Connecticut gets $3.5 billion for roads and rails

By:  Frank Juliano
CT Post

Buried deep in a five-year, $305 billion federal transportation bill passed by Congress are some early Christmas presents for Connecticut.

The FAST Act will provide $3.5 billion for Connecticut’s roads and rails over the next five years.

U.S. Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy, both Democrats, called the Fixing America’s Surface Transportation Act “a big win” for the state that will dramatically increase the amount of American-made products and materials required for mass transportation projects, especially rail.

“It just makes sense that if we’re going to spend $300 billion over the next five years, that the money goes to American-made products,” Murphy said at a news conference in New Haven on Friday.

That will go a long way toward funding Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s “Let’s Go CT” transportation plan, which also spans the next five years and calls for $2.8 billion, in addition to the baseline budget of $3.8 billion for the state Depar tment of Transportation during that same period.

“The increase in funding is welcome news,” DOT spokesman Judd Everhart said. “Potential reductions to high-density bus funding were averted, which is also very good news for Connecticut. Most importantly, a five-year bill provides a basis for planning and advancing projects which has been absent for the program for the last several years.”

$305 billion — The amount Congress approved to upgrade and maintain the nation’s highways and railroads over five years.

$3.5 billion — Connecticut’s portion for roads and rails over that period.

$ 2.8 billion — The amount Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s “Let’s Go CT’’ transportation plan calls for over five years, in addition to the baseline budget of $3.8 billion for the state DOT.

Among the projects included in the state’s five-year transportation plan are the expansion of the I-95 and I-84 corridors, expansion of travel lanes on those interstates and track and infrastructure improvements on the Metro-North and Shore Line East rail lines.

There are significant improvements to consumer protection and auto safety provisions, Blumenthal said, but the final bill does not contain all that he wanted. The criminal sanctions he proposed for automakers who willfully or negligently fail to disclose safety issues with their vehicles did not pass, but fines automakers face for concealing defects were significantly increased.

The FAST bill, which passed the House and Senate late Thursday, does contain a provision that Blumenthal sought that bars rental agencies from putting autos with safety recall notices on the road. But similar protection for buyers of used vehicles did not make the final bill.

Murphy, who serves on a Senate Appropriations subcommittee overseeing transportation, said FAST is the first multi-year transportation funding bill in a decade, and will provide more jobs in the state.

Among the beneficiaries, the senator noted, are Connecticut’s dairy farmers. Milk trucks heading to distribution facilities in nearby states now often have to offload to avoid exceeding truck weight limits.

A provision that was in the House bill and was carried over to the final measure that is being forwarded to President Barack Obama for his signature classifies milk as a “non-divisible load,’’ allowing special permits for bulk milk deliveries across state lines.

The bill also reauthorizes the U.S. Export-Import Bank, which Murphy and Blumenthal said has been a lifeline to Connecticut manufacturers and will boost economic development and jobs creation throughout the state.

The federal transportation bill also increases funding for Amtrak, which leases some tracks and owns others in the state, but opens perhaps the slightest crack for the national carrier to face private competition.

Everhart, of the state DOT, said that requests for proposals were sought for carriers to operate the planned New Haven to Springfield train service over tracks owned by Amtrak, “and we got a number of responses.

No decision on that yet.’’