Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Planes, trains and automobiles

Transportation woes slowing down U.S., chamber official says

By Ed Stannard
Register Metro Editor
— There’s no getting around it: Fixing the nation’s roads and bridges and improving mass transit will cost money — a lot of money.
And what’s at stake is America’s global standing.
That was the message representatives of business, trades and unions heard Monday at a transportation conference held at the Belvedere Conference Center, sponsored by the Keep Connecticut Moving coalition.
“What’s at stake is simple and stark,” keynote speaker Janet Kavinoky of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce told attendees. “If we fail to address our transportation infrastructure challenges, we will lose jobs and industries to other nations.”
She pointed out China spends 9 percent of its gross domestic product on infrastructure, India 5 percent, while the United States has spent less than 2 percent since 1980.
“If we fail to act, we will pollute our air and destroy the free, mobile way of life we cherish,” Kavinoky said. “Thirty-six percent of America’s major urban highways are congested. Congestion costs drivers $78 billion a year in wasted time and fuel costs. Americans spend 4.2 billion hours a year stuck in traffic. And while their car engines are idling, they are pumping thousands of tons of pollution into the air every day.”
Speaker of the House James A. Amann, D-Milford, master of ceremonies for the event, agreed congestion on Interstate 95 is a growing problem.
“You want tourism? Go to I-95 on a Friday afternoon. You’ll see every stitch of Connecticut as you sit there hour after hour after hour,” he said.
Worse than traffic jams, according to Kavinoky, “poorly maintained roads contribute to a third of all highway fatalities. That’s more than 14,000 deaths every year — a national disgrace.”
In order to bring U.S. roads, ports, airways and rails to an acceptable condition, Kavinoky said all revenue sources have to be considered, including gasoline taxes and public/private partnerships.
This is a critical time, she said, because the massive federal transportation bill, known as SAFETEA-LU, must be reauthorized in 2009.
Despite a slowing economy in a possible recession, Kavinoky believes taxpayers won’t rebel. If people know what they’re getting, they’re willing to pay and they perceive there’s a benefit off of it,” she said afterward.
U.S. Rep. Christopher Shays, R-4, one of two congressmen, along with Joe Courtney, D-2, who attended, said a higher gas tax years ago would have paid off with lower prices now.
C“I thought it was misguided that we would choose to reduce the gas tax,” he said.ourtney said he’s invited U.S. Rep. James L. Oberstar, D-Minn., chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, to visit eastern Connecticut April 18.
“We want him to be as familiar as he possibly can be in terms of what we need in Connecticut,” said Courtney.
Adam Liegeot, spokesman for Gov. M. Jodi Rell, who Liegeot said was not invited to the conference, said afterward Rell has approved $3.5 billion in highway and mass-transit spending since 2004 and “recognizes that we need to continue to make these unprecedented investments in our transportation system if we are to continue to stimulate our economy and grow jobs.”
The state Bond Commission, which Rell controls, is scheduled to approve $75 million in road projects Friday, including a bridge on First Avenue in West Haven and intersection improvements at routes 10 and 22 in Hamden.
EdJohn Bertoli of Urban Engineers Inc. in Hartford, which does contract work for the state Department of Transportation, said one improvement the state can make would be to shorten the timeline from paper to concrete and steel. “I certainly can say that there is a frustration within our profession at the time it takes … from the conceptual state to design and development,” he said. Stannard can be reached at estannard@nhregister.com or 789-5743.

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