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Committee To Discuss How Connecticut Missed Out On Federal Transportation Money

By DON STACOM

March 01, 2010

HARTFORD

Lawmakers who have been frustrated by Connecticut's weak showing in the race for federal transportation money will have an opportunity to ask what's been going wrong.

A General Assembly committee will convene its annual hearing today on the Department of Transportation's major projects, and several legislators say they'll ask about Connecticut's miserable showing in the competition for $1.5 billion in Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery grants.

"We're asking for a report on what the DOT thinks transpired there," said Sen. Donald DeFronzo, D-New Britain, co-chairman of the transportation committee.

Political leaders throughout the state were chagrined when Connecticut came out empty-handed. The DOT and several cities and regional planning agencies applied for $630 million to upgrade Connecticut's freight rail network, help build the New Britain busway, rebuild the I-91/I-95 interchange in New Haven and launch a series of transit and economic development projects in various communities.

When the federal government distributed the TIGER grants, Connecticut and eight other states were shut out. DeFronzo and co-chairman Rep. Antonio Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill, both emphasized that they don't want to judge whether the DOT is to blame until they've talked with Commissioner Joseph Marie and his senior aides.

State Rep. David McCluskey, D-West Hartford, has publicly criticized the DOT for failing to make a strong enough case for the money. Others have blamed the congressional delegation and Gov. M. Jodi Rell for failing to stay on top of the matter, and DOT supporters suggest that Connecticut came up short because federal officials believe the state is too wealthy to need the aid. However, U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, who met with the delegation and federal Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood on Tuesday, disputed that account. He and U.S. Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, agreed that some of Connecticut's applications were good, but that others were deficient.

Some lawmakers said they might ask about the allocation of $8 billion in federal high-speed rail funds earlier this year. Several states received more than $1 billion each, but Connecticut received just $40 million. Legislators want to know why the DOT asked for only $40 million, because it has estimated that its New Haven-to-Springfield project will cost more than $800 million.

As recently as November, Marie had assured the General Assembly that Connecticut was keeping up in the high-speed rail competition. He suggested that the DOT was following a strategy based on the expectation that LaHood's agency wouldn't give away much of the $8 billion this winter, leaving billions to apply for later.

"The expectation is that in this first round of applications, the federal government will allocate somewhere in the $1.5 [billion] to $2 billion range. We're hoping to have a stab at what remains of that," Marie told the transportation committee in mid-November. Just two months later, LaHood distributed the entire $8 billion. Now Connecticut's best chance for high-speed rail aid appears to be a small second round later this year in which $2.5 billion will be allocated.

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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