When it comes to people and goods getting from place to place, Connecticut is in a jam. Traffic is backed up for hours, especially in Fairfield County and in Hartford. Roads and bridges are in dire need of repair. The New Haven regional airport has limited service because its runway is too short. And the state is in such desperate financial straits that tolls \u2014 last seen in Connecticut in 1986 \u2014 could return to the interstates. To state Transportation Commissioner James Redeker, there are two major issues facing the state\u2019s businesses and workers. \u201cThe first is congestion, from a business point of view, [which] causes higher operating costs and lower productivity,\u201d he said. \u201cBy the same token, it\u2019s hard to attract people \u2026 just from a quality-of-life perspective.\u201d \u201cIn general, transportation is high on the list of things that businesses are looking for,\u201d said Anthony Rescigno, president of the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce. For smaller companies, particularly, \u201cit\u2019s a lot of money: the cost of doing business, the cost of transportation to get people from point A to point B.\u201d Eric Gjede, counsel for the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, said the group\u2019s surveys show \u201cthe No. 1 transportation issue is congestion, particularly, obviously, on the I-95 corridor and the I-84 corridor in Hartford. \u201cWe find that gives us the most trouble in getting to meetings on time, it limits your customer base \u2026 it impacts employees\u2019 ability to get to work, makes it difficult to ship products,\u201d he said. Gjede called for keeping the state\u2019s highways and bridges in good repair. \u201cNo matter what, if you\u2019re trying to move products in the state \u2026 the last few miles you still need trucks and vehicles to move that and you need good roads for that,\u201d he said. Cost to business Connecticut\u2019s roads are a problem for business because \u201ceverything that gets moved is by truck in the state,\u201d so they face a choice of increased time spent shipping during the day or paying extra for second-shift drivers to truck goods during non-rush hours, Redeker said. For employees, \u201cIt\u2019s not attractive to relocate and take a job in the state where commuting times are so long,\u201d he said. That\u2019s why the state wants to add \u201cmore capacity for trains and more expanded service area for buses.\u201d The ideal would be for \u201cevery household in an urbanized area\u201d to be \u201cwithin half a mile of a bus.\u201d According to the state\u2019s \u201cLet\u2019s Go CT!\u201d plan, a $100.3 billion, 30-year blueprint issued in February 2015, \u201cEach year, drivers spend up to one work week just sitting in traffic, costing nearly $1.6 billion in lost time and fuel, and $2.6 billion in higher operating costs, fuel, and accidents caused by deficient, congested roads and bridges.\u201d Locally, Rescigno praised the new Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge in New Haven, which \u201cis actually working better than anybody actually thought. On the other hand, \u201cWest Haven is a particular issue right now because of the work that they\u2019re doing\u201d replacing the Interstate 95 bridge over the West River. According to John Antonucci, supervising engineer with the state Department of Transportation, \u201ctraffic tends to slow down\u201d on that stretch because of \u201cminimal shoulders\u201d while the center portion of the bridge is being built. \u201cOur next milestone date is June 12, 2018, [when] we\u2019ll be opening all of the 95 northbound and southbound travel lanes and shoulders.\u201d He said that date is two months ahead of schedule. Rescigno said the traffic jams in Fairfield County are a major problem, however. \u201cPeople going to New York \u2026 want to get there quick. You have to leave by 4 or 5 in the morning and then you have to come back by 2 or 3.\u201d Bruce Alexander, Yale University vice president for New Haven and state affairs, said improving transportation infrastructure is essential to reversing the \u201cdownward spiral\u201d in revenue and jobs the state has suffered since the 2008 recession. \u201cNow some people seem to be saying that we can\u2019t afford to fix the transportation infrastructure because we have to invest in other things, and I would say that unless we invest in transportation infrastructure we will not have the revenues to invest in those other things in the future,\u201d Alexander said. He said the state needs to keep up its investments in roads, rail and air travel. \u201cWe\u2019re in a global economy and a knowledge economy and we need our connections to the world,\u201d he said. While students, parents and visitors come to Yale from all over the world, Alexander said, \u201cIt\u2019s really not about us. It\u2019s about the community, it\u2019s about jobs and it\u2019s about taxes.\u201d A too-short runway Rescigno said that for many New Haven institutions, the limited ability to fly in and out of Tweed New Haven Regional Airport also is a major issue. \u201cWe\u2019ve got an Ivy League university, we\u2019ve got a hospital that\u2019s internationally known, we have other companies that want to be here \u2026 and an airport that\u2019s close by would make a lot of sense.