a statewide paving program to resurface about 200 miles and create an estimated 1,197 construction jobs.

In addition, the commission approved $655 million in new long-term debt. While debt service should hover around 10 percent of the annual budget, Frantz said, Connecticut’s is 11.5 percent and could explode to 14 percent if interest rates go up.

Frantz and Malloy had an exchange toward the end of the commission meeting, in which Malloy said his transportation initiative would be rolled out over years. Frantz said a variety of factors would affect the state’s ability to afford major infrastructure improvements.

“It depends on the revenue sources and what kind of capital base we have already to support an infrastructure in transportation,” he said. “If we don’t have any idea of how we’re going to keep that under control, I think we need to start thinking about that right away because that whole program could get out of control as well. Where is the money going to come from?”

Frantz said Malloy’s commitment, announced during his State of the State speech last week, is being supported, but funding is the big question.

“The proof is in the pudding,” Frantz said. “The federal government is not in a position to give us any significant increased funding. Where are we going to get it? Is it going to be from toll revenue? Is it going to be from an increased gas tax? Is it going to be from another funding source? We don’t know.”

Malloy last week called for adding an extra lane in both directions of Interstate 95 in southwestern Connecticut. Malloy expects to propose “a long list of projects” when he unveils his two-year, $40-billion budget next month.