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Federal Transportation Grants Likely In Fall, Connecticut Officials Say


February 23, 2010

HARTFORD - Stung by Connecticut's embarrassing shutout in the competition for $1.5 billion in federal transportation grants, the state's congressional delegation Tuesday pressed Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to make it up when he hands out the next round of money in October.

LaHood reportedly stopped short of a guarantee, but his response prompted several House members and Sen. Christopher Dodd to predict that Connecticut will fare well in the fall.

"The secretary admitted his department had made some errors, that a number of our projects had made the standards for funding. Those errors will be corrected in the round of funding that's paid in October," Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, said after the half-hour meeting in Washington.

"This was very productive," Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, said. "We feel very confident that things will get done in the second round [of funding]."

Last week, LaHood's agency divided $1.5 billion in transportation recovery funds among 41 states planning highway, bridge, train, streetcar and other related projects. Political leaders in Connecticut were stunned at being left out: The state has severe traffic congestion and an aging infrastructure; Dodd and Larson are both influential advocates of mass transit; and Dodd was a prominent force in establishing the transportation stimulus program, known by the acronym TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery).

As soon as Connecticut received a rejection notice for its applications seeking $630 million to aid 23 projects, the delegation came under pressure to find out what had gone wrong.

All five House members, Dodd and Sen. Joseph Lieberman's chief of staff took their questions to LaHood on Tuesday.

Each issued statements later declaring that the talk was successful and pledging to work with state transportation officials to better prepare for the October round of $600 million in federal funding.

"We're not going to get all 23, but we'll get the ones that the state prioritizes," Larson said.

Larson and Himes didn't directly criticize Connecticut's transportation department Tuesday, but they said that LaHood's staff found deficiencies in many of the state's proposals. The DOT wrote about half of the applications, and individual cities and regional planning agencies submitted the rest directly.

"Some of the applications were weak. Secretary LaHood said so," Himes said.

The DOT bristled last week when state Rep. David McCluskey, D-West Hartford, blamed it for the defeat in TIGER funding, but it offered a more conciliatory response to the congressmen.

"We will be working with the delegation and the governor's office on what the most productive next steps should be. We appreciate the delegation's efforts to keep Connecticut as competitive and successful as possible in the stimulus process," DOT spokesman Kevin Nursick said.

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.
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