June 12, 2017

"Getting There": Legislature fiddles while Rome burns

Days before a new state budget is due, our legislature seems as dysfunctional as ever.  Rome is burning and our “Neros” are just fiddling around.

To date only seven bills have passed and been signed into law compared to an average 275 in recent years.  Lawmakers debate such crucial issues as bear hunting, playground surfacing and dairy cows, while our roads and rail repairs remain unfunded.

True, it looks like long-debated reinstatement of tolls may yet happen this session, but another potential funding mechanism has been killed before it was even studied, let alone debated.  I speak of the “mileage tax” or VMT (vehicle miles tax).

What could be fairer to all Connecticut motorists than to ask them to pay for the miles they drive?  Unlike tolls, this user-fee could not be avoided.  The more you drive, the more you’d pay.  But take mass transit and you’d drive less and pay less.

We already pay a VMT of sorts every time we fill up at the pump.  But the gasoline tax hits high mpg vehicles (think Prius and Tesla) less than low mpg cars and trucks.  Is that fair?

The VMT idea is already being tested in progressive states like Oregon and has been endorsed by the US Government Accountability Office. It was also recommended by the Governor’s Transportation Finance Panel.  But the VMT idea is DOA in Connecticut.

The State Senate recently voted unanimously to prohibit even the study of a VMT.  Our CDOT was even prohibited from attending a conference on that idea without permission of lawmakers.

The regressive Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-Norwalk) proudly proclaimed that the bill would guarantee “that the study that we know is never going to happen, never happens once and for all.”

The regressive Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-Norwalk) proudly proclaimed that the bill would guarantee “that the study that we know is never going to happen, never happens once and for all.”

Before even understanding how a VMT might work, how much money it could raise and how easy it would be to implement, our prejudiced State Senators have killed the concept in a unanimous gesture of stupidity.

Of course a VMT was unpopular because it had never been explained, let alone studied.  So shame as well on our Governor and CDOT Commissioner for floating such a concept without explanation.

Critics said it would be “big brother” tracking where we drive, though our cell phones and E-ZPass devices do that now without their complaints.  We even submit to odometer checks every time we get an emissions inspection. Privacy is a myth.

Nobody likes a tax they have to pay. Tax the other guy… the trucker, the out-of-state driver, the real estate transferror… but don’t tax me!  Make them pay for my roads.

Hypocrisy, prejudice, ignorance and denial are feeding inaction in Hartford.  We won’t get tolls without the long-promised “lock box” for transportation funds and we won’t get even that without a referendum on a constitutional amendment before 2018.

Meanwhile our roads deteriorate.  According to the national transportation research group TRIP, 57% of Connecticut roads are in “poor condition” which costs state motorists $2.2 billion annually in extra vehicle repairs and operating costs.

Do our lawmakers think we are chumps, willing to pay for front-end alignments and bent wheel rims while they are unwilling to even study a VMT?

Reposted with permission of Hearst CT Media

June 05, 2017

"Getting There": Ride Along with a State Trooper - Part 2

Last week I started telling you about a recent ride-along with CT State Trooper Shawn Mansfield as he patrolled I-95.  It was a real eye-opener to see the road from his perspective as we answered accident calls and pulled over at least one motorist for talking on his cell-phone.

Trooper Mansfield works five days on and three days off.  He gets to bid for his favorite shift, in his case starting at 5:30 am.  He also gets to drive “his” car home each night as he’s technically always on duty.

Mansfield’s car is an unmarked, super-charged beast that easily hit 80 mph as we zoomed to assignments, its hidden lights flashing and siren wailing.  He told me his favorite patrol is to drive in the middle lane just waiting for unsuspecting speeders to pass him on the left.  The day I rode, he sounded disappointed.  “I can’t believe nobody was trying to blow my doors off,” he chuckled.

Our patrol included visits to the DMV in Norwalk and a stop where we walked through an I-95 Service Area.  “I like to be visible,” he said as travelers and shop keepers nodded his way.

But when we were back on the road, the post-rush hour traffic was moving at the usual 70 mph.  “Aren’t we and most of these vehicles violating the speed limit,” I asked?  I wanted to know what the real speed limit is on our interstates and how Troopers choose whom to ticket.

“I can’t comment on that,” he said, noticing my pen poised to quote him.  But he did offer what seemed a logical and fair answer:  “I’m looking to catch the people whose driving might cause an accident.”

In other words, if you’re going with the flow a bit over the speed limit but using your turn-signals and not hogging the left hand lane, you’re probably OK.  But when you start weaving between lanes or driving much faster than the rest of the vehicles, Mansfield will get you.  At least that’s what I think he was saying.

“We can’t use radar on 95.  There are just too many cars.  But I do have a laser speed-gun which is very accurate,” he said.

But the best way Trooper Mansfield catches motorists is to compare his car’s speedometer (calibrated monthly) as he catches up to an offender.  That’s how your speed is most often clocked.

Going too slow or not staying in-lane is also suspicious, often leading to DUI (driving under the influence) arrests.  The Trooper said he’s seeing more and more DUI’s tied to drug use, not just alcohol.

Once stopped, your car can be searched if the Trooper has probable cause… an aroma of marijuana, for example.   If you refuse a search, they can always call out the canine unit whose olfactory skills are finely tuned.  Last January Mansfield says a highway stop lead to the seizure of 10,000 fentanyl tablets, an opiod 50 times more powerful than morphine.

Ending my “ride along” I was duly impressed with Trooper Mansfield, an earnest young man who takes his job of protecting the public very seriously.  Driving on I-95, I even feel a bit safer knowing he and his colleagues are out there.

Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media


Enjoying the heatwave this summer?  The electric utilities sure are.  And just wait ‘til you get your next bill.   They’ve been warning us...