Distractions Driving Connecticut’s Toll Conversation

Tolls at the borders would raise revenue, but they would do little to address congestion on Connecticut's most congested corridors. | Source

Tolls at the borders would raise revenue, but they would do little for Connecticut’s most congested corridors. | Source

Modern, all-electronic tolling systems don't require old-fashioned toll booths. | Source

Modern, all-electronic tolling systems don’t require toll booths. | Source

There’s been a lot of talk about about bringing highway tolls back to Connecticut these last few days. The state outlawed tolls after seven people were killed in a fiery crash at a toll both on Interstate 95 in 1983. That tragedy has left Connecticut residents skeptical of tolls, and justifiably so. But  in recent days, a lot of the discourse surrounding tolls has been misinformed, which has led to some confusion. And that’s not good for lawmakers who are trying to deal with serious congestion problems on some of the worst roads in the nation, not to mention an underfunded 30-year transportation plan.

Tolls at the borders

A bill introduced by State Rep. Tony Guerrera, which would bring tolls to interstates at Connecticut’s borders, was the main topic of conversation at a Transportation Committee hearing Wednesday. Guerrera, the committee’s co-chair, “says the legislation is needed to pay for highway projects because the state’s gas tax isn’t raising enough money.”

The argument for placing tolls at the border is that out-of-state residents would shoulder some of the load — as much as 75 percent, Guerrera argued. Connecticut residents pay tolls when they drive to New York and Massachusetts, so let the folks clogging up Interstates 84 and 95 between the Boston and New York metro areas pay their fair share, right? It’s good political calculus — especially since Guerrera represents Newington, Rocky Hill and Wethersfield, which are smack dab in the middle of the state (and would be minimally impacted by tolls at the state’s edges).

The argument against border tolls hinges on the fact that they disproportionately impact residents (and the economies) of border towns like Danbury and Enfield.

Both arguments are perfectly sound. The problem is, it’s wrong argument to be having.

Rep. Guerrera is right: the state’s gas tax isn’t bringing in enough revenue to maintain the state’s transportation system. But reinstating tolls in order to raise revenue misses the point of tolling. The goal of bringing back highway tolls must be congestion management.

When you look at tolling from a congestion management perspective rather than a revenue perspective, it completely changes the map. Instead of locating tolls in a way that aims to minimize its impact on intrastate travel, they should be placed A) where there’s a great deal of congestion, and B) like the proposed Move New York plan, where there are alternatives to driving available.

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“Not a Crisis,” You Say?

Photo: Mel Evans/AP

Source: Mel Evans/AP

Anyone trying to make sense of all of the bad news for New Jersey transportation this weekthe lack of transportation talk in Governor Christie’s FY2016 budget address, the 8.4 percent cut to the transportation budget, more debt to fund transportation, the threat of the first NJ Transit fare hike in yearsnow has their answer.

Last night, Governor Christie said of the soon-to-be-insolvent Transportation Trust Fund, “I’m hopeful that the Senate president and the [state Assembly] Speaker and I will be able to come to a resolution sooner rather than later, but, you know, again, it’s not a crisis at the moment, because we’re funded pretty well now.”

Let’s be honest here. This is a legitimate crisis; New Jersey’s Transportation Trust Fund is set to run completely dry on July 1, 2015, which has disastrous implications for the state, given that:

  • one in three New Jersey bridges is structurally deficient or functionally obsolete
  • the poor condition of New Jersey roads costs drivers nearly $2,000 a year
  • New Jersey’s rate of pedestrian injuries and fatalities is more than double the national average
  • expansion of mass transit is at a standstill due to lack of funding

And yet, Governor Christie’s now proposing to cut the transportation budget by 8.4 percentabout $119 million less funding than the current fiscal year. Given the state’s needs, if anything, the budget ought to be increased.

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Wednesday Winners (& Losers)

A weekly roundup of good deeds, missteps, heroic feats and epic failures in the tri-state region and beyond.

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. | Photo: bronxboropres.nyc.gov

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. | Photo: bronxboropres.nyc.gov

WINNERS

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. — During his State of the Borough speech, Diaz called on the state to stop dragging its feet and redevelop the Sheridan Expressway.

Hicksville commuters — Governor Cuomo has announced a $120 million improvement project for the Hicksville LIRR stationthe busiest station on Long Island.

Fair Haven, NJ Mayor Benjamin Lucarelli — The bike-friendly mayor is taking his campaign for streets safety to Washington to participate in the USDOT’s Mayors’ Challenge.

Ossining Village Board of Trustees  Ossining has adopted a Complete Streets policy which will take effect immediately.

New Rochelle, NY — The City Council has approved two development projects near the town’s Metro-North station, which will include affordable housing.

Metro-North riders — By mid-April, all Metro-North conductors will carry credit card machines.

Statewide transit riders — On Thursday, state and local electeds came together at separate events in Buffalo and in Yonkers for a unified call to action: the State must prioritize funding for statewide transit systems.

New York City road users — WNYC analysis of NYC’s speed camera program has found that the program is improving safety, as both tickets and crashes have decreased in areas with cameras.

