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OP-ED | Connecticut: Worst Roads in the Nation?

by | Jun 21, 2013 2:17pm () Comments | Commenting has expired | Share
Posted to: Opinion, Transportation

The American Society of Civil Engineers 2013 Report Card on the Nation’s Infrastructure says that Connecticut’s roads are tied with Illinois as the worst in the nation. An incredible 73 percent of roads are in poor or mediocre condition in the two states, the highest percentage in the nation. Wisconsin’s 71 percent is third.

The report says that lousy roads cost motorists $847 million a year in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs, or $294 per motorist. Combined with last year’s INRIX National Traffic Scorecard data that showed the state has the fifth-most traffic bottlenecks in the nation on a per capita basis, the road is both rough and hard for Connecticut drivers.

The studies stand in stark contrast with the surreal world that is the Connecticut state government. The recently adopted state budget that raids $91 million from the special transportation fund while simultaneously implementing the largest fuel tax hike in history. The funds that remain in the transportation fund may not even be enough to sustain current services, to say nothing of the at least $10 billion on the Department of Transportation’s Unfundables list.

Fixing the transportation system means fixing the system that funds it. The improving fuel efficiency of vehicles, the rise of cars not powered by gasoline at all, and inflation erode the effectiveness of the gas tax as a user fee. A better solution is to implement cashless tolling with a congestion pricing model to raise the necessary revenue from users. One recent study suggested that the city of Chicago could raise the revenue necessary to pay for $52 billion in infrastructure upgrades by adopting this model. The other obvious fix, of course, is to spend transportation money on transportation projects.

As a small geographic space located directly between two of the nation’s biggest metropolitan areas, one might think that a modern transportation system would be a top priority. But with one in five Connecticut residents on Medicaid, unfunded pension liabilities that under the most optimistic of outlooks are underfunded by billions of dollars, and the worst performing economy in the nation, it isn’t hard to figure out how infrastructure investments were crowded out of the budget.

Last year, an MSNBC advertisement put Rachel Maddow in front of the Hoover Dam wondering if “America can still think this big.” The implication was that opposition to government spending is opposition to iconic American accomplishments like the Hoover Dam. Put another way, if you hate the way the US government spends money, you must hate America.

The truth is there was a time when spending on big things like the Hoover Dam weren’t crowded out by entitlements, unfunded liabilities, and debt, but that time isn’t now. The cost of government increased because the same folks cheerleading for more spending on the next Hoover Dam fight harder and more loudly for more spending on health care, retirement planning, and a wide variety of other priorities.

The promise of reform must be to deliver the same level of service with comparable quality at a lower cost. Rhode Island set their pension system on the path to stability with public employee pension reform in 2011. Florida, Indiana, and many other states are experimenting with Medicaid reforms that reduce costs while improving customer satisfaction. North Carolina, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Louisiana are all considering major changes to their tax systems to create new opportunities for growth. But on these measures, Connecticut lags behind. This, as much as any one report card, should be a wake up call.

Heath W. Fahle is the Policy Director of the Yankee Institute for Public Policy and a former Executive Director of the Connecticut Republican Party. Contact Heath about this article by visiting www.heathwfahle.com

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(5) Archived Comments

posted by: art vandelay | June 22, 2013  1:33pm

art vandelay

In 1883 Governor O’Neill imposed a 10¢ increase in the gasoline tax along with higher fees for licenses and automobile registrations.  100% of the money collected was to be put into the transportation fund to improve roads and bridges.  A short time later the fund was raided and placed into the “General Fund”  Had the money stayed in the transportation fund, Connecticut would have the best highway system in the nation.  Instead we now have the worst.  Tolls are NOT the answer.  The money collected will also be siphoned into the “General Fund”, and we’ll be right back where we are.  The answer is to restore the transportation fund as it was originally intended.  Yes Connecticut needs to look at it’s pension system.  It needs to adopt a full 401K program instead of the defined system we have now.  Unfortunately there are too many Democrats who owe their seats to the Unions so this will never happen.

posted by: bob8/57 | June 22, 2013  2:00pm


Heath W. Fahle why do you hate America so?

posted by: Just another CT resident | June 23, 2013  7:12am

You hit the nail on the head. Our legislators in Hartford have for years raided the gas tax fund and used those monies to pay for everything other than maintaining our roads. Allow them to institute cashless tolls will only give them more money to spend on ....... guess what, everything other than on our roads. Sorry but a better alternative is an amendment to prohibit spending transportation tax dollars on anything other than road repair and maintenance.

posted by: Greg | June 24, 2013  7:36am

Those “red” states the CT Blue Brigade love to trash somehow can find consituent support to 1. raise special, temporary taxes to go into an infrastructure trust fund and 2. actually keep the money in the trust fund, subsequently disbursed to build roads and bridges. 

How come those backwards red states like Arkansas can do it, but CT can’t? Perhaps it’s time the voters held its legislators to task for raiding special set-aside funds…or we can just elect the same entitled people back into the Capital year after year as we have been. Or better yet, when the Busway is up and running with minimal ridership and a big subsidy, CT voters will wake up and demand infrastructure dollars be better spent…Or not.

posted by: ASTANVET | June 25, 2013  8:07am

Well, as Art pointed out, we have played the shell game with public funds for decades.  It is for political expedience that we hide our debt from the public in order to purchase the public’s loyalty.  I personally would like to see ALL expenditures funded and unfunded laid out on a table and have the CGA actually defend what programs we will support and not go over budget.  My favorite moment of recent CT political history was a quote by Edith Prague shortly before she left State government (before she returned to state government)... she said “this state is a mess” (referring to finances)... she had NO recognition or admission that she had been in the CGA for 35 years or so and LED us to the disaster - that about summed it up for me.  No recognition that the very policies they support have led to this unmitigated disaster we call our State economy and finances.  It’s time for another Seinfeld reference to take hold in CT… “Just do the opposite”... if every decision we have made in the last 40 years has been wrong, then doing the opposite must be right.

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