\u201d Now, only American Eagle flies out of Tweed, and only to Philadelphia. The Tweed New Haven Airport Authority is challenging in federal court a state law that limits the length of Tweed\u2019s runway to 5,600 feet. That length, combined with flight path obstructions in the residential area where Tweed is located, makes longer flights or larger planes impractical because of the aircraft\u2019s increased weight. If Tweed wins in court \u2014 a decision is expected in July \u2014 it would be able to pave one of the 1,000-foot grassy runway safety areas. Tim Larson, executive director of the authority, is confident that the court will rule in Tweed\u2019s favor and said opposition from neighbors has decreased. Noting the concentration of biotech and other industries in the region, Larson said, \u201cWe have an obligation to provide those business travelers the opportunity to come and go. Between restaurants, hotels and conferences, \u201cWe generate somewhere between $35 [million] and $55 million of economic activity on and around the airport,\u201d Larson said. He said the Tweed authority has been in conversation \u201cwith virtually every domestic airline and some others\u201d and he foresees flights to Chicago, Washington, D.C., and Florida. \u201cI\u2019m very confident that once we get the appropriate runway distance we will be able to get to those destinations,\u201d Larson said. Wider roads: Boon or boondoggle? To relieve congestion on the state\u2019s highways, the state Department of Transportation plans to widen Interstate 95 from New York to Rhode Island, a $2.2 billion job, according to \u201cLet\u2019s Go CT!,\u201d and an eight-mile stretch of Interstate 84 in Danbury. But with state money to devote to transportation needs increasingly uncertain, transportation advocates say the money would be better spent focusing on repairing existing roads and bridges and on mass transit. The Connecticut Public Interest Research Group Education Fund this year included the Danbury project, which is budgeted at $715 million, in its annual list of \u201chighway boondoggles.\u201d The report states that Danbury would be better served by improving the branch line of Metro-North Railroad\u2019s New Haven Line. ConnPIRG reports that, according to federal data, 338 bridges, 8 percent of the total, are structurally deficient and that 21,512 miles of public roads \u2014 57 percent \u2014 are in poor condition. While maintenance is part of the state\u2019s 30-year plan, it is not a high enough priority, said Kate Cohen, state director of ConnPIRG. \u201cIn the state of Connecticut we have a lot of transportation problems and a lot of the problem is because we spend so much on these highway-expansion projects,\u201d Cohen said. Referring to I-84 and I-95, she said, \u201cLike all roads they need routine repair, maintenance and rehabilitation, and so taking on an expensive and unnecessary expansion would drain resources that would go to the systematic maintenance of our existing roads and transit systems.\u201d According to ConnPIRG\u2019s report, widening highways decreases congestion only temporarily as more new drivers take to the road. Cohen cited a 2003 report by the Connecticut Transportation Strategy Board, which stated, \u201cadding capacity to highways induces additional traffic, as people take additional automobile trips and new development creates even more demand. It is now generally accepted that states cannot build their way out of congestion.\u201d \u201cBasically, most of these highway boondoggles are being justified to the public on the grounds that they reduce congestion,\u201d Cohen said. \u201cHowever, a growing body of evidence demonstrates that widening highways worsens the very problems they are intended to combat. As capacity expands, drivers recognize the opportunity and flock to the road in higher numbers.\u201d \u201cI would disagree with that,\u201d Redeker said. \u201cThe cost of doing nothing is astronomical and devastating to Connecticut\u2019s economy.\u201d He said the question that should be asked is \u201cwhat is the cost of inaction, not the cost of action.\u201d In southwest Connecticut, he said, \u201cToday you\u2019ve got about 48 miles of congested roadway for four hours in the morning and four hours at night. If you do nothing, the congestion doubles by 2040.\u201d But by widening Interstate 95, adding bus rapid transit, improving Metro-North by dedicating the two inner tracks to express trains and implementing electronic tolls with \u201ccongestion pricing\u201d \u2014 increasing the toll during high-volume periods \u2014 congestion can be eliminated by 2040, Redeker said. \u201cI think it\u2019s a compelling set of arguments,\u201d he said. Joseph Cutrufo, director of Connecticut policy at the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, said the worst congestion problems are on I-84 in the Hartford area and I-95 in Fairfield County. \u201cPart of the root of the problem in Connecticut is it has a high share of people driving to work alone compared to other states,\u201d he said. \u201cGovernor Malloy was accused of trying to get people out of their cars and onto transit and we think that\u2019s a good idea.