PIctured from right: Speaking at podium, Mustafa Salahuddin, President of ATU Local 1336 and Connecticut Roundtable on Climate and Jobs board members Maisa Tisdale and John Humphries.

By John Humphries, Connecticut Roundtable on Climate and Jobs

One week before Election Day, Mustafa Salahuddin, President of Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU) Local 1336, spoke at a press conference alongside the Executive Director of Greater Bridgeport Transit, the employer of many of Local 1336’s members. They were joined by the Vice President of the Fairfield County Business Council, local State Representatives, and transit advocates.  And the Carpenters union brought the largest banner. This odd collection of allies and sometime adversaries came together at the instigation of the CT Roundtable on Climate and Jobs to urge voters to support the ballot referendum creating a transportation revenue “lockbox.”

Since 2005, the Connecticut legislature has diverted more than $500 million from the Special Transportation Fund, which was established in 1984, one year after a 100-foot section of the northbound I-95 bridge over the Mianus River collapsed in the middle of the night.

At that time, Connecticut had just twelve engineers responsible for inspecting more than 3400 bridges. Today, more than 300 of the state’s bridges have been graded structurally deficient, and 41% of our state and local roads are rated in “poor condition.”  And last winter, the Governor responded to the projected bankruptcy of the Special Transportation Fund by threatening to suspend some $4 billion worth of construction projects and announced planned fare increases and service cuts for transit operations.

Since transportation is the source of more than 35% of the state’s greenhouse gas emissions, the Roundtable has teamed up with ATU and other allies to advocate for expanding access to transit.

Pictured from left: John Harrity, LNS Board Member and Connecticut Roundtable on Climate and Jobs board members Maisa Tisdale, Guy West, Steve Schrag and John Humphries

Fortunately, a broad coalition of building trades unions, business groups, environmental organizations and transit advocacy groups joined forces in support of a constitutional amendment prohibiting the Special Transportation Fund from being used for any purpose other than transportation. After the legislature passed the measure two years in row, it was placed on the 2018 ballot.

Unlike Californians, residents of Connecticut are not very familiar with ballot measures. The last referendum was on the ballot in 2014. Despite polls showing broad support, that measure (which would have allowed early voting in elections) failed, largely because 15% of the people who voted for governor did not respond to the referendum question. And that “drop-off” rate was closer to 30% in urban areas.

So the critical challenge this fall was to ensure voters – and particularly urban voters – knew about the referendum and understood the importance of voting “Yes.” So ATU locals across the state distributed informational cards to bus riders, and the Roundtable helped enlist the participation of a diverse array of local and statewide groups to participate in the education and advocacy campaign.

At the press conference in Bridgeport, the Roundtable’s board chair John Harrity (who is also a member of the LNS board) spoke of the detrimental climate and health impacts of transportation emissions and the potential job creation from investing in our transportation infrastructure. John concluded with a call-to-action: “In the long run, it just may be that the most important vote we will cast on Election Day – will be on this question. Vote yes and help save the planet!”

And the voters heard the call. The measure passed by an overwhelming majority exceeding 85% of those who responded to the question. Now the Roundtable and its allies will have to work to ensure that the funding is used to expand access to transit.