‘Infrastructure Week’ is here: State preparing massive plan for projects

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Gov. Ned Lamont and Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz confirm they registered candidate committees for the upcoming 2022 gubernatorial election and plan to run as a team for a second four-year term. Paul Hughes Republican-American

 

HARTFORD — U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-5th District, summed up the next job for Democrats after finally passing a $1.2 trillion infrastructure package — making sure people in Connecticut know what they are going to get out of the massive federal spending bill.

Hayes and other members of the state’s all-Democratic congressional delegations were all smiles Monday morning ahead of a news conference on the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act at Union Station in Hartford.

At long last, Infrastructure Week had finally arrived, going from a long-running political joke to a political reality following final passage of the bipartisan infrastructure bill in the U.S. House over the weekend.

“In 2018, that was supposed to be our No. 1 issue infrastructure. It was the one thing everyone could agree upon, and we didn’t get it done,” Hayes said on the platform of Union Station. “But on Friday, actually Saturday morning, we got this done. We passed this infrastructure bill that people are describing as transformational because it is. There are so many things to talk about in the bill.”

Later, Hayes returned to that final point making sure everyday people know what the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act means for them and their families.

“That is why we are here today. That is what we are going to do: Get out and make sure people understand and appreciate how significant this is,” she said.

U.S. Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-5th District, speaks in April during a roundtable discussion at John Barry Elementary School in Meriden. Hayes lent her support to a $10.7 million initiative to help 15 school districts address student absenteeism and disengagement due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Paul Hughes, Republican-American

THE SELLING JOB CONTINUED when Hayes joined Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont later Monday afternoon at the Ansonia Train Station to mark the coming completion of improvements to the Waterbury branch line of the Metro-North Railroad.

The state is wrapping up a $116 million upgrade including signalization and passing sidings that will allow the single-track railroad that will allow trains to pass in both directions. The focus Monday was $1.2 million in state funding to increase number of daily trains from 15 to 22 starting in mid-2022, and to increase the number of daily trains from 12 to 15 on weekends.

Lamont imagined the additional upgrades that could be made to the 27.7-mile commuter rail line that runs between Waterbury and Milford using some of the nearly $5.4 billion in dedicated funding coming to Connecticut, plus billions more in competitive grants that will also be available.

“Look, you just saw the train go by,” he said, “and less than a year from now we’re going to have two-way service, and those cars going back and forth, those trains will be much more frequent than they are today.”

He envisioned train station platforms being upgraded so train riders seamlessly board trains without having to step up, and new passenger cars with air conditioning and 5G services, and new locomotives, too.

Lamont said a revamped Waterbury line will spur economic and housing development up and down the Naugatuck Valley.

“You’re not going to recognize what you see here in the next 10 years,” he said.

THE STATE GOVERNMENT IS PREPARING a list of transportation and other infrastructure projects to be financed with this massive influx of federal funding.

”We’ve been thinking about this for a long time,” Lamont said.

The state Department of Transportation earlier this year released a 5-year capital plan that programmed $9 billion in state and federal spending through the 2025 fiscal year.

The DOT is looking to use the potential new federal funds to expedite some of these previously planned projects, and also to push up the schedule for other projects included in the state’s long-term transportation, said Mark Rolfe, deputy transportation commissioner.

“We’ve been planning for this for months,” he said.

Representatives of the construction industry and trade unions are also eagerly awaiting the additional state and federal spending.

Omer Jalaludin, an engineer at United Avionics, left, stands beside U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., over a molding press in 2019 during a tour of the factory in Naugatuck. Republican American

“Five billion dollars means a decade of work for decades of waiting,” said Keith Brothers, president of the Connecticut State Building Trades Council.

The nearly $5.4 billion in dedicated funding represents a $1.63 billion increase over the most recent transportationtion bill enacted in 2015.

“This is what we’ve been looking for for two decades,” said Don Shubert, president of the Connecticut Construction Industries Association. “Our industry, of course, we were hit hardest by the Great Recession. We haven’t recovered. This is a giant step forward for us.”

He said the five years of guaranteed federal funding is providing the construction industry a level of certainty that it has been lacking for years.

He said the construction companies are looking to state transportation officials to get shovel-ready projects in the funding pipeline.

“Our big concern right now is DOT and how quickly they can actually turn this into projects,” Shubert said.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., predicted the federal government under President Joe Biden will not be a holdup.

“Nobody is more impatient, I can tell you, than Joe Biden to get this money out there into roads, and bridges and rail,” he said.