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April 2, 2020

CT maintains funds for transportation, port development, amidst pandemic

Photo | Contributed The Port Authority oversees the State Pier in New London.

State government will put its credit card to work next week for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic hit Connecticut.

And while the State Bond Commission will consider $5 million for emergency supplies for state and municipal public health agencies, most of the $1 billion in new financing is aimed at transportation infrastructure, economic development and long overdue municipal aid.

The meeting of the 10-member panel, which is chaired by Gov. Ned Lamont, will meet next Wednesday via teleconference at 1 p.m. The proceeding also will be aired and streamed on The Connecticut Network, the state’s public access cable channel.

“Even during this unprecedented pandemic, state government and its operations must continue to operate, and the state has an obligation to ensure proper investments are being made, and the timing could not be more crucial,” Chris McClure, spokesman for the governor’s budget office, said Wednesday. 

Transportation work continues amidst COVID-19 shutdowns
Connecticut’s construction industry has continued a large portion of its work since the pandemic began, and most financing on the agenda — just over $700 million — is aimed at the state’s aging highways, bridges and rail lines.

Among the projects earmarked for funding are:

  • Widening of Interstate 84 in southwestern Connecticut between exits 3 and 8;
  • Continued improvements to the “Mixmaster” interchange of I-84 and Route 8;
  • And the purchase of 72 new rail cars for the Shoreline East line.

State Treasurer Shawn Wooden’s office said Wednesday that the treasury still tentatively plans to issue transportation bonds later this month on Wall Street.

The commission agenda also includes $30 million to support ongoing efforts to transform the port of New London into the green energy capital of the Northeast.

Lamont announced on Feb. 11 that the authority had reached a deal with Eversource and its Denmark-based partner, Ørsted North America, to develop an offshore wind turbine farm expected to create 400 jobs and generate as much as 4,000 megawatt hours of electricity. Part of that initiative includes redesigning State Pier and the surrounding area in New London into a heavy-lift capable port that can accommodate wind generation equipment and other related cargo.

State officials also announced a deal earlier this week between Connecticut’s port authority and New England Central Railroad. The NECR has leased a five-acre parcel to the authority to accommodate the delivery of wind turbine components to the port.

Municipalities get long overdue state aid — but not all

The bond commission also is expected to release more than $106 million in grants to cities and towns — some of which is nine months overdue.

The agenda includes the first $30 million installment of this fiscal year’s $60 million Town Aid Road grant.

The funds, which help communities pay for road repairs, tree-clearing and snow removal, normally is delivered in two installments: half in July and half in January.

The governor’s budget office controls the bond commission agenda and it was unclear Wednesday when the second half of TAR funds would be released.

This grant, along with other aid financed with bonding, was held up since last summer as Lamont battled with legislators over whether to adopt highway tolls.

The governor, who first asked for tolls on all vehicles and then shifted to large trucks only, had insisted he wouldn’t support a new two-year bond plan until the tolls issued was settled. But Lamont relented in February, conceding legislators would not order tolls. The governor and General Assembly finally agreed on a new two-year bond package on March 11. 

Next week’s commission agenda does include the full $76 million pledged to towns this fiscal year through an omnibus public works grant. 

Funding for a third bonded grant, $30 million for the Local Capital Improvement Program, is not on the agenda. 

But communities apply for — and receive — LoCIP funds on a project-by-project basis. And according to Lamont’s budget office, there are sufficient resources within the LoCIP program to cover approved grant applications right now.

Other items on next week’s bond commission agenda include:

  • $37.5 million for various state agencies for information technology improvements;
  • $31 million for clean drinking water projects.

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