Bill Sarno CTLatinoNews
Although Gov. Dannel Malloy is holding most of his cards close to his vest regarding the specifics and the funding of a massive transportation plan that could be the hallmark of his second term, several Latino leaders are waiting to learn more about the initiative – worried about tolls near some cities like Bridgeport – and saying the state’s mass transit issues really have to be addressed in it.
For now, many legislators expect that improvements for the Interstate 95 corridor and rail service will be in the package, but they are waiting for Malloy to lay out more specifics, especially about projects that will impact the urban Latino communities. This information may not become readily available before Malloy delivers his biennial budget message Feb. 18.
Legislators such as Reps. Angel Arce (D-4) and Edwin Vargas (D-6) of Hartford say the governor’s emphasis on transportation is the correct course and should benefit the cities where most Hispanics live, as well as Connecticut overall. “We all know how critical a robust transportation infrastructure is to the foundation of our economy,” Arce said.
Vargas said he would prefer that the U.S. Congress do more to upgrade the state’s aging infrastructure but that does not seem to be in the cards now. For state legislators , he says, an important issue is how to provide urban residents, who tend to be largely black or Latino, with better access to the jobs and services that are in the suburbs. This means better mass transit.
Vargas hopes the governor’s new initiative includes work on the spurs and secondary routes off the main rail lines.
Rep. Jason Rojas (D-9), whose district includes parts of East Hartford and Manchester, would like to see the transportation conversation include a possible Busway East, replicating the service that will soon run between Hartford and New Britain, but at a lesser cost. He said this busway could include the under-utilized high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lane on Interstate 84 to connect the University of Connecticut, the Manchester mall area and Hartford.
Rojas said that eastern Connecticut area residents generally lack access to mass transportation and the current CT Transit bus service is inefficient.
“Mass transit benefits everybody,” said Rojas whose district, similar to the state as a whole, is about 17 percent Hispanic.
For the largely Latino community of East Bridgeport, a project that tops the wish list of several legislators already is in play thanks to the state bonding commission’s Jan. 12 approval of the funding for a second train station in the city.
“I think it’s a great start. It shows that the governor is true to his commitment to improve transportation in the state,” Rep. Christopher Rosario (D-128) said after the bonding was authorized.
Studies have indicated that the so-called Barnum Station has the potential to be a catalyst for revitalization of East Bridgeport. Its exponents have included state Rep. Ezequiel Santiago (D-130) and former state Sen. Andres Ayala, a Bridgeport Democrat, now state motor vehicles department commissioner, along with Rosario, the newest member of the Bridgeport delegation.
“This project will be another piece of the economic renaissance for the east side,” Rosario said.
Arce, as vice chairman, and Rosario are members of legislature’s transportation committee, which will plan an important role in turning the governor’s plans into a viable program.
“Not all the pieces of the puzzle are in place at this time, as we are just at the beginning of the process,” Arce said. “However, I am convinced that we will be able to agree on a package that will not only benefit urban communities, but the entire state,” the Hartford Democrat said.
The governor has suggested that the entire length of Interstate 95 should be widened. Rosario said he would like to see first what the impact of this work would be on the environment and traffic in his district.
Access to East Bridgeport from the interstate also needs to be considered, Rosario said. Many constituents have told him that it is easy to leave the neighborhood on I-95 but the off ramp does not directly put them in their part of the city.
The key card that the legislators are waiting for Malloy to put on the table is how the transportation program would be funded. Also, there is the issue of setting up a “lock box” so that certain funding could only be used for transportation.
Vargas, who is a member of the appropriations committee, said the legislature would “probably” authorize the use of tolls and that the toll plazas would likely be near the borders with adjoining state. He noted that 80 percent of the traffic on the state’s highways is through traffic.
Rosario said a lot of his constituents favor tolls, but not in Bridgeport. He said that there was talk that the locations would be near the borders and the casinos. However, he was cautionary about doing something that might seriously hurt the already struggling casinos.
As for locking in gasoline tax revenues for strictly transportation projects, the growing popularity of hybrid cars and with improved mass transit getting more cars off the road, this source of revenue may shrink.