There’s a certain four-letter word we haven’t heard in a while in Connecticut.
For a spell in 2019, we seemed to hear it daily — from the governor, from legislators and lobbyists in Hartford and from readers.
In the political zeitgeist, it has been lapped by “mask,” which will likely hold that spot until “cure” becomes a reality.
The effort to revive tolls on Connecticut roads to fund overdue infrastructure improvements was put on hold just a few weeks before COVID-19 steered attention elsewhere.
What has not gone away is the need. It was there long before 2015, when Gov. Dannel Malloy pitched a 30-year transportation vision with a $100 billion price tag.
One problem with a three-decade concept, of course, is that it lacks a crystal ball to foresee technology trends and a global pandemic that shifted the way people work.
The Statewide Transportation Improvement Program takes on immediate challenges in smaller bites. The draft of the latest STIP identifies priorities for 2021-2024. These are primarily renovations, and are hardly visionary, but the $3.9 billion price tag serves as a reminder that it’s expensive to keep 3.6 million Connecticut residents and millions of out-of-town travelers moving through the state.
Those of you who use the roads and rail have until Friday, Oct. 9, to weigh in on the proposal. The projects are funded through a hybrid of federal, state and local agencies, which means most of those dollars come from the taxpayer.
Road projects that have been earmarked include $345 million for the Gold Star Memorial Bridge between New London and Groton; $180 million for bridge work between Greenwich and Stamford; $70 million for road repairs on Interstate-95 in Westport and Norwalk; and $15 million in upgrades to the Merritt Parkway in Norwalk and New Canaan.
On the rail side, the headline is the long-overdue replacement of the Walk Bridge in Norwalk, a $511 million project that would begin next year and may not be completed when the next STIP launches in 2025. The 564-foot-long swing bridge was built in 1896. It looms as a potential catastrophe given its vulnerability to high winds at this time of unpredictable environmental shifts.
There’s more, a lot more, and no one knows the nuances better than commuters. If you drive southbound to Greenwich, for example, you know the Exit 3 ramp bottlenecks during rush hour, so you may welcome plans to widen the road, or may be able to make informed suggestions for alternatives.
As always, any work also means more obstacles, more waits for the people who use the roads and rails.
We are all used to waiting. But we now seem to be driving in circles in addressing the need that sparked the tolls proposal in the first place.
No candidate will utter this four-letter word before Election Day, but identifying viable funding solutions needs to be on the horizon just past that traffic jam.