By Yanil Terón
Connecticut has four cities, Hartford, New Haven, Waterbury, and Bridgeport, in the top thirty in the nation for zero-car households. Seven neighborhoods in Hartford have household zero-car ownership rates above 40 percent. Almost two-thirds of Hartford’s workforce, many of them using bus transit, work outside of Hartford.
During the 2018 transportation budget crisis, the CT DOT threatened to cut funds from the regional transit districts while raising bus and rail fares across the state. Raising transit and rail costs while cutting service is a terrible strategy for getting Connecticut residents to work.
Cars are not an option for our state’s low-income residents and cutting their connection to jobs is not fiscally sound. Employers need workers, and transit gets them where they need to go. A robust multimodal transportation system is egalitarian and provides key jobs access for both our urban professionals and the rest of the state’s workers.
The Center for Latino Progress works on equity and inclusion matters in a very inequitable state. We are involved in transportation topics because too often we find our neighbors and community limited by the inability to get to work. A transportation system that requires car ownership prevents many workers and families from building family savings and following the American dream.
We, as a grassroots organization, are in support of investment in our transportation system generated by tolls. Toll revenue must be dedicated to building the sustainable transportation infrastructure of Connecticut’s future. Tolls, as fees for highway use, are sorely needed for maintenance, bridge replacements, and continued investment in our transit and rail systems. A modern, multimodal transportation system will allow businesses and communities to thrive while supporting the workers that power the economy.
The state’s commerce and community health should be driving the decision making. Connecticut has the eighth oldest population in the nation and needs transportation options that support our aging seniors while simultaneously attracting a generation of young adults and professionals that are moving back into cities and town centers. Both of those groups are looking to drive less and have an appetite for environmentally sustainable transportation that improves health, supports their neighborhoods, and connects them to opportunities.
A state that values all workers invests in accessible and high-quality transit systems and focuses on new development around transit corridors and stations. Not everyone is going to take CTtransit, CTfastrak, or the Hartford Line commuter rail to work, but as more do, it will lift our local economies, reduce highway congestion, and improve our environment. Considering the equity impact of tolls, we must provide a reduced fare structure for the working poor that are driving to work.
While federal and state gas tax rates have been flat for decades, transit fares have continued to rise. We need to consider how the transportation system of the future will serve our children and grandchildren with a livable world and green jobs. Forty percent of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions are from the transportation sector, the largest contributing sector by far. Without a shift to a higher percentage of transit, rail, walking, and biking for commutes, we will be contributing to the global climate catastrophe. As a coastal state, Connecticut cannot pretend to ignore the ravages we will face from rising waters and extreme weather events.
The state legislature and the governor are currently considering the structure and funding for Connecticut’s infrastructure investments and transportation system that will serve future generations. We are one of a few Northeast states that have yet to reimplement highway tolls, and that hinders our ability to invest in a transportation system that builds a vibrant and sustainable state.
Gas tax revenues are flat and will be falling as cars become more efficient and the percentage of electric vehicles climb. We are not reducing the number of highways, while the costs for maintenance and replacement of those aging interstate structures are climbing rapidly as they reach the end of their useful lives. A highway toll is a reasonable user fee that needs to be implemented to invest in our state’s future.
Yanil Terón, Executive Director, Center for Latino Progress – CPRF, founded in 1978. The Center’s Transport Hartford Academy focuses on the multimodal transportation sector.