Widening I-95 Brings Its Own Controversies

Controversy surrounding one aspect of Connecticut’s plan to make major changes in the state’s infrastructure deals by adding a lane for the entire length of I-95 has resulted in heated debate.

Governor Daniel Malloy’s “Let’s Go CT” plan will cost $100 billion over a 30-year span, but the estimated cost of lengthening each side of the interstate is currently pegged at $11.2 billion.

The reasoning of Malloy and officials in state transportation is that it will not only help reduce congestion on this perpetually clogged area, but also raise revenue from tolls. The theory behind the latter point is that by introducing time-of-day (or congestion) tolls, people in a greater rush will pay more for that privilege.

However, previous studies have shown that those additional lanes compel some who hadn’t taken this route to begin doing so, which again increases the amount of traffic. The counter to that argument is that by introducing the specific pricing model, additional revenue will come in that wasn’t there before.

Individuals who were consulted from other states have indicated that drivers would expect to see such roads be given top priority for improvements, given their own investment. That cost may end up costing Connecticut more money in the long run.

The critics of the plan would like to see the state focus more on updating the commuter rail system. That’s because previous complaints from business leaders have noted that jobs can’t be filled due to a reluctance by some to making a daily I-95 commute.

Paying for the project will begin with a combination of bonds, a portion of the state sales and gasoline taxes, using federal and state funds and the aforementioned congestion tolls.

However, the state legislature has often dipped into funds like this to cover state budget deficits. That means that Connecticut will need to pass a Constitutional amendment to forbid such circumstances in this case.

Another issue is that gas tax revenue are expected to severely drop by 2019 due to lower gas prices. Along with this are projections of $1-2 billion budget deficits in each of the next three years.

Even if funding remains in place, it’s not expected to be enough to cover costs, which then means raising taxes or additional tolls. Coming to an agreement on the road-widening issue is the first step toward eventually resolving the issue.  With Floridians keeping I-95 top of mind for traffic problems, who knows what kind of problems we will foresee ourselves should a full-scale expansion in south Florida be in our immediate future.

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