HARTFORD, CT—More than 300 bridges in Connecticut are in need of repair, according to a new report released Thursday.
The report is from TRIP, a national nonprofit transportation research group based in Washington that is sponsored by insurance companies, equipment manufacturers, and businesses involved in highway construction.
The report examines bridge conditions and provides information on structurally deficient bridges statewide, and for each county.
According to the 2017 study conducted by the national transportation nonprofit, more than 8 percent of Connecticut bridges, 308 in total, are considered structurally deficient. That means they have significant deterioration and must be replaced or repaired.
The report states that 9 percent of bridges in the Bridgeport-Stamford area, 8 percent in Hartford, and 7 percent in New Haven are structurally deficient.
An estimated “4.3 million vehicles cross over structurally deficient bridges every day,” Rocky Moretti, a researcher for TRIP, said at a Legislative Office Building press conference where the report was released and discussed.
“The state faces a significant challenge in finding resources to repair and replace these structurally deficient bridges,” Moretti added.
Moretti said that every bridge in the state is inspected at least every two years and that Connecticut ranks fourth nationally in the share of its bridges that are more than 50 years old.
Also speaking at the press conference was U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who had an ominous warning.
“Think Mianus River Bridge,” Blumenthal said, referring to the bridge in the Cos Cob section of Greenwich that collapsed in 1983, killing three motorists.
Casualties from the collapse were few because the disaster occurred at 1:30 a.m., when traffic was low on the often-crowded highway. The collapse was caused by the failure of two pin-and-hanger assemblies that held the deck in place on the outer side of the bridge, according to an investigation by the National Transportation Safety Board.
“A Mianus River Bridge collapse should not be necessary to move us to action,” Blumenthal said.
Blumenthal said the failure to adequately fund transportation repair programs is not just a Connecticut issue.
“This is not just a statewide message, but a federal message,” Blumenthal said. “The feds are failing. There has been a lack of leadership and there is plenty of blame to go around.”
“We need to come together on a bipartisan basis,” the senator said.
But while Blumenthal tried to paint it as a federal issue, plenty of attention has been paid in recent months to the lousy condition of the state’s roads and bridges and the lack of funding to fix the problem.
Transportation Committee Co-Chairman Rep. Antonio Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill, who has been a consistent voice in the General Assembly to fund transportation programs, said the TRIP report is another badly needed wake-up call.
“We know Connecticut has a problem,” Guerrera said.
Following the Mianus River Bridge collapse, the state created the Special Transportation Fund to make sure infrastructure improvements were funded. Revenue from the gas tax was put into the fund on a regular basis at the beginning.
“Back then we had one of the best bridge programs in the United States,” Guerrera said. “Unfortunately we had some gaps in our budget and that fund got raided.”
Guerrera noted that in this November’s election there will be a new lockbox amendment on the ballot.
The transportation lockbox amendment would reserve all money in the state’s Special Transportation Fund (STF) to be used solely for transportation purposes, including paying down transportation infrastructure debt.
“It is so important that it be passed,” Guerrera said. “We can’t keep putting Band-Aids on this.”
Attempts to raise bills to study tolling in Connecticut — in large part to beef-up funding for bridge and road repair — failed during the last General Assembly session.
More recently, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy was able to get the state Bond Commission to approve spending $10 million to study tolling, but it’s unclear whether that study will ever happen since there will soon be a new governor and a new General Assembly in place.
As vehicles become more fuel efficient or completely electric, the Special Transportation Fund will continue to become more insolvent as each year goes by — an issue which states are grappling with across the nation.
Since 2013, at least 26 states have responded to the issue by increasing gas taxes, including seven states in the last year alone.
The motor vehicle fuel tax in Connecticut was reduced in 1997 from $0.39 per gallon to $0.25 per gallon and has not changed since. The gross receipts tax, which is based on the wholesale price of gas was also capped.