HARTFORD — U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy and Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin warned Monday that much of President Biden’s proposed infrastructure spending could be eaten up by long-overdue maintenance of Connecticut’s aging roads, bridges and railroads.
“We’ve got to find a way to make sure this investment doesn’t just fix what’s broken but actually changes the experience for consumers of transportation, that it makes transit times shorter and easier and we’ve got to focus on all means of transit,” Murphy said. He visited Hartford to discuss how national transit funding may help transform the capital region, and hear from locals equally concerned with the dangers pedestrians face in the city today.
At Hartford city hall, Murphy, Bronin and representatives of the Department of Transportation, Connecticut Airport Authority and several community groups shared what ongoing efforts they hope will get a boost from President Joe Biden’s proposed $2 trillion jobs, infrastructure and climate spending plan, which includes $115 billion for roads and bridges, $85 billion for transit and $20 billion to reduce traffic deaths.
Murphy said that proposed package could help realize some of Connecticut’s biggest transportation priorities, such as replacing the I-84/I-91 and “mix-master” highway interchanges in Hartford and East Hartford.
The state is beginning a multi-year study of that two-mile section of highway and expects to develop a list of recommended projects by the end of next year.
“I hope as congress now takes its turn and considers this package, there is strong consideration given to the opportunity to make transformative investments to transit,” Bronin said.
The senator called the development of those interchanges — which segregated Hartford’s North End from the downtown and stunted the growth of East Hartford — “one the biggest equity mistakes that has ever been perpetuated on our region.”
Meanwhile, local advocates for public and multi-modal transportation say they don’t want major, long-term projects to overshadow Hartford’s urgent needs, such as a rise in pedestrian deaths.
Last year was exceptionally deadly, despite the pandemic taking many cars off the roads. According to a preliminary count by the state DOT, 65 pedestrians died on Connecticut roads in 2020, six more than in 2019.
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Groups like the Center for Latino Progress and Connecticut Association for Community Transportation want to see more “Complete Streets” projects that make existing roads safer and more inviting for pedestrians, cyclists and bus-riders of all ages and disabilities.
Sahar Amjad of Transport Hartford Academy, a Center for Latino Progress program that engages residents around transportation, said requests for small-scale fixes like bike routes and sidewalks get overshadowed by “flashy” projects like the interchange.
U.S. Rep. John Larson has said that could cost $10 billion over multiple years.
“Those big investments must not distract us from the emergency of investments we need to protect a cyclist and a pedestrian in Hartford and the rest of the state,” said Thomas Regan-Lefebvre, also of Transport Hartford Academy.
Murphy didn’t give details about how infrastructure spending could look in Connecticut.
Nationally, the $2 trillion package proposes spending more than $100 billion for improving sewers and replacing lead water pipes, $100 billion for high-speed computer broadband, $100 billion for public schools, and $100 billion for improving the electric grid.