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New London — The Gold Star Memorial Bridge will need between $170 million and $220 million in upgrade and maintenance work, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced Thursday as he stood in the shadow of the bridge.
“It is the longest bridge we have in Connecticut, and it needs to be upgraded,” Malloy said, adding that the twin, mile-long bridges are safe for travel. “But it also reminds us that we need to modernize all of I-95.”
Much of the work on the bridges will focus on the northbound span, which is listed as structurally deficient — defined by the Federal Highway Administration as “deteriorated conditions of significant bridge elements” — and could require up to $200 million of work to rehabilitate or replace the bridge deck, make structural steel repairs and replace many of the bearings that connect the driving surface to the superstructure.
Malloy said the Gold Star, which the Department of Transportation said carries about 100,000 vehicles per day, illustrates the importance of investing in transportation infrastructure.
“We need to make a decision as a state,” he said. “Do we want to have a first-in-class transportation system, or do we want to spend the next 40 years as we spent the last 40 years, and that’s pretty much complaining and doing nothing about it?”
When Malloy was sworn in for his second term as governor last week, he made it clear that he intends to make transportation his priority during the new legislative session.
In his State of the State Address to the General Assembly, Malloy called for sweeping improvements to the state’s transportation system, including widening Interstate 95 from New York to Rhode Island, fixing ramps on the interstate, expanding rail service and upgrading bus services.
The governor is expected to put forth a detailed plan to upgrade the state’s roads, bridges, rails, ports, walkways and bicycle paths on Feb. 18, when he presents the legislature with his biennial budget proposal.
“We’re really trying to launch a broad and bold vision for the future of transportation,” James P. Redeker, the state transportation commissioner, said. “It’s what the citizens of Connecticut deserve.”
On hand for the governor’s announcement Thursday afternoon were a group of local legislators, each of whom agreed that transportation should be a priority for the region.
“In the years I’ve been going to Hartford, I’ve heard a lot of talk about improving I-95. We’ve got to stop talking about it,” said Rep. Ernest Hewett, D-New London. “I am 100 percent on board with this. We can either talk about it or we can be about it.”
State Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, said investing in all modes of transportation is a crucial part of supporting and expanding the local economy.
“With the coming of the National Coast Guard Museum in New London, we need to make sure our transit centers, our train and bus schedules, are up to snuff so they can support that initiative,” he said.
Though the legislators agreed that the state’s roadways and railways are in need of repair, they said the discussion about how to pay for the upgrades will be an important part of this legislative session.
“We need to plan for our future, get more folks into southeastern Connecticut and get more businesses coming here,” said Rep. Aundré Bumgardner, R-Groton, who will serve on the legislature’s Transportation Committee. “Most important, along with fixing our roads and highways, is to create a reliable and sustainable funding stream to pay for these investments. This is not reckless spending. This is a smart investment.”
To fund the infrastructure improvements he has suggested, Malloy proposed a “transportation lock box” that would ensure all the money raised for transportation would be used to pay for transportation needs.
“This is a massive undertaking,” Malloy said. “If people want to stop complaining about transportation and want to actually do something about transportation, there is then going to have to be the follow-up conversation of how we pay for it.”
Though Malloy did not say whether he would support the idea of tolls, he said Thursday he would be open to the possibility of charging tolls for drivers on parts of I-95.
“If we’re going to do it, we’re going to need revenue. There are lots of different ways to raise revenue. Tolls are only one of them,” the governor said. “We’ll have that discussion if the people of Connecticut let their leadership understand that that is what they want done.”