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State and Local Electeds Join Transit Operators and Advocates in Urging Governor Cuomo to Support Statewide Transit

New York State Assemblymember Shelley Mayer

New York State Assemblymember Shelley Mayer

Yesterday morning in Westchester, a group of more than 30 elected officials, transit users, transit operators and transportation advocates braved the bitter cold for a press conference to call on Governor Cuomo to increase funding in his Executive Budget to support statewide public transit systems, which face a collective need of $33 billion over the next five years.

Transit ridership across New York is at an all-time high, yet Albany’s investment is not rising to the occasion—the proposed 2015-2016 Executive Budget keeps operating assistance flat at 2014-2015 levels for all non-MTA transit systems. The advocates and electeds called for more than $140 million in new operating aid investment for non-MTA transportation systems, and also called for a fully-funded MTA Capital Program.

The Westchester stakeholders have a vested interest in transit investment because of the role transit plays in both the urban and suburban areas of the county. Bee-Line, considered to be the ‘backbone‘ of county employment, is one of the country’s largest suburban transit programs, providing nearly 33 million trips annually, according to Assemblymember Shelley Mayer. Yet despite a 3.5 percent increase in ridership from 2011 to 2013, state operating support has leveled out, leaving riders to shoulder the burden. Tri-State’s Veronica Vanterpool testified that “Every dollar invested by Westchester County into Bee-Line yields $23 in economic activity and supports 1,260 jobs. Few other investments yield this rate of return while also reducing traffic congestion and pollution, spurring transit-oriented development, and creating equitable communities.”

And given the role of Metro-North in supporting housing, employment and economic development across Westchester, lawmakers and advocates are refusing to settle for anything less than a fully-funded MTA Capital Program so that Metro-North riders can be ensured safe, reliable service in the future. Nearly $3 billion of the five-year Program is slated for Metro-North improvements.

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Roads and Rails, Buses and Bridges: Breaking Down Connecticut’s Transportation Vision by Project Type

Yesterday we wrote about what’s included in “Let’s Go CT,” Connecticut’s long-term statewide transportation plan. Both of the documents released yesterday — the “5-Year Transportation Ramp-Up Plan” and “Connecticut’s Bold Vision for a Transportation Future” — are nicely laid out and full of details about each project, but they lack user-friendly charts to help see where the money is going.

In order to provide a clearer picture of Connecticut’s spending priorities moving forward, we’ve broken down spending totals for the five-year ramp-up and for the following 25 years by project type.

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What’s in Connecticut’s 30-Year Transportation Vision?

letsgoCTcoverConnecticut Governor Dannel Malloy made an historic announcement today that will set the tone for the state’s transportation priorities for the next three decades. Speaking at the State Capitol in Hartford, the governor outlined a 30-year, multi-modal vision for Connecticut’s transportation system, which includes not only upgrades to aging highways and bridges, but also railway improvements, new bus rapid transit lines, and funding to improve pedestrian and bicyclist safety.

The governor’s vision will extend well beyond his time in office. What he will oversee, however, is the five-year “ramp-up,” which invests an additional $2.8 billion above the State’s expected levels of transportation funding. That $2.8 billion is front-loaded with $1.7 billion for railway improvements, which can be accomplished “faster and cheaper than big-ticket interstate jobs.”

The full 30-year, $100 billion plan, introduced today as “Let’s Go CT,” is being billed as a “Bold Vision for a Transportation Future.” How bold? Here are some of the highlights:

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Wednesday Winners (& Losers)

A weekly roundup of good deeds, missteps, heroic feats and epic failures in the tri-state region and beyond.

New York City Councilmember Mark Weprin | Photo: DecideNYC.com

New York City Councilmember Mark Weprin | Photo: DecideNYC.com

WINNERS

Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy — Governor Malloy unveiled today a truly multi-modal long-term transportation plan which includes, among other things, an eastern extension of CTfastrak, upgrades to the Metro-North Waterbury Branch and a program to improve pedestrian and bicycle improvements in urban areas.

New York City Department of Transportation — The City DOT has begun the release of its borough-specific Vision Zero action plans, so far releasing plans for QueensManhattan and the Bronx. The plans detail specific “priority” corridors and intersections identified through research and public workshops over the last year.

New York City Councilmember Mark Weprin — After having opposed previous congestion pricing proposals, Weprin is now one of MoveNY’s biggest proponents and one of few elected officials publicly endorsing the plan.

Senators Chuck Schumer (NY) and Richard Blumenthal (CT) — The senators’ new legislation, the Highway-Rail Grade Crossing Safety Act of 2015, would dramatically increase funding for the Federal Highway Administration’s rail safety programs.

Gene Aronowitz — The Brooklyn resident is working to educate fellow senior citizens about traffic safety.

The Village of Munsey Park, NY — Village officials stand by the effectiveness of traffic enforcement cameras, and are considering the possibility of installing them as part of a four-point traffic safety plan to curb the village’s speeding epidemic.