\u201d Success on the rails One of the state\u2019s most highly touted transportation programs has been Metro-North, which has expanded service, adding 405 new M8 trains since 2011 at a cost of $1.1 billion, according to DOT spokesman Judd Everhart. Connecticut\u2019s share was $745.9 million; New York state paid $359.82 million. Sixty more M8s, costing $232.3 million, will start going into service in September 2019, Everhart said, and the state has an option for 34 more. Redeker said on-time performance this year has hit 96 percent, with 500,000 miles between repairs. Connecticut has also built \u201ca state-of-the-art maintenance facility built for these cars\u201d in the New Haven rail yard, Redeker said. \u201cThe state can certainly do more,\u201d Cutrufo said. \u201cGovernor Malloy has talked about turning the New Haven Line into a quasi-rapid transit service, having two express tracks and two local tracks, and that\u2019s a way to run trains more frequently, provide better service.\u201d Besides reducing traffic jams, investment in trains and buses suits the needs of younger professionals who prefer to live in cities and get around without a car, said Cohen of ConnPIRG. She called Metro-North \u201cone of the most successful commuter rail lines in the country\u201d but said its weak link is the branch lines, especially the Danbury branch, which is still running on diesel fuel. \u201cA 2013 study estimated that the electrification of the Danbury branch line and expansion of service would reduce trip times by 19 percent and it would increase ridership by 46 percent by 2030,\u201d Cohen said. Redeker said \u201cLet\u2019s Go CT!\u201d includes \u201celectrifying the Danbury branch. Way out in the future it could provide a direct connection to New York,\u201d eliminating the need to transfer in South Norwalk. Another long-term goal is expanding Shore Line East, which runs east of New Haven, into Rhode Island, he said. Meanwhile, the Hartford Line, between New Haven and Springfield, Massachusetts, is \u201cstill running on schedule and within budget for opening next year,\u201d Redeker said. \u201cThis spring should be the big push on the Hartford Line.\u201d Insufficient funds But any expansion would be impossible if money were unavailable. And last year\u2019s transfer of $50 million from the Special Transportation Fund to close a general fund budget gap didn\u2019t help. \u201cThere\u2019s sufficient resources in the fund for the next two years,\u201d Redeker said. \u201cIn the third year, there\u2019s a cash shortfall in the forecast that can\u2019t sustain operations as we know it today.\u201d That means the DOT could be forced to \u201cstop mowing, stop plowing, filling potholes, putting up guardrails or subsidizing trains and buses,\u201d he said. \u201cIt would be catastrophic actually. It is fundamentally important to the state\u2019s economy and as a value to the state of Connecticut that transportation is sustained as critical to a government service,\u201d Redeker said. According to the DOT, 60 percent of the department\u2019s $626.2 million operating budget subsidizes public transportation, and 40 percent goes to operations and maintenance, including staff, repairs, equipment, jobs such as fixing guiderails and lights and \u201cpay-as-you-go\u201d repairs, such as filling small cracks in bridge decks. When it comes to major infrastructure projects, the DOT turns to its capital budget, much of which is paid for with state-issued bonds, supplemented by the federal government. In fiscal 2018, $706.5 million of the DOT\u2019s $2.1 billion proposed capital program will be supported by federal aid, according to the department. \u201cOur whole capital program starts with paying for state of good repair,\u201d Redeker said. \u201cYou can\u2019t have bridges falling down or potholes everywhere or trains that don\u2019t run.\u201d However, mostly because of stagnant or declining tax revenue, \u201cin 2020, the transportation fund does not have enough cash in it to pay for ongoing debt service and operations,\u201d Redeker said. \u201cTwo years later, in 2022, there would be insufficient revenue to pay back bonds at all and we would be in default on our bond covenants.\u201d Compounding the problem, unless the law authorizing the federal Highway Trust Fund is renewed, the money available for highways nationwide will drop from $46.2 billion to $27.7 billion in fiscal 2021, according to the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials. Redeker said the state faces a loss of half the money it receives from the trust fund. \u201cIn four to five years we have a major problem on the federal and state side for capital funding,\u201d he said. Donald Shubert, president of the Connecticut Construction Industries Association, said subsidizing mass transit is adding to the state\u2019s financial troubles. The budget for operating expenses of state-run trains and buses \u201chas increased dramatically since 2007 and because transit services [have] driven up [Redeker\u2019s] operating expenses so much he\u2019s going to have a hard time issuing bonds,\u201d Shubert said. Next year, \u201cthe Springfield-to-New Haven rail line comes on line and that\u2019s going to add at least $40 million to public