The state Bond Commission approved $537 million in borrowing to finance a series of road construction and maintenance projects, including repaving 250 miles of state highway.
The annual transportation allocation will help leverage $600 million in federal dollars, which brings the combined total to more than $1 billion allotted for the various projects. Among the projects to receive funding will be the widening of I-84 in Waterbury between Exits 22 and 25A, the continuation of the Q-Bridge construction project on I-95 in New Haven, and rehabilitation or replacement of more than 40 bridges.
The Waterbury widening project stalled after an audit released in 2007 by former Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s administration found major flaws with the $71 million project, such as faulty drains, defective light poles, and an improperly installed bridge that went undocumented by the contractor hired to do the inspection. The state eventually settled with the construction company for $17.5 million to help it finish the three-mile stretch of highway.
Transportation Commissioner James Redeker said the delay in getting to the Waterbury project was simply a funding issue and the state’s ability to get it funded today is the result of other projects coming in under budget.
“This is a year where we’re able to fund the long awaited I-84 widening project,” Redeker said. “So in 2014 we’ll be able to go out to bid for that. That’s a major accomplishment, long awaited, and this funding brings that to fruition.”
The state will spend about $33 million of the $537 million to rehabilitate or replace 30 existing bridges, another $115 million on the Fix-It-First state bridge program, and another $127 million on the resurfacing of state highways.
But there are also billions in road and bridge projects that have yet to be funded.
“For years the backlog of maintenance was growing. That is now diminishing,” Redeker said. “The bridges that need to be repaired are being repaired.”
There are more than $8 billion of highway bridge construction projects that are unfunded at the moment, including projects like the I-84 viaduct in Hartford and the “Mixmaster” on I-84 and Route 8 in Waterbury.
Redeker said there’s a schedule of work that needs to get done and will get done in a specific order. The three major bridges on I-95, including the Moses Wheeler bridge, will be done first. Those will be followed by the viaduct in Hartford and then the Waterbury “Mixmaster.”
The highway bridges get rated on a regular basis and that’s what drives the maintenance and replacement schedule, Redeker said. The program is updated on a regular basis so there will always be transportation projects that aren’t funded.
Redeker said the department is doing its best to address the projects in a timely fashion, but can only do so when it has the funding.
Asked if the gas tax the state is collecting to help fund these projects will be enough, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said “the answer is yes.”
“We are putting more state money into transportation than we’ve ever put before,” he said.
Malloy didn’t mention the $91 million that the 2014-15 budget he just signed into law moved from the special transportation fund to the general fund. The move to raid the special transportation fund dedicated to help pay for transportation projects was made by the Democratic majority to help balance the state budget. Republicans criticized the move and the decision not to cancel the scheduled gas tax increase, which boosted the cost of gas about 4 cents per gallon on July 1. The gas tax increase was agreed to back in 2005 by almost all lawmakers with the exception of a handful of Republicans.
Sen. John McKinney, R-Fairfield, who is looking to challenge Malloy for his job, didn’t point out that he voted in favor of the gas tax increase back in 2005. However, he was quick to point out that under Rell’s administration the state allocated $3.6 billion in special transportation bonds and under Malloy’s administration the total is about $2.4 billion.
At the press conference following the Bond Commission meeting Friday, Malloy said that people complain about gas taxes being high, but Connecticut does not have a toll system so there’s no other way to fund highway and road improvements.
“With this funding we are investing in Connecticut jobs now and in the long run,” Malloy said.
The entire $1 billion in transportation projects are expected to involve nearly 20,000 construction workers.