HARTFORD - Connecticut’s two U.S. senators say the federal transportation bill approved last week is a stopgap measure that underscores the deep divisions in Congress.
While current funding levels will continue to flow into the state for highway and rail work during the summer construction season, the $8 billion deal will expire at the end of October, setting up Washington for more highly partisan negotiations in the fall, with competing bills in the House and Senate forcing an eventual compromise.
“Our mission is to get a highway bill out of the Senate that supports Connecticut priorities,” said Sen. Chris Murphy. “At the top of our priorities is adequate funding for rail and rail-safety improvements.”
He called the partial, three-month reauthorization, with related legislation in the House, “just another revenue patch” at a time when steady, long-term funding sources are sorely needed.
“It cobbled together a series of one-time revenue sources that would get us through a handful of years but then we’d be right back in the same situation we were,” Murphy said of the overall bill that was shelved in the Senate prior to the short-term agreement. He wants a newly configured federal gasoline tax to generate a sure source of revenue.
Connecticut receives about half a billion dollars a year in federal funding.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who appeared with Murphy in an unrelated news conference in the Capitol on Monday, noted that while he and Murphy disagree on exact long-term revenue sources for transportation, their goals are the same.
“The three-month extension was shamefully and disgracefully inadequate in funding,” Blumenthal said, adding that the so-called positive train control receives only $200 million per year, while he has called for $570 million.
Had such a system been in effect, it might have prevented the May 2013 crash in Bridgeport that injured 76 people; the December, 2013 Metro-North derailment in the Bronx that killed four; as well as this year’s fatal derailment outside Philadelphia.
“On rail issues, there is simply inadequate funding or the busiest rail corridor in the United States, which is ours in the Northeast,” Blumenthal said.
Blumenthal warned that in the proposed three-year legislation that is expected to be debated by Congress in the fall, 18-year-olds would be allowed to drive “mammoth” trucks without adequate experience.” He called it a “step back” in truck safety.
Blumenthal supports a bipartisan infrastructure bank, a public financing authority and a mechanism to “repatriate” some overseas profits that have been kept offshore by major corporations.
“The three-month extension will at least assure that people will continue working on the projects that are ongoing right now,” Blumenthal said. “It is inadequate and fails to provide the certainty and stability that we need for new projects to start and employment and economic growth. I am hopeful that there can be some kind of bipartisan cooperation to make sure that we fulfill the obligation and the opportunity that we have to put people back to work.”