Key Washington Republican Visits Connecticut to Assess Transportation Needs
After touring some of Connecticut’s rails and roads, a national Republican leader agreed Monday to take what he saw back to Washington to help construct a national transportation policy.
U.S. Rep. Bill Shuster, the Pennsylvania Republican who chairs the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, met Monday with Connecticut officials to address the infrastructure needs of the region and to discuss solutions.
“We need to make sure that we can move people and goods in and out and through the Northeast corridor,” Shuster said during a press conference in Union Station in Hartford. “It’s absolutely critical to the rest of the country’s economy.”
The Northeast Corridor is home to 18 percent of the U.S. population and produces 20 percent of the Gross Domestic Product in the country, Shuster said.
Shuster said that federal lawmakers were gathering information across the country to form a national policy regarding the how much federal funding to reserve for the nation’s transportation infrastructure.
“Washington needs to get out of the way” to allow states “to build these projects faster with less money,” Shuster said.
Also included in the discussions were U.S. Rep. John Larson, U.S. Rep. Rosa Delauro, Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra, and state Department of Transportation Deputy Commissioner Anna Barry.
DeLauro, who has long been pushing for a national infrastructure bank to leverage public and private dollars toward local and national infrastructure projects, highlighted what she understood as the cost of inaction.
She cited a report by the American Society of Engineers that pegged Connecticut as a state ridden with structural deficiencies, with 41 percent of the state’s roads in poor condition and nearly 10 percent of bridges rated structurally inadequate. Delauro said this costs Connecticut motorists an average of $661 a year in recovery and related costs.
“In order to get back on track, we need to stop applying Band-Aid after Band-Aid and start thinking creatively of how we fund these kinds of efforts,” DeLauro said, adding that she’d like to see more reliable routes from Bridgeport to Waterbury.
Like DeLauro, Segarra said he believes Connecticut would benefit greatly from a more uniform national policy. He also urged his fellow lawmakers to consider the historical implications of previous transportation projects.
“We need to make sure we do this in a way that doesn’t disadvantage our cities,” Segarra said. They’ve been separated and chopped apart by these older projects, and we’re looking for these new investments to be a way to reconnect our communities and our cities.”
The push for an overarching national policy comes in line with last month’s introduction of a bill that would boost overall spending on U.S. roads and bridges. The six-year bill would provide a 3 percent annual growth rate in funding, equating to more than $250 billion over the next six years, according to a cost estimate.
The bill, known as the “DRIVE” act for Developing a Reliable and Innovative Vision for the Economy, is currently locked in the Senate and its proponents aren’t sure how to foot the cost. The scramble to find funding has occurred within a tightly packed timeframe with a July 31 deadline looming.
If the legislators do not meet the deadline and the funding runs dry, more than half of Connecticut’s federal transportation funding could be cut off.
“Congress needs to focus on coming up with a long-term solution to our infrastructure funding or else we’re going to see our roads, bridges, and rail fall deeper into disrepair, costing Connecticut families time and money they can’t afford to lose,” U.S. Rep. James Himes said during another press conference in Stamford today.
Rep. Himes, together with Sen. Christopher Murphy, also dedicated their morning Monday to advocating for a national transportation funding bill. Gov. Dannel P Malloy, state Rep. Tony Guerrera, and East Hartford Mayor Marcia Leclerc all joined Shuster, Larson, and Barry in their morning discussion of Connecticut’s transportation infrastructure challenges.
Another bill currently in the works is the Passenger Rail Reform and Investment Act of 2015, which would fund Amtrak through 2019 and also direct Amtrak to “establish internal controls to ensure its costs and revenues are allocated to either the Northeast Corridor or the National Network,” and:
• to also establish a “fund account for Northeast Corridor capital improvement projects”;
• to develop an annual capital investment plan for the Northeast Corridor line between Boston, Washington, and the branch lines connecting to Harrisburg, Pa., Springfield, Mass., and Spuyten Duyvil, New York.
The bill, which was proposed by Shuster, would keep funding levels stagnant. It passed the House in March.