Legislators want to keep transit projects on track
Published 5:45 pm, Tuesday, February 22, 2011
Echoing Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's call to create more jobs as part of his state budget address this week, state Rep. Gerald Fox III, D-Stamford, said obtaining funding for transportation projects will help attract business.
Fox had been hoping the governor would include nearly $50 million in funding to replace the deteriorating rail station parking garage downtown and replace the Atlantic Street overpass where trucks delivering goods to the South End often get stuck.
"What we plan to do in Stamford with those two projects has so much potential to create jobs that that will be the argument we make in seeking funding," Fox said.
The governor's budget included few specific projects, but many area legislators said they were pleased Malloy is emphasizing the need to maintain the state's mass transit and highway infrastructure that had been long deferred.
Among the transportation related projects and investments identified by Malloy's budget office to be funded in his two-year budget are:
"¢ $227 million to fully fund the state Department of Transportation's Fix-It-First program to perform high-priority repairs on highways and bridges.
"¢ $196 million to maintain bus and rail infrastructure, above and beyond current funding levels.
"¢ $50 million over two years to support the dredging of heavily silted Bridgeport Harbor and other maritime projects like refurbishing ferry slip and harbor facilities in New London.
Malloy's budget director, Benjamin Barnes said the proposals would keep rail and bus fares flat through 2011, further delaying the first of seven consecutive annual fare increases of 1 percent to pay for new M-8 cars until January 2012.
Connecticut Rail Commuter Council Chairman Jim Cameron said that the plan to delay the fare increase seemed reasonable given a pledge from former Gov. M. Jodi Rell to postpone the fare increase until the M-8s are in service.
"I hope he will be able to honor it if there is any further delay in the testing program for the M-8s," Cameron said. "I would say that it is good news." The state is also expected to continue releasing funds toward an $880 million project to double track a passenger rail line to shorten commuter trips between lower Connecticut and Massachuetts.
State Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-Norwalk, and state Sen. Toni Boucher, whose district includes Westport, said they support Malloy's pledge to block legislators from raiding the state's Special Transportation Fund away from transit projects to cover general government expenses.
"We need to protect that money for transportation purposes because we need it to maintain what we have," Lavielle said.
"If you are looking for the bang for the buck for the least amount of investment having the greatest impact, I think the New Haven Line and its branches really have to be a priority," Lavielle said.
Boucher said that it was likely that Malloy's plan to raise the state's gasoline tax from 25 to 28 cents a gallon to raise money for transportation projects would likely cause an outcry.
"I saw a lot of good things in his transportation plan but the gas tax won't be very popular with the public because we already have one of the highest gas taxes in the country," Boucher said.