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New Report Looks to Business Community as MTA Capital Program Remains a Last Priority for Albany

KNYOTThe MTA is a mammoth entity—an asset worth $1 trillion which carries more than one-third of all U.S. transit riders and two-thirds of all U.S. rail riders. The system is more than 100 years old and in need of continuous attention—and funding—to maintain a state of good repair, let alone expand service and harden against catastrophes like Hurricane Sandy. Considering that a whopping $22 billion of the MTA’s proposed $32 billion 2015-2019 Capital Program is slated for new rail cars, ferries and buses and state of good repair investments for the network’s seven bridges and two tunnels, as well as viaducts and rail line structures, it’s all the more discouraging that the so-called “bloated” Program is still barely half-funded and that it appears to have fallen to the bottom of our leaders’ priority lists.

To help change the negative, number-heavy dialogue and give some context to the role of transit in the tri-state region, the Urban Land Institute and the Permanent Citizens Advisory Committee to the MTA have released a joint report and website that don’t dwell on the big, scary number, but instead focus on what the MTA Capital Program can do for New York State. The report, Keeping New York on Track, seeks to emphasize the role that the MTA plays in supporting New York’s business and tourism economies, as well as the social benefits it provides to residents. By highlighting how a fully-funded Capital Program helps New York’s biggest industries to remain globally competitive and regionally productive, the report strives to make the case for greater private support in the face of failing public investment:

  • The MTA network serves 75 percent of the metro region’s total population and 90 percent of its working population
  • Every weekday, the 4/5/6 subway line carries more commuters than the total ridership of San Francisco, Chicago, and Boston’s transit networks combined.
  • The density of businesses in the region is more than 10 times that of the average U.S. city, which benefits those businesses by allowing for greater productivity and gives residents access to greater income
  • The MTA’s flat-fare system helps to offset the increasing costs of living in the region, giving lower income families greater access to employment and educational opportunities
  • MTA’s network and service hours give residents and tourists the opportunity to access parks, beaches and other destinations

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As President Obama Goes Big on His Budget, a Serious Conversation about Transportation Funding Begins

The Tappan Zee Bridge features prominently on the cover of the FY2016 Federal Budget.  | Image:  budget.gov via Wall Street Journal

The Tappan Zee Bridge features prominently on the cover of the FY2016 Federal Budget. | Image: Wall Street Journal

President Obama introduced a budget this week which, unlike last time, actually proposes a transportation funding mechanism—albeit a one-shot infusion of cash, not a permanent fix to a structural funding dilemma. Although the President’s plan is not expected to go far, the momentum does finally appear to be gathering, on both sides of the aisle, for a serious discussion about transportation funding.

Obama’s $4 trillion budget includes a six-year, $478 billion transportation program ($176 billion more than MAP-21, and $76 billion more than the $302 billion, four-year Grow America proposal introduced last year). It is partially funded by a mandatory 14 percent tax on U.S. companies’ profits (an estimated $2 trillion) currently parked overseas, resulting in $238 billion in revenue.

In 2016, $94.7 billion (nearly double the current amount) would be invested in roads, bridges, transit and freight. Highlights include:

  • $51 billion in highway investment, up 25 percent
  • $18.2 billion in transit investment, up 70 percent
  • $1.25 billion for TIGER, up 250 percent
  • $1 billion for a multi-modal freight program
  • $10.2 million for the TOD planning grant program
  • Establishment of passenger rail ($4.7 billion) and multi-modal accounts ($1.25 billion) in the Highway Trust Fund (HTF)
  • Establishment of passenger rail and multi-modal accounts in the Highway Trust Fund (HTF)
  • Renaming the Highway Trust Fund the “Transportation Trust Fund”
  • A separate line item for Bus Rapid Transit
  • Dedicated funding for “high-performance rail,” which would replace the concept of “high-speed rail”
  • A national infrastructure bank

On the same day of Obama’s budget release, Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx discussed the administration’s 30-year transportation plan—promisingly titled “Beyond Traffic 2045”— a policy framework that is all about “giving people choices.”

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Report Notes New Jersey’s Road Troubles, but Misses the Mark on How to Solve Them

Poor roads lead to not just higher vehicle maintenance costs, but also  | Photo: Robert Sciarrino/The Star-Ledger

New Jersey’s poor roads lead to not just higher vehicle maintenance costs, but also traffic crashes and congestion. | Photo: Robert Sciarrino/The Star-Ledger

New Jersey residents just got slammed with more bad news this month. The Washington D.C. based, industry-funded transportation research organization TRIP released a report which found that the poor condition of New Jersey’s roads and bridges cost Garden State drivers a whopping $1,951 a year.

This figure is considerably higher than the $605 reported last year by the American Society of Civil Engineers because TRIP takes into consideration congestion-related delay ($861 worth of lost time and wasted fuel) and traffic crashes ($485 in lost household and workplace productivity, insurance costs and other financial costs), not just additional vehicle operating costs (such as accelerated vehicle depreciation, additional repairs, and increased fuel consumption and tire wear).

The report astutely notes that New Jersey’s increase in population, vehicle-miles traveled (VMT) and economic growth over the past 22 years has placed an increased demand on the state’s road network. TRIP’s recommendations for future improvements, however, miss the mark.

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