By SUSAN HAIGH
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) _ Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy on Wednesday called for a massive overhaul of Connecticut’s aging transportation infrastructure, saying it will be a key focus of his newly minted second term, as well as for the state over the next several decades.
Malloy dedicated the bulk of his State of the State Address to transportation, which he delivered to the General Assembly shortly after taking the oath of office in his second inauguration. Malloy told lawmakers he will return in February with a wide-ranging plan that touches on upgrades to highways, rail lines, ports, and bicycle and pedestrian systems.
“It’s time for Connecticut to establish a collective vision for the next 30 years. A vision for a best-in-class transportation system,” Malloy said.
In an interview with The Associated Press earlier Wednesday, Malloy acknowledged such an overhaul will cost “billions and billions and billions of dollars” over several decades. While he expects to receive criticism about the price tag and the breadth of the initiative, Malloy said the current transportation system is costing the state billions in lost time and revenue.
“This is the time. We’re ready to do it,” Malloy told the AP. “You make decisions about when you’re ready to take on issues, and I believe that this is the session to take on this issue.”
Malloy’s call to action received mostly positive reactions from both Democrats and Republicans.
Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, whose district includes traffic-clogged Interstate 95, called the announcement “music to my ears.”
However, GOP leaders voiced concerns about the cost.
“I think transportation is an important issue. But I also think long-term debt is an important issue,” said Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven. “How we do it and how we pay for it is going to be critical to what we do.”
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said she also agrees transportation is important, but is concerned it could become an excuse to raise taxes or reinstall tolls, which were phased out following a deadly crash in 1983.
Malloy recently did not rule out the possibility of tolls. And on Wednesday, House Speaker Brendan Sharkey, D-Hamden, said he believes tolls are “inevitable” because the state cannot rely on revenues from the gas tax, which has been affected by low gas prices and more fuel-efficient vehicles.
“It’s inherently unfair to ask the taxpayers of Connecticut to shoulder the entire burden of maintenance and upgrades to our transportation system as everyone around the country travels through our state every day,” Sharkey said.
During his address, Malloy called on legislators to create a “transportation lock box” that would ensure all the money raised for transportation will cover transportation needs. Joe Brennan, president and CEO of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, said it’s important Malloy called for such a mechanism because gas tax revenues have been diverted for non-transportation expenses in past years.
“Whatever is effective at ensuring those dollars go to transportation has got to be the first step,” he said.
Besides a so-called lock box, Malloy called for widening I-95 statewide, building new rail stations, upgrading commuter rail lines, and creating a “statewide, 21st century bus service with real-time updates that commuters can check on their cellphones.”
Malloy is expected to present the first steps toward funding a long-term plan when he presents his new two-year state budget Feb. 18.
Much of Malloy’s day was filled with pomp and circumstance. Hundreds turned out for his inaugural ceremonies at the state armory in Hartford, where he and other constitutional officers took the oath of office. Former Gov. Lowell P. Weicker Jr., an independent, was among those in attendance.
Malloy urged members of all political parties to let their range of shared interests, from better roads to public education, to help guide the state’s future.
The inauguration was a major victory for the Democrats. When first elected in 2010, Malloy was the first Democratic governor in 20 years. It appeared uncertain last year, however, whether he’d win a second term given his close re-election fight.