Fasano: Governor’s transportation plan is designed to shock and awe [JI]

October 14, 2015

Journal Inquirer

EAST HARTFORD — Widening stretches of Interstates 84 and 95 to three lanes in each direction could provide up to $40 billion in economic benefits by 2040, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Thursday.

The Department of Transportation’s projected benefit would be three times the forecasted cost of the two projects, and Malloy, appearing at the DOT’s Clement Road garage, said it demonstrates the value of investing in the state’s outdated and inefficient infrastructure.

“This is about long-term thinking, about delivering a down-payment on our future,” he said. “It’s not about quality of life — our transportation system is directly tied to our state’s economy and our ability to grow jobs.”

According to a DOT analysis, the two projects would result in $19.9 billion in new business sales, $11.6 billion to the Connecticut’s gross state product, and $8.1 billion in new wage income, for a total of $39.6 billion by 2040.

The department also said the two projects would create a combined 15,000 to 23,000 constructions jobs while costing a total of $12.2 billion.

Department of Economic and Community Development Commis-sioner Catherine Smith said the state’s traffic counts have been steadily increasing in recent years, and easing congestion is “absolutely essential and a cornerstone of our economic development strategy.”

The DOT study also determined the improved traffic flow would do more than bolster the economy — the analysis also found the projects would save drivers on I-95 14 million hours of delays annually by 2040, while those on I-84 would spend 4.7 million hours less in traffic during that span.

The DOT also plans to study the economic benefits of other projects, including bridges along I-84 in Hartford and Waterbury.

Malloy and DOT Commissioner James Redeker, though, said the agency wanted to first study the benefits of the expansion projects, because they are confident most residents understand the need to replace Hartford’s viaduct and Waterbury’s so-called Mixmaster.

“The viaduct is coming down one way or the other, and quite frankly I think the Mixmaster is coming down one way or the other,” Malloy said of the two bridges, which the state says are unsafe for current traffic levels and in need of significant maintenance.

“What we would rather do is that it be a controlled situation as opposed to waking up one day and finding it like that,” he said.

Lowering the viaduct to ground level, currently the favored option, could cost between $4.3 billion and $5.3 billion, while the most recent projection for a new Mixmaster is $10 billion.

The highway projects have all been early focal points as Malloy continues to stump for his 30-year, $100-billion plan to overhaul the state’s transportation system.

The cost has drawn opposition from Republicans, and Senate Minority Leader Leonard Fasano, R-North Haven, continued his complaint Thursday that the state can’t afford such a massive undertaking.

“The governor’s plan is designed to shock and awe,” he said in a statement.

Fasano agreed on the need for transportation upgrades, but said the state should adopt a more modest plan like the one Republicans put forward this year that would allocate $30 billion in bonding over 30 years.

He criticized the DOT study for failing to discuss ways to fund the project.

Malloy’s transportation funding panel, which he created in the spring, expects to issue its report in December, recommending to the legislature how to support the governor’s plan.

The panel was initially expected to issue its report this month, but Chairman Cameron Staples said after the panel’s Sept. 29 meeting that actions taken in the current budget gave them more time to review options.

He said the October deadline was based on the expectation that the legislature would have a special session to address concerns that the Special Transportation Fund would run significant deficits in the next few years.

The allocation of a half a percent of the sales tax for transportation, though, ensured the fund would have enough money in the short-term, allowing the panel to conduct a more in-depth analysis of funding options and economic impacts. Staples said.

“Because the fund is solvent for the next few years, that really took pressure off us and I think our real agenda timeline, as the governor alluded to, is the regular session.