DALLAS -- A House Democrat from Connecticut wants to use federal funds to construct a proposed $10 billion system of interstate highway tunnels in Hartford, Conn., that the state highway department deemed too expensive.
Rep. John B. Larson, who is seeking his 10th term in Congress, said at a campaign stop on Monday that federal funds and a low-interest loan from a proposed federal infrastructure bank could complement revenue from tunnel tolls, bond proceeds, and a higher state gasoline tax to finance the removal of traffic bottlenecks on I-84 and I-91.
The tunnels would prompt development along the Connecticut River by providing more access to land blocked by the elevated highways, Larson said.
The time to act is now, he said.
"Without vision, there is no victory,'' Larson told The Hartford Courant. "Financing is at an all-time low with interest rates. This is a 100-year vision for the region when bond interest rates are low and gas prices are low.''
Larson's proposal would require approval by the General Assembly of the tolls and possibly a higher state gasoline tax.
The congressman said he outlined his funding proposal to Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., chairman of the House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee, last month during a visit by Shuster to Hartford.
State Rep. Tony Guerrera, a Democrat who co-chairs the state transportation committee, met with Larson and Shuster on the tunnel plan.
"It would cost a lot of money. But 15 or 20 years from now, we might say: 'Why didn't we do that?' " Guerrera said.
Matthew Corey, Larson's Republican opponent for the House seat, said he first brought up the possibility of federal funding for the tunnel proposal when he ran against Larson four years ago.
"I love it that he jumps on board during election season," Corey said. "How come he wasn't working on this 18 years ago?''
The long-discussed proposal includes an east-west highway tunnel on I-84 beneath Hartford and a shorter riverside tunnel that would stretch north-south to carry I-91 traffic.
The Connecticut Department of Transportation said in June that the tunnel proposal's price tag of up to $12 billion puts it out of reach. Instead, the state planners want to replace the aging I-84 elevated highway with a slightly sunken highway expected to cost $4.3 billion to $5.3 billion.
"The tunnel has a lot of challenges," said project manager Rich Armstrong. "We had been looking at $8 billion to $10 billion for the tunnel. But to build right under the highway makes that more in the $10 billion to $12 billion range."
Rebuilding the highways in Hartford to eliminate elevated sections of the I-84 viaduct would free up at least 45 acres of city land for redevelopment, Armstrong said.
Construction on I-84 began in 1959 and was completed in 1969. The highway was designed to accommodate 50,000 cars per day, but now carries up to 175,000 vehicles on weekdays.
Installing decks to roof the proposed sunken highway could provide space for parks and new buildings, said state transportation commissioner James Redeker.
"Rebuilding a city, rebuilding a rail line, and rebuilding an interstate highway as one project is a pretty phenomenal opportunity," Redeker said in September.
Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy said last year that replacing the existing freeways would save motorists an estimated $9 billion over the next 20 years with faster trips, fewer accidents, and less wear and tear on their vehicles.
"The cost of inaction far outweighs the cost of action," Malloy said at a news conference beneath the elevated highway. "Making a down payment will generate billions in economic activity and grow thousands of jobs."