Hartford Courant on 25 May 2003

Bypass to Casino a Bad Idea

by Jeff Benedict

Bypass to Casino a Bad Idea

The Connecticut Department of Transportation wants to build a bypass from the Route 2A bridge over the Thames River to Foxwoods Casino. The $95 million question is why? That's how much DOT estimates it will cost to build what amounts to a four-lane driveway for the Mashantucket Pequot tribe. DOT has asked Congress to appropriate $76 million toward this project, with the state chipping in the rest. 

The DOT's priorities are upside down. Just five months ago, the Connecticut Transportation Strategy Board presented Gov. John G. Rowland and the legislature with a plan calling for a $5.5 billion investment to upgrade and improve Connecticut's road, rail, air and water transportation systems over the next 10 years. The report warned that failing to invest now will ``seriously jeopardize'' the state's economic future and force us to spend far more later, when transportation expenditures are made on a ``crisis-driven basis.'' 

Nonetheless, the governor's budget plan calls for a modest $14 million to fund TSB projects next year, most of which is planned for upgrading parking facilities at railroad stations in Bridgeport and New Haven. This paltry sum partly reflects the state's fiscal crisis. Asking Congress for a special appropriation of highway funds in tough economic times is understandable. But not if the money is going to enrich a casino by making access quicker and easier. 

Gov. Rowland's office has said that the main reason for the bypass proposal is to relieve traffic congestion. The main reason for the traffic congestion is Foxwoods. Expanding the highway to the casino will not relieve traffic. It will invite more. 

But even if a bypass would relieve traffic around Foxwoods, is that more important than congestion relief on I-95 between Bridgeport and Greenwich? That corridor is the major access route to the backbone of Connecticut's industry and business base, as well as the most heavily traveled commuter route in the state. The TSB has identified improving safety and traffic flow through Fairfield County as a top priority. 

Other priorities include enhancing the ability to move people and freight in and around Fairfield County by water and rail; and upgrading Bradley International Airport. With so little money to go around, any that can be obtained should be put toward funding these crucial initiatives, all of which were the result of public hearings and the input of experts from across the state. 

Conversely, the DOT request to Congress for $76 million -- roughly five times more than the governor is proposing for TSB projects -- goes against the recommendation of regional planning agencies and municipal officials, as well as undermines the purpose of the TSB. After more than two years of study and consultation, local and state officials recommended widening Route 2, intersection realignments and other modifications to improve traffic flow and increase safety. The bypass proposal was rejected. Residents of Preston, the town most directly impacted, went as far as passing a referendum outlawing the bypass idea. 

Nor has the DOT produced an Environmental Impact Statement to accompany this proposal. 

Connecticut legislators have been kept in the dark too. 

Sen. William Nickerson (R-Greenwich), a member of the Transportation Committee and a ranking member of the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, learned about this federal funding request when he read about it in The Courant last week. This prompted him to ask DOT Commissioner James Byrnes: ``Is this true?'' 

The Mashantucket Pequot Tribe also claims it was unaware of the request for federal funding. C'mon. If the casino doesn't want this road built, who does? 

So far the Connecticut congressional delegation has been silent on this issue. The delegation should openly oppose it. This is a bad budget request in bad fiscal times. 

And the DOT should rescind its application for the bypass funds, which amount to a subsidy for a casino sitting on sovereign land and operated by a sovereign government. 

Otherwise, the people of Connecticut will wonder why the traffic-jammed roads they drive on are less important than the one that gamblers use.

Jeff Benedict is the bestselling author of sixteen non-fiction books, as well as a television and film producer. His latest book, The Dynasty, is the definitive inside story of the New England Patriots under Robert Kraft, Bill Belichick and Tom Brady, each of whom cooperated for the book. Published in 2020, it was an instant New York Times bestseller. The book is being developed into a 10-part documentary series, which Jeff is executive producing. In 2018, Jeff co-wrote the #1 bestseller Tiger Woods and he was an executive producer on the HBO documentary “Tiger” that was based on the book and aired in 2021. The book is currently being developed into a scripted series, which Jeff is executive producing. Jeff is also the executive producer on a documentary based on his book Poisoned that will air on Netflix. In 2017, he co-produced “Little Pink House,” a feature film starring Catherine Keener and Jeanne Tripplehorn that was based on Jeff’s book of the same title. And in 2016, Jeff co-wrote with Hall of Fame quarterback Steve Young his bestselling autobiography QB, which was the basis of an NFL Films documentary. Jeff has been a special-features writer for Sports Illustrated, the Los Angeles Times, and the Hartford Courant, and his essays have appeared in the New York Times. His stories have been the basis of segments on 60 Minutes, CBS Sunday Morning, HBO Real Sports, Discovery Channel, Good Morning America, 20/20, 48 Hours, NFL Network, and NPR.

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