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Connecticut Likely to Bear Most of Transportation Overhaul Cost

Across the country, state lawmakers and governors are ramping up new taxes, tolls and fees to pay for an aging road system, frustrated by stagnating or declining federal highway funding.

Tue March 10, 2015 - Northeast Edition

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) The federal government will be an improbable source of new revenue as Connecticut lawmakers and a new commission try to come up with ways to pay for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s proposed 30-year, $100 billion overhaul of the state’s aging transportation system.

Recent Federal Highway Administration data compiled by The Associated Press show Highway Trust Fund spending in Connecticut has declined 9.4 percent, or $51 million, between 2008 and 2013. The state received more than $551 million in 2008. But that figure dropped to $499.5 million in 2013.

State Department of Transportation Commissioner James Redeker said the possibility of extra federal funding wasn’t even considered when Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s transportation plan was drawn up. He said the Democratic administration is assuming flat federal funding during a five-year “ramp-up’’ period when an additional $2.8 billion in state bonding is earmarked for planning, engineering and design of some key highway and rail projects.

That list of immediate design projects includes fixing Hartford’s I-84 viaduct, replacing the Route 8 and I-84 “mixmaster’’ interchange in Waterbury, improving the Merritt Parkway interchange at Route 7 in Norwalk, and widening a stretch of I-95 from Old Saybrook to New London.

In the past, when revenue from the federal gas tax was growing, Connecticut received money earmarked for special projects, such as reconstruction of the Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge, also known as the Q-Bridge, along I-95 in New Haven. But Redeker said that money is now gone.

Under Malloy’s proposal, a nonpartisan commission will be created to come up with ideas for the new revenue that will be needed to fund the entire transportation overhaul. Possible ideas include tolls, congestion pricing, user fees and other new taxes.

“We’re going to have to take initiatives as a state to make our state what we want because the dependency on federal funds isn’t predictable, isn’t guaranteed — and even if it’s flat, it isn’t enough to accomplish what the vision says for our economy and our mobility,’’ Redeker said.

Across the country, state lawmakers and governors are ramping up new taxes, tolls and fees to pay for an aging road system, frustrated by stagnating or declining federal highway funding. Redeker said many states are more dependent on those federal funds, which stem from federal fuel tax revenues, than Connecticut. Those states chip in a 20 percent share of transportation costs to receive an 80 percent match in federal funds. Connecticut, however, spends 50 percent to get 50 percent back.

“We’re already a state that believes that state funding for transportation is more important ... because we’re putting more state dollars in,’’ he said. “And the governor believes that too, that we should continue to do that and take ownership of the problem and solve the problem and fix our economy and fix our transportation system.’’

While additional federal highway funds are unlikely, Redeker said there might be other funding opportunities for Connecticut’s massive transportation initiative. He said there’s been a lot of discussion in Washington about new funding for rail projects in the Northeast corridor.

“If that were to happen, that would be totally new revenue to Connecticut,’’ he said.

Malloy, a Democrat, officially unveiled the “Let’s Go CT!’’ initiative during his budget address to state legislators. He argued that Connecticut’s economic future is tied to the condition of the state’s roads, bridges, ports and rail lines. Republican lawmakers have criticized Malloy for not offering a long-term funding strategy for the litany of projects.

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