Long-range plan highlights need for improvements to state's transportation network

Traffic on I-95 gets heavy at motorists hit the road of the Independence Day weekend Friday July 1, 2005.  (Tim Cook/photo)
Traffic on I-95 gets heavy at motorists hit the road of the Independence Day weekend Friday July 1, 2005. (Tim Cook/photo)

Aging infrastructure, congested highways, and increased demand for rail and bus service are among the transportation challenges confronting the state as it looks ahead to the future, according to an updated long-range plan from the state Department of Transportation.

DOT is asking for feedback on the draft plan that calls attention to the state's transportation needs through the year 2050, as well as the state's dwindling funding for transportation. It is available online on the state DOT's website, bit.ly/CT-DOT.

"At the same time that the state is innovating and competing for business and talent, we face the challenge of reconstructing our aging infrastructure that suffers from years of deferred maintenance and underinvestment," the plan states. "These realities are exacerbated by the economic and social impacts caused by significant traffic congestion, an aging population with potentially reduced mobility choices, and diminishing sources of revenue."

For Eastern Connecticut, DOT's strategy concentrates on upgrading Interstate 95, Shore Line East rail service, freight rail and the Port of New London, the plan states.

The DOT says the plan, which was released Dec. 18 and updates a 2009 version, will serve as a "framework for near- and long-term decision-making." The agency said it relied on Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's 30-year transportation plan, 'Let's Go CT,' along with comments from the public and other officials, to develop the report. 

The 164-page plan, which points to $100 billion in long-term transportation needs, outlines the current state of Connecticut's transportation system, including highways, bridges, public transportation, pedestrian and bicycle traffic, rail, ports and air travel.

Connecticut's transportation network

The primary goal of the plan is fixing and maintaining the state's transportation network, as delaying maintenance "increases safety risks, hinders economic prosperity, and burdens taxpayers," according to the report.

The plan states that deficient roads and bridges lead to an annual "$2.6 billion in operating costs, fuel, and accidents."

Drawing on data from the Federal Highway Administration, the report points to the stretch of I-95 between Old Lyme and East Lyme as one of the most congested stretches of road on the National Highway System in Connecticut in 2016. I-95 from New York to Bridgeport and from West Haven to New Haven, along with sections of I-84, I-91 and CT-5, also were listed.

"This review corroborates the Department's emphasis on the need for congestion relief and the reconstruction of sections of I-95 and I-84," the plan states.

The report also highlights the condition of Connecticut's roads: "Pavement on 77 percent of town-maintained road system mileage is in poor condition, while a significant, but much lower proportion of the state maintained system (23 percent) is in poor condition," the plan states.

The state, towns and cities should invest more in repairs to bridges in fair and poor condition across the state, since timely repairs lead to lower costs in the long-run, according to the evaluation.

"13.1% of bridges owned and maintained by towns or municipalities are in poor condition and 6.2% of state owned and maintained bridges are in poor condition," according to the plan.

The state is experiencing a rise in commuter rail ridership. Overall, since 2009, ridership on Shore Line East is up by 10.9 percent and ridership on the New Haven Line is up by 9 percent, according to the report.

"There are solid indications that there is unmet demand for additional fast, convenient and reliable commuter rail service," the report states.

With the state's aging population — the number of individuals in Connecticut aged 70 to 74 and aged 75 to 79 are projected to grow by 87 percent and 110 percent by 2040, according to the report — DOT also anticipates an increased demand for public transit and paratransit options.

The DOT further states in the report that it has worked over the past few years to improve Connecticut's "pedestrian and bicycle transportation network."

Funding at issue

Though emphasizing the need for investment in infrastructure, the state DOT's plan "forecasts a substantial and widening gap between the Department's ability to meet its responsibilities and the funds available to do so," without additional money.

The report says that if the state doesn't increase funding to the Special Transportation Fund, the DOT "would be forced to significantly revise its operating budget and its 5-year capital program."

"Since some of these projects must ultimately be completed to protect life safety, these delays would only serve to drive up costs and restrain future economic growth in the state," the plan states.

Gov. Malloy made a similar announcement about the status of the Special Transportation Fund last month, based on another report from the state DOT and Office of Policy and Management, that some infrastructure projects planned for the next five years are "at-risk" unless the state boosts funding to the transportation fund.

Falling oil prices, an uptick in more fuel-efficient vehicles, the lowering of the gas tax in 1997, increasing annual debt service, and the transferring of money from the fund in the 2016-17 budget were among the challenges to the transportation fund highlighted in that joint DOT and OPM report.

The DOT's long-range plan outlines the recommendations from a panel started by Malloy in January 2016 to investigate solutions for transportation funding.

According to the plan, the panel's recommendations include: a constitutional 'lockbox' to prevent transferring transportation funds to other areas, an issue that will be voted on at a statewide referendum in November 2018; initiatives to encourage public/private partnerships; the revision of laws "to allow local governments to tax themselves, so they can contribute more to projects that are funded almost entirely by the state"; and improving the "real-time information" given on highways, railways and parking areas to "help reduce congestion."

Among the ways to raise new revenue for transportation are: raising the gas tax by 2 cents for seven years; potentially implementing a per-mile vehicle usage tax; developing sponsorships for rest areas, new advertising agreements on commuter rail and leases for tenants at rail stations; raising rates for car licenses, permits and fees to be in step with inflation, and installing "long-distance corridor tolling to fund improvements on I-84, I-95/Rte. 15 (New York to New Haven) and I-95 from New Haven to Rhode Island" and considering other tolling options, such as tolls in certain areas for specific projects.

DOT is slated to hold public information meetings on the draft plan from 12:30 to 3 p.m. and from 6:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan. 16, in Conference Room A at the Connecticut Department of Transportation, 2800 Berlin Turnpike, Newington.

Until Feb. 1, people can email comments to DOT.LRP@ct.gov or mail comments to Attn: David Elder, Bureau of Policy and Planning, Connecticut Department of Transportation, P.O. Box 317546, Newington, CT 06131-7546. DOT said people should include with their comments their name, address and, if applicable, company or organization they represent. 

k.drelich@theday.com

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