Transportation Infrastructure – Tolls – Transit Corridor Development Authority
Although this year’s legislative session has been unusually slow, there have recently been several developments in the transportation area that I would like to share with you.
Long-term Transportation Plan
On Monday, April 27, the Finance, Revenue, and Bonding Committee held a public hearing on HB 6840, which authorizes about $2.8 billion in bonding over the next five years for a list of 31 transportation projects statewide. Most of these projects involve designing, engineering, and planning in a program meant to provide the “ramp-up” for the governor’s 30-year plan to improve the state’s transportation infrastructure.
Items relevant to Fairfield County on the bill’s list include improvements to the New Haven main line, Merritt 7 station upgrades, widening of I-95, bicycle/pedestrian improvements, implementing a bus rapid transit corridor between Stamford and Norwalk, and reconfiguration of the Route 7 / Route 15 interchange.
I presented testimony on Monday to alert Committee members to the absence from the five-year plan of the electrification of the Danbury Branch Line and to convey the urgent need to upgrade the line in the near term.
To read HB 6840, click here
To read my testimony on the bill, click here
Tolls and Transportation Funding
The most pressing question about the governor’s 30-year, $100 billion transportation plan is how to pay for it. Governor Malloy has appointed a nine-member commission to study the funding question and to submit a report by the end of the summer.
Tolls are among the funding options being considered, even though their revenue potential is not high. As Office of Policy and Management Secretary Ben Barnes said in Transportation Committee testimony earlier this year, “I suspect that the toll options that will be most attractive will not produce as much revenue as we think we need.”
HB 6818, the bill regarding tolls that passed out of the Transportation Committee along party lines on March 18, does not require or allow the reintroduction of tolls. Instead, it requires the DOT Commissioner to deliver to the General Assembly by January 1, 2016 “a program for the establishment and commencement of tolls” which must, among other things, protect any revenues to be generated from diversion to any non-transportation purposes.
While the bill itself does not allow or require tolls, it’s still a significant step toward a potential reintroduction, because if it becomes law, it could be construed as a signal that the General Assembly favors tolls. This may, in fact, be the reason it was introduced, since the governor could, without a bill, simply instruct the DOT Commissioner to develop a program.
I voted against, and will continue to vote against, tolls for many reasons, but principally because I believe that instead of imposing more taxes and fees on taxpayers, we should be focusing on spending more responsibly the revenues we already have.
In February, I joined my House and Senate Republican colleagues in presenting a proposal that would provide a predictable and sustainable transportation funding stream of at least $1 billion each year without either tolls or new taxes or exceeding currently planned levels of bonding. The plan would accomplish this by reallocating to transportation annually $400-700 million of the state’s general obligation bonds that are scheduled to be authorized for non-essential projects.
To read the tolls bill, HB 6818, click here
To read the Republican transportation funding proposal, click here
Transportation Corridor Development Authority
HB 6851, the governor’s bill that would create a quasi-public agency (TCDA) run by a board of political appointees with independent bonding authority to focus on promoting transit-oriented development (TOD) statewide, passed along party lines out of the Transportation Committee yesterday.
When it was originally introduced, I called the proposal “Eminent Domain on Steroids”, because it gave the TCDA unlimited powers of eminent domain and allowed it to develop projects in municipalities without obtaining any local government approvals. In response to widespread outcry from citizens, local governments, regional Councils of Governments, and legislators, the administration has substantially modified the bill.
While I am a longstanding supporter of TOD, I voted against the bill and will continue to oppose it, as will many of the municipal CEOs and legislative bodies in our area. It creates a new government entity that towns and cities pursuing TOD do not need. And because the entity must raise money to pay for any bonds it issues, it may be more focused on revenue-generating activities than on municipalities’ best interests.
To read the TCDA bill, HB 6851, click here
Please don’t hesitate to contact me if you’d like to discuss transportation or any other issue further. I am always happy to hear from you.