Report on state highway, bridge costs disputed
Connecticut has the highest administrative costs for road and bridge projects in the nation — and its transportation system is among the worst, a new report claims.
In 2015 the state spent over $99,000 per mile on administrative costs associated with building and repairing roads and bridges, the most in the nation, according to The Reason Foundation, a libertarian think tank linked to the oil industry.
By comparison, Kentucky spent $1,043 per mile, and the national average is nearly $11, 000 per mile, the report said.
Connecticut Department of Transportation officials blasted the report as inaccurate and misleading and not an effective assessment of the department.
The state concluded that when the data is corrected, Connecticut has the 10th highest administrative costs for road and bridge construction projects.
“The Connecticut DOT and many other states in the country do not regard the (The Reason Foundation) analysis as an accurate or fair representation,” officials said.
Administrative costs are expenses incurred for managing and developing a road or bridge project and do not include the actual cost of the work. The level of expenses is often used to judge the effectiveness of a government program or a charitable organization.
James Cameron, founder of the Commuter Action Group, a Hearst Connecticut Media columnist and frequent DOT critic, said he doesn’t believe the report is credible.
“My initial reaction to the Reason Foundation’s report was ‘this can’t be true,”’ Cameron said.
“It seems impossible that, expensive as our state is, that their numbers could be true,” Cameron said. “Is DOT wasting as much money and giving us such poor roads, as this report implies? I think not.”
But Baruch Feigenbaum, a co-author of the report, stood by his calculations, saying the numbers came from reports the state filed with federal highway officials to receive funding.
“We do stand by the report,” Feigenbaum said. “The governor is raising taxes and they are trying to look better.”
Feigenbaum said if the numbers reported to federal officials are wrong he would change the conclusions. But he said it’s doubtful those reports are wrong because the state would lose federal funding.
The report, entitled “Ranking the Best, Worst, Safest, and Most Expensive State Highway Systems,” contains bundles of data and dozens of charts ranking states on highway safety, transportation spending and other issues.
The foundation noted that Connecticut in 2015 spent $497,659 per state-controlled mile on road building and maintenance, the 44th most in the nation. The average cost per mile nationwide was $178,116, the report noted.
Connecticut ranked 46th in the nation for its overall transportation system in the report. The state received low scores for rural pavement and bridge conditions.
The foundation said that while most states saw bridge conditions improve, seven states - including Connecticut — reported that more than one third of their bridges were deficient.
On a positive note, the foundation said Connecticut’s state highway and road fatality rate was the 6th lowest in the nation.
“North Dakota was the top-ranked state on performance and cost-effectiveness thanks to excellent scores on urban interstate pavement condition, rural interstate pavement condition, urbanized area traffic congestion and maintenance disbursements per mile,” the study said.
“Kansas, South Dakota, Nebraska and South Carolina were the other states in top five of the overall rankings,” the foundation said.
The worst state overall, according to the report, was New Jersey, which ranked 50th in performance and cost-effectiveness. Rhode Island, Alaska, Hawaii and Connecticut were also in the bottom five of the overall rankings, the report said.
Connecticut DOT officials have faced negative rankings in national reports before and readily admit the state is in dire need of billions of dollars to revamp its highways and bridges and reduce congestion on major highways, such as I-95 in Fairfield County and I-84 in Danbury.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is asking the legislature to approve electronic highway tolls, increase the gas tax by seven cents and slap a new $3 fee on tires to help pay for infrastructure repairs and replenish a nearly broke Special Transportation Fund.
DOT officials have rarely disputed a report with the detail and effort put into rebuking the Reason Foundation assessment.
In a lengthy statement, DOT noted that while the Reason Foundation has issued similar reports for the last 23 years, the current one has “several basic flaws inherent in the findings of the report.”
Those flaws include not taking into account infrastructure age, weather, cost of living and complexity and usage of each state’s road system.
“Therefore, urban and rural states are ranked using the same criteria,” DOT noted. “With two simple corrections to the data, DOT demonstrated that we rank 10th in the nation.”
DOT faulted the report for also not taking into account “how state budgets for transportation differ. Many states do not include personnel benefits or costs for facilities in the DOT budget. Connecticut does.”
DOT officials added the report “does not account for other important factors like system complexity, age, multi-modal responsibilities, seasonal impacts on construction and maintenance, regional cost of living and many other factors.”
Feigenbaum said the state is offering two sets of numbers: those sent to federal authorities and those used to refute the report.
“Connecticut is not that different from Massachusetts or Delaware yet they have better rankings,” Feigenbaum said.
Still, James Gildea, president of the Connecticut Commuter Rail Council, worried about how the Reason Foundation report will be used.
“I hope that those who do not wish to address the issue of an insolvent Special Transportation Fund do not politicize this report in an attempt to ignore their responsibility of adequately addressing this issue and finding the long-term answer for moving our transportation system forward,” Gildea said.