Why Haven’t Connecticut Senators Killed the $2 Million I-95 Widening Study?

Screenshot from CT State Bonding Commission Minutes, 2/1/17

The Connecticut Senate voted unanimously last week to block the state department of transportation from participating in a multi-state mileage tax study. The state’s bill for participation in the study, which lawmakers considered a non-starter from the beginning, would have been $300,000. The Hartford Courant reports:

In an unusual move to express their outrage, all 36 senators placed their names on an amendment Thursday to block the study both now and in the future.

In strong language, the bill flatly states, “The Department of Transportation shall not expend any state funds for any studies, plans, programs, materials or activities regarding a mileage-based user fee on motor vehicles operated on state highways” without legislative approval.

The move to stop the mileage tax study comes just three months after the Connecticut State Bond Commission approved spending $1 million (on top of another previously allocated $1 million) on “a feasibility assessment and strategy recommendation for widening I-95 in the New Haven to Greenwich Corridor.”

Yes, you read that correctly: Connecticut lawmakers have taken it upon themselves to block the expenditure of $300,000 to study something that would help replenish the state’s soon-to-be insolvent Special Transportation Fund, while at the same time allowing ConnDOT to spend $2 million — more than six times as much — to study adding lanes to I-95.

So far, nobody in the legislature has spoken out against, or filed legislation to block, the I-95 widening study. The Connecticut House of Representatives still has to sign off on the Senate’s mileage tax-blocking bill before it heads to the desk of Governor Malloy, who mildly embraced the concept of a mileage-based user fee last summer.

It’s not clear where Malloy stands on the mileage tax proposal today (ConnDOT commissioner Jim Redeker, appointed by Malloy, withdrew from the multi-state study this spring “with great reluctance“), but we know where he stands on widening highways. The governor has put a lot of weight behind widening I-95 (and I-84 too), despite the lack of evidence to support the notion that adding lanes alleviates congestion.

A mileage tax has been called “the most promising, efficient, and fair alternative” to the fuel taxes we’ve become accustomed to, but we’ll never know how it could help Connecticut — a state with notorious congestion and a need for new transportation revenues — because of its lawmakers’ short-sightedness.

State senators were thrilled to “put a final stake in the heart” of the mileage tax study, but $300,000 is a fraction of what the state is going to put towards studying the widening of I-95. If there’s anyone in the House of Representatives — Rep. Gail Lavielle or Rep. Jonathan Steinberg perhaps — who understands induced demand and is actually concerned about government waste, they’d be better off drafting a bill that stops ConnDOT from using taxpayer money to study widening roads without legislative approval.

1 Comment on "Why Haven’t Connecticut Senators Killed the $2 Million I-95 Widening Study?"

  1. Joe Commuter | June 2, 2017 at 8:21 am |

    Why kill the mileage tax? Because Connecticut’s residents are taxed to the hilt and refuse to pay any more, especially without a lock box for the proceeds of the tax. No tolls and no new taxes. Period.
    It’s that simple.
    Why pay to study road projects? Because the demand is already there (no “induced demand” here) and road projects create much needed jobs as well.
    Not everything can be solved thru TOD or bicycles.

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