transportation expenses,\u201d Shubert said. Redeker has \u201cmore demands than he can deal with. He\u2019s got congestion demands. He\u2019s got state-of-good-repair demands,\u201d he said. When congestion and maintenance are sacrificed, the state\u2019s business climate suffers, Shubert said. \u201cWhat are the two things businesses consider? They consider mobility and workforce. We have the workforce but we\u2019re falling behind in mobility. \u201cThe only two things he has left are bus and rail service that he can cut and that can be drastic,\u201d Shubert said. Redeker said he believes the General Assembly will address the problem, as it did in 2015 when that year\u2019s budget dedicated half a percentage point of the state\u2019s 6.35 percent sales tax to transportation. \u201cIt\u2019s my belief that we\u2019ll see solutions, just like the dedication of the 0.5 percent sales tax,\u201d which was \u201creally an urgent decision,\u201d he said. \u201cThat solution postponed a disaster,\u201d Redeker said, but did not solve the problem. Shubert said that if the portion of the sales tax dedicated to transportation is diverted, \u201cthe Special Transportation Fund goes into insolvency in a year.\u201d Redeker is \u201cdoing a good job but he doesn\u2019t have enough money to meet the demands anymore.\u201d With revenues from the gas tax dwindling, electronic tolls are getting a serious look. The General Assembly\u2019s Transportation Committee has approved a bill authorizing them against strong Republican opposition. \u201cRight now the bill states we\u2019ll lower the gas tax by 2.5 cents\u201d over five years, said state Rep. Antonio Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill, co-chairman of the transportation panel. \u201cWe may end up tweaking that to 5 cents. Connecticut residents would get a discount.\u201d Guerrera said tolls need to be considered both as a way to generate revenue and as a way to reduce congested highways. \u201cObviously, the gas tax isn\u2019t performing the way it used to \u2026 All these cars are getting better mileage; we\u2019re getting electric cars, hybrid cars. We\u2019re not going to the gas pump the way we used to.\u201d Guerrera said tolls would generate revenue from \u201call the out-of-staters that travel through Connecticut who don\u2019t pay anything\u201d and that the money would be devoted to infrastructure. \u201cThe amount of revenue that you receive is astronomical,\u201d Guerrera said. \u201cThis is a user fee \u2026 We have to pay for our roads and people understand that. The gas tax is basically going to be bankrupt within two years. \u2026 Let\u2019s start moving on this before it\u2019s too late and something bad happens.\u201d Cutrufo of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign said tolls are also a way to reduce excess traffic. Congestion pricing \u2014 raising the toll during peak travel times \u2014 helps but only to a limited extent, he said. \u201cIf you can move a trip from peak hour to a different time of day, that helps but it has to be about moving people out of cars and onto transit,\u201d Cutrufo said. \u201cIf you don\u2019t want to pay the toll, take CT fastrak, take Metro-North and that\u2019s been missing from the conversation.\u201d CT fastrak is a dedicated busway that now runs between Waterbury and Hartford. State Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, co-chairwoman of the Transportation Committee, is adamantly opposed to tolls, saying that \u201cstates that have them \u2026 have lower costs in other areas.\u201d She sees tolls as another tax on residents, who she said are already overburdened with taxes on income, real estate and pensions. The General Assembly \u201cenacted 77 new taxes in 2011 without reducing anything else,\u201d she said. Boucher rejected the idea that congestion pricing would shift traffic away from rush hours, saying tolls would mostly hit those who \u201care required to be at work during rush hour. I would maintain that this is like a pay cut.\u201d Boucher also doesn\u2019t see tolls pushing drivers off the highway and onto the trains. \u201cIt sure isn\u2019t going to help anyone who\u2019s not near a rail stop.\u201d She said the best way to reduce traffic jams is \u201cthe improvement of our current roadways,\u201d such as the additional lane added to the Exit 8 off-ramp in Stamford. \u201cThey could potentially do a lot in that area to reduce the congestion that they have,\u201d she said. Legislative Republicans have their own plan, \u201cPrioritize Progress,\u201d which the GOP says would eliminate the need for tolls and further tax increases. Key to the plan is capping that state\u2019s bonding at $1.8 billion, but ensuring that a set amount \u2014 $411.3 million was proposed for fiscal 2017 \u2014 be dedicated to transportation. \u201cThe issue is, we are changing what we bond, what we purchase, what we fund to only those essential items that we need,\u201d Boucher said. Gjede said the CBIA opposes tolls as well. \u201cWe don\u2019t even think we should be discussing new sources of revenue until we stop transferring revenues from the transportation fund to the general fund.\u201d Staff reporter Mark Zaretsky contributed to this story. Call Ed Stannard at 203-680-9382.