In November voters across Connecticut's Second District will play a role in choosing a direction for America. Hopefully they will consider the political philosophy of each candidate and vote for those who are committed to the Tenth Amendment, which states, "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people."
The Tenth Amendment is not a quaint relic from a bygone era. It is a key component of the separation of powers doctrine, which is the bedrock of our nation. Over the years the federal government grew gradually larger as new departments, agencies, programs and regulations were put into place, ostensibly to make life better. The result: While Washington is not our enemy, it has too often been our adversary, impeding progress, reaching its tentacles into areas where it should not stray and siphoning ever larger portions of revenue from the family purse.
Eastern Connecticut residents need look no further than Route 11 to see how deeply Washington is embedded into local affairs. That unfinished highway illustrates how federal officials have usurped authority from local and state governments, frustrated the will of the people and successfully thwarted progress for decades. Thanks to government intransigence, Connecticut has been unable to complete an 8.5-mile highway project that has been studied for a longer period of time than it took to send astronauts Neil Armstrong and Edwin Aldrin Jr. to the moon and bring them safely home.
The road that would become Route 11 was first proposed in the 1950s as a way to move traffic between Hartford and New London. The stretch between Colchester and Salem was opened in 1972 and the plan was to raise more money to finish the job. It was around that time that highway construction became a more difficult and expensive undertaking thanks to new government regulations.
When interest in the project peaked in the 1980s, environmental regulators demanded a new study. Local residents and governments touted the need for the highway in order to contain suburban sprawl, alleviate traffic congestion on Route 85 and enhance economic benefits. The project stalled and, in an effort to create movement, state lawmakers formed the Route 11 Greenway Authority Commission to preserve open space along the highway. That was intended to placate environmental regulators, but the Washington bureaucrats would not be mollified.
A 2002 letter to the state from the Army Corps of Engineers warned there was a "strong possibility" that the EPA would kill the project due to environmental concerns. The message to Connecticut was clear: Drop this venture.
As The Day pointed out, then-U.S. Rep. Rob Simmons, R-2nd District, blamed the Boston office of the EPA for the Route 11 imbroglio. He observed that repeated studies had "come up with the same results at the costs of millions of dollars."
Congressman Simmons's effort to gain traction for the project was obstructed at a 2006 meeting where EPA officials said they needed to study the local population of New England cottontails. That review, they said, would have to wait until winter because the rabbit's droppings would be easily visible in the snow.
This is just one example of how Washington has too loud a voice in state and local affairs. Environmental concerns are legitimate but it is irrational to presume Washington officials are the only ones who are committed to responsible land use and clean air and water. Input from the federal government is necessary only if one believes local residents, state lawmakers and governors care nothing about the health of their environment. I suggest the people of Eastern Connecticut care deeply about their communities and do not need to have Washington hover over their shoulders, monitoring every move as they try to complete less than 10 miles of a road.
Last May, The Day reported Gov. Dannel Malloy is working to revive the Route 11 project. Of course more studies are needed despite the fact that, as The Day pointed out, almost $5 million has already been spent since 1997 on Route 11 - "almost all of it on environmental studies."
If by some miracle the road were completed tomorrow it would still stand as an example to Washington obstinacy.
In November it would also be wise to remember our history. The first Congress passed twelve amendments and sent them to the states for consideration. Ten were ratified and they became the Bill of Rights. The people had just won their freedom and did not want to lose it to the new federal government. The Tenth Amendment was intended to restrain the authority Washington might have over the states and the people.
The costly saga of Route 11 is an example of Washington overreach. Only elected officials faithful to the Tenth Amendment will bridle an overactive Washington. If people truly want a smaller and less intrusive government, step number one should be to elect officials who will respect the Constitution.
Joseph Bell was communications director for former Congressman Rob Simmons, a Republican who represented the Second District from 2001-07.