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State Puts Up $250 Million To Upgrade Roads, Rails

Malloy: New M-8 Trains Could Run By St. Patrick's Day

Don Stacom

February 25, 2011

Pushing his plan to invest heavily in transportation, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy won approval Thursday to plow more than $250 million into improving Connecticut's rail and highway systems, including buying 38 new rail cars for Metro-North.

Malloy said Thursday that the first of the long-delayed M-8 trains for Metro-North should be running in the next few weeks, and that he'll decide by the end of March whether to build the controversial New Britain busway.

In the first bond commission meeting of his administration, Malloy received authority to borrow for five big-ticket transportation projects that he said would create or save 3,250 jobs in the state's recession-bruised construction industry. He has also said they'll help relieve the traffic congestion that's stifling business growth.

When asked about new funding for highways and transit, the governor replied, "If you're asking if I'm transportation-centric, yes I am."

The bond commission quietly approved buying 38 more M-8 cars for Metro-North at a cost of $82 million, building a major repair shop at the New Haven railyard, repaving stretches of six highways and preparing train stations along the coast for upgraded ShoreLine East service.

Big-ticket highway and transit initiatives have become a political battlefield in several states since the anti-spending wave that swept the November elections, but on Thursday Republicans joined Democrats in passing Malloy's wish list.

Also approved was $5 million in planning grants for transit-oriented development in communities along three major transportation corridors: the New Haven-Springfield rail line, the ShoreLine East route and Metro-North's main New Haven line.

In what might be a signal about Malloy's plans, the measure also makes the money available to towns on the path of the proposed New Britain to Hartford busway. The $567 million bus-only highway has become a political quagmire in recent years. New Britain and Hartford insist it's vital to their economic development, while Newington opposes it and many Bristol leaders dismiss it as a horribly overpriced white elephant.

The state DOT wants to seek construction bids in March, but needs Malloy's go-ahead. Asked Thursday when he'll decide, he replied, "Within a month."

Malloy also predicted that Metro-North will have the first of the M-8 passenger cars running on the New Haven line soon, perhaps by St. Patrick's Day.

Transportation Commissioner Jeffrey Parker went further, telling the bond commission, "We're very close to getting the first six cars ready to prepare for service, quite possibly in the next week."

Metro-North plans to phase in the M-8s over the next three years to replace its failing fleet of 30- and 40-year-old trains. Connecticut has ordered 342 of the cars and is putting the first six through extensive mechanical tests.

Malfunctions have delayed the M-8s' introduction for months. Some legislators last fall questioned why the state would buy another 38 before ensuring that the first ones work, and then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell couldn't get approval to buy them. But when Malloy put forward the same request, he got a unanimous "yes" vote including support from Sen. Eileen Daily,D-Westbrook, who voted "no" on Rell's request.

About $19 million will be spent repaving sections of Route 63 in Canaan, Route 101 in Killingly, Route 89 in Mansfield, Route 10 in Simsbury, Route 6 in Southbury and Woodbury, Route 15 in Wethersfield and stretches of I-84 and I-91.

Roughly $60 million will go to add parking or build new platforms to accommodate M-8s at the Westbrook, Brandford, Guilford and Old Saybrook train stations.

"These projects are vital to commuter rail on the shoreline," said Rep. Patricia Widlitz, D-Branford, who serves on the bond commission.

When questioned about a large bonding initiative in a tough budget year, Malloy said infrastructure investments justify borrowing. Connecticut's deep debt load comes from raiding the bond fund to balance the annual budget, he said.

"We need to spend capital dollars," Malloy said. "That's why we have to stop borrowing money for operating expenses."

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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