Tunnel Vision Is A Good One
As far as big ideas go, U.S. Rep. John Larson's plan to move I-84 and I-91 under Hartford is big indeed. In terms of impact on the state, it would rank with luring Amazon to the Land of Steady Habits.
Mr. Larson's plan comes with an equally big price tag (rough estimate of $10 billion). But even considering the cost, it's a banner idea that would go a long way toward solving many of Greater Hartford's endemic problems and would open Hartford to a world of possibilities.
Mr. Larson, D-1st District, is convinced that his tunnel vision is no pipe dream. And he may be right, if the plan has the support of key members of Congress. Rep. Bill Shuster, R-Pa., chair of the House Transportation Committee, supports the concept, Mr. Larson said recently.
The nation's infrastructure needs are profound. President Trump has said he intends to offer a sweeping plan, and in January, the administration compiled a list of 50 critical infrastructure projects. None of them was in Connecticut.
But Mr. Larson mentioned the plan to President Trump on Tuesday. "The president agreed there would be a robust infrastructure package as he has long said that the nation's infrastructure is a priority for his office," Mr. Larson said. Whether the tunnel plan will be part of it is an open question, but Mr. Larson is right to push for it.
The question is where the money comes from, and Connecticut is in no position to foot the bill. Mr. Larson has proposed a carbon tax to pay for the nation's infrastructure needs, a tax that he says would eventually generate more than $1 trillion.
A carbon tax has at least the conceptual support of U.S. Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson, National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn and others, Mr. Larson has said. It's a fair way to pay for infrastructure across the country, and it's a good starting point for discussions.
But would the benefits to Greater Hartford be worth decades of construction, inevitable cost overruns and untold inconveniences? Yes, if burying the highways would solve critical civil and social problems while clearing the way to a new and better future for the city.
The levees built in the 1930s along the Connecticut River are in need of repairs and updates, and Mr. Larson says those problems could be solved at the same time that the highways are moved underground.
The city of Hartford is bifurcated by I-84 and separated from the river by I-91. Removing them would reunite neighborhoods and reveal untold opportunities for development and growth — within the city and along the riverbank.
Construction could progress with minimal above-ground interruptions. It would mean thousands and thousands of jobs for many years.
Even if it doesn't come to fruition as imagined, Mr. Larson's plan should absolutely be pursued. The cost is the only downside, and the nation needs to ask where its priorities lie.
The hurricane trifecta of Harvey, Irma and Maria has pointed to key weaknesses in the country's infrastructure. An outsized investment in highways, bridges, rail and more would be a patriotic commitment to the future of the United States. Mr. Larson has said the United States spends 1.4 percent of its GDP on infrastructure, where China spends 8.7 percent. Can the United States afford more? Doing so would have consequences for every American, but ignoring these needs or pushing them off onto the shoulders of future generations will weaken the nation now and make it more expensive in the long run.
Mr. Larson's plan is a good one, despite the cost, and it should be part of a wider commitment to upgrading the nation's infrastructure.
Big thinking like this is in short supply. By taking a step back and looking at the region's long-term needs, Mr. Larson has come up with a big solution to serious problems. Other politicians should be so bold.