Commentary: We’re already paying 'tolls' … for the worst roads in the U.S.
Did it come to anyone's surprise that Connecticut roads were recently named “worst” in the United States in a White House study conducted by the American Society of Civil Engineers?
They told us what we already know — 41% of Connecticut's 21,000 miles of highways are in “poor” condition, and 30% of our 4,200 bridges are “structurally deficient.”
This comes as Congress could only come up with a short-term patch for the gaping pothole known as the Highway Trust Fund after Republicans rejected President Barack Obama's plan for a four-year $302 billion transportation plan financed by a gasoline tax and elimination of corporate tax breaks.
Political guts vs. grandstanding
But kudos to our U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy for having the political guts to call for a gas tax increase to make up for dwindling revenue as Americans drive more fuel efficient cars. It's nice to find a politician who will do the right thing, even if it's politically risky.
On the other hand we have our governor, Dannel P. Malloy, whose aspirations for re-election have him favoring political pandering instead of public policy.
Consider the recent visit to Hartford by U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx in early July when Foxx was seeking support for the president's transportation plan.
At a press conference, the governor joined the assembled congressional delegation (all Democrats) and was quick to beat up on the Republicans for stalling progress.
But when a reporter asked about having Connecticut help pay its own way with highway tolls, the governor reacted as if he'd found a turd in the punchbowl.
“We are a non-toll state,” he insisted. “They (tolls) are not actively in consideration.” Oh, really?
'Value pricing' highways
Does the governor not know that his own Connecticut Department of Transportation (CDOT) just held two major seminars as part of a study on managing traffic congestion by using tolls? The panels in Bridgeport and Hartford brought in traffic experts from Miami, San Diego and Seattle to sing the praises of “value pricing” our highways.
Why another study on highway congestion problem that have been plaguing us for decades? Because it's always easier to “study” a problem than actually do something about the problem.
Make no mistake: CDOT is starting a PR blitz to sell motorists on tolls while politicians won't touch the issue. Nobody running for state office this year has the guts to tell voters that tolls are necessary and will be implemented as gas tax revenues fail to pay for needed road repairs.
But aren't we already paying tolls? Not with EZ-Pass, but in car repairs.
That's why I loved the June cartoon by Connecticut's own Matt Davies entitled “The Road More Traveled.” It shows a jalopy bouncing along a pothole-covered highway as the driver spies a sign reading “Connecticut Tolls in Effect: Blown tire $200, Bent Rim $399, Damaged Suspension $200 to $2,000.”
Let's be honest with ourselves. There is no “free lunch” and there is no free ride. Maintaining our highways is expensive and those costs should be borne by those who drive on them.
Can't we find a politician honest enough to tell us that truth this election year?
Jim Cameron is the founder of the Commuter Action Group and also serves on the Darien RTM. The opinions expressed in this column are only his own. You can reach him at CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com.