Legislative Leaders Talk Transportation Plans [Stamford Advocate]

March 20, 2015

Article as it Appeared in the Stamford Advocate

Citing the prospect of Connecticut doomed to life as an economic backwater, two powerful legislators pressed their case in Stamford on Thursday for new revenue to support Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s plan to rebuild the state’s transportation networks, to include highway tolls.

State Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, and Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, addressed an audience of some 75 people at a legislative breakfast sponsored by the Stamford-based Business Council of Fairfield County. Also on the panel were Sen. Len Fasano, R-North Haven, who is minority leader of the state Senate; and state Rep. Themis Klarides, R-Derby, the House Republican leader.

In a speech in early January, Malloy announced a proposal to overhaul Connecticut’s highways, rails, bus systems and other transportation routes and nodes, later pegging at $100 billion the amount that would be required over 30 years to make the system an economic asset capable of attracting businesses and raising property values.

Several elements of Malloy’s still-evolving plan have met resistance, including the overall potential cost, the prospect of reintroducing tolls and the idea for a statewide transportation authority with the power to push transportation center developments over the objections of municipalities.

“With regard to tolls and revenue in general to cover transportation — we have to go big,” Sharkey told the Business Council audience Thursday. “We have to go big on transportation. It is our future — we will die. We will continue to be an economic cul-de-sac between New York and Boston if we do not improve our transportation system dramatically.”

Republicans have countered with a comparatively slim $37 billion proposal that would include a mix of borrowing and redirecting some existing funds in the state budget earmarked today for business incentives and community projects.

Fasano questioned whether the Connecticut Department of Transportation would have the capacity to take on all the elements in the transportation plan it wrote for the Malloy administration, noting the quarter-century it took for the replacement of New Haven’s Q Bridge.

“There’s only four places that ever took on a $100 billion transportation project in the world: … L.A., the country of Colombia, the country of Mexico, and the province of Ontario,” Fasano said. “And if you look at the size in population, Connecticut is nowhere near that. So for us to do $100 billion in Connecticut ” is laughable.”

Klarides said that while she knows nobody who disagrees with the philosophy of improving Connecticut’s transportation system, she is troubled by the manner in which Malloy presented the plan without a full explanation of how the state should fund it.

“I have never in my 16 years in the Legislature heard somebody — a governor — say, ‘Here are my proposals, you figure out how to deal with it,'” Klarides said. “That’s not how I’ve run businesses. I come up with ideas and I figure out how to pay for them, and if I can’t pay for them, then maybe I have to backtrack a little bit and downsize.”

Sharkey and Looney said they were ready to throw Democratic support behind the governor’s plan, including expanded bus service; widening Interstate 95 and improving on-ramps and exits; and ensuring a high-speed rail stop in Connecticut and a new high-speed commuter line linking New Haven and Springfield, Mass.

“To do that, it’s an ‘all-of-the-above’ strategy, as far as revenues go,” Sharkey said. “Tolls have to be part of this equation.”