U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal held a press conference Monday to raise awareness of a bi-partisan Senate bill to fund transportation infrastructure, which he said could be blocked by the House of Representatives.
If passed, funding from the bill could be used to help the state replace the aging Aetna Viaduct, Blumenthal said. Replacing that long elevated section of I-84 in Hartford will be at least a billion dollar project looming somewhere in the state’s future.
“The viaduct is still many years off but it’s going to need to be addressed without question and it’s going to be expensive,” Department of Transportation spokesman Kevin Nursick said.
Nursick called more than a billion dollars a “super conservative estimate” of what the project may cost.
“This is the bill that will provide the money for that project,” Blumenthal said.
Blumenthal said there is overwhelming support for the measure in the U.S. Senate. Senators typically on opposing sides of most issues have come together in support of the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century bill (MAP- 21), he said. The White House also issued a statement last week supporting it.
“Our obstacle, to be very blunt, is the House of Representatives. That’s why continuing popular support for these projects is so important,” he said.
If passed the bill would appropriate more than $100 billion in federal funding to different states’ individual Transportation Departments to be spent on infrastructure projects at their discretion.
The viaduct appears on the major long term unfunded initiatives portion of the DOT’s five-year capital plan. Blumenthal said money from the bill could be used to “tear down and replace” it, if that’s the route the department ends up taking.
But the bill would send just over $522 million to Connecticut for transportation projects over its two-year duration. The Transportation Department estimates that replacing the viaduct could cost as much as $2 billion.
A short-term rehabilitation of the stretch of highway would cost between $125 million and $150 million. But many residents would like to see the viaduct replaced altogether.
Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra said replacing it would open up 11 acres of land near I-84.
“That would put us in a better position to make developments,” he said.
The state has other transportation projects in mind as well. Blumenthal and Segarra held the press conference at a former recycling center near the Flatbush Avenue I-84 eastbound on-ramp. The bill could be used to fund a $15.5 million project to build a new ramp and provide safer access to the area the recycling center sits on.
“It will not only increase the safety of this ramp and put people to work on a construction project but also create economic development,” Blumenthal said.
If the money were to come through for the state it would generate thousands of jobs in Connecticut’s construction industry, he said. Because there are so many “shovel-ready” transportation projects, the bill would create jobs almost immediately, he said.
Segarra said projects funded under the bill will also help the city of Hartford to make better use of its space. Currently there are several parcels of land, like the former recycling center, which are more or less land-locked by highways, he said.
That’s a concern considering the city is only about 18 square miles, he said. Opening up more land creates more opportunity for economic development, Segarra said.
“It will not only help put our people back to work but it will help us recover more land that can be used for purposes that both employ reconstruction jobs, and enhance our ability to raise some taxes,” he said.
Blumenthal said the Flatbush Avenue project will begin in the spring of 2013, if the bill is approved.