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Buoyed by federal funding, Connecticut makes big investments in transportation and climate projects

WNPR's Patrick Skahill talks to bridge tender Mike Dorsey on the Grand Avenue Swing Bridge in New Haven. Stormwater infrastructure upgrades and revitalizing highways, bridges, and train stations are planned with this bond money.
Ryan Caron King
/
Connecticut Public Radio
Bond money is being made available for upgrades to highways, train stations and bridges.

Connecticut will borrow almost $1 billion to pay for economic development and revitalization around the state.

The state bond commission on Tuesday approved nearly $840 million to fund transportation system upgrades, including highways, bridges and train stations. It also approved $124 million for downtown redevelopment projects, job creating grants and minority business loan programs.

Governor Ned Lamont said these upgrades are long overdue.

“Not only is there workforce development there, but probably more of an emphasis on smaller businesses,” Lamont said. “A little less about the big dollar for the big businesses, emphasis in particular upon women and minority owned businesses and startups and small business and going forward. And a big commitment to affordable housing. That is an economic development as well as an equity incentive.”

He said he expected the money borrowed will be financed by the federal infrastructure spending approved last month.

“A fair amount of dough under deep energy and environment and transportation, which makes up about 60% of this agenda,” Lamont said. “And that's not only continuing other investments, but also planning for the infrastructure money coming out of Washington, D.C., and making sure that we've got the design and engineering that we need there. So we'll be ready to go.”

“These transportation priorities are an important down payment on Connecticut’s infrastructure future,” Transportation Commissioner Joseph Giulietti said in a statement. “The federal infrastructure bill is a game-changer, and the governor is making sure the cards are stacked in Connecticut’s favor.”

Lamont said he would have preferred a slate of projects that target climate resiliency be paid for through carbon pricing instead of borrowing. This revenue would have come from the Transportation and Climate Initiative, but it failed to get approved by the Connecticut Legislature this year.

Last month, Lamont announced a slate of climate resiliency programs without going through the Legislature. He said a “carefully orchestrated" campaign by fossil fuel lobbyists derailed state lawmakers' approval of the regional climate initiative.

A study found that most of Connecticut’s climate-related bills die in legislative committees because of energy industry lobbyists who outspend environmental organizations.

He said these climate resiliency projects are more important now because of frequent violent storms and sea level rise due to climate change.

Stormwater infrastructure upgrades and revitalizing highways, bridges, and train stations are planned with this money. The state also wants to replace aging diesel trains and electrify public buses.

The state investment runs counter to Lamont’s goal since he was elected governor of Connecticut in 2018 to put the state on a “debt diet.” He wanted to reduce long-term debt service payments, but buoyed by federal coronavirus and infrastructure funding the state has taken on long-sought investments.

“The state's in a pretty good financial position. We're looking at our third year in a row surplus. Markets are getting a little dodgy out there,” Lamont said. “But thankfully, we got our [over $3 billion] rainy day fund fully funded.”

More key approvals

  • $280 million to purchase dual-power locomotives to replace aging diesel trains and enable electric train service where overhead wire is available and enable new express train service to New York City.
  • $30 million representing the first of two annual payments for municipalities to maintain local roads.
  • $35 million to build the new Enfield train station, and $12 million to renovate the Derby-Shelton train station.
  • $61 million to reconfigure the interchanges of I-91, I-691 and Route 15 in Meriden to reduce congestion and improve safety associated with crashes in this segment of highway.
  • $12 million for an additional round of grant awards to local projects that improve roadway safety and access for pedestrians and bicyclists through the state’s Community Connectivity and Alternative Mobility Program.
  • $2.5 million to match $10 million in federal funds for purchasing battery electric buses for CTtransit to replace their existing diesel vehicles.
  • $25 million will be invested into the Connecticut Communities Challenge Grant Program. Launched in October, this program funds projects that improve the livability of communities throughout Connecticut. The state will announce the first round of awards by mid-2022. It is the state agency’s goal to allocate up to 50% of the funds to eligible and competitive projects in “distressed municipalities.”
  • $21 million will be invested into the Small Business Express Program, which provides financial assistance to Connecticut’s growing small businesses. 
  • $5 million will be invested for the Connecticut Office of Workforce Strategy’s CareerConneCT program that will be used to enhance and expand workforce training programs across the state and provide direct support for new workforce initiatives focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion.
  • $4 million will be invested into the state’s minority business loan program.
  • $10 million will be granted to the city of Bridgeport for redevelopment and remediation of the former Remington Arms Facility.
  • $2 million will be granted to the city of New Haven to help with the construction of tunnels, driveways and city sidewalk improvements related to the development of an office building at 101 College Street.

Copyright 2021 WSHU. To see more, visit WSHU.

A native Long Islander, J.D. is WSHU's afternoon news editor. Formally WAMC’s Berkshire bureau chief, he has reported for public radio stations, including bylines with WSHU, WNYC, WBUR, WNPR and NPR. J.D. has reported on healthcare and small businesses for "Long Island Business News" and real estate and land-use for The Press News Group newspapers. He also hosted, produced and engineered award-winning programs at WUSB Stony Brook. An avid fencer in his free time, J.D. holds a B.A. in journalism and sociology from Stony Brook University and an M.S. in communications from the Newhouse School at Syracuse University.