Senators: Federal transportation bill is “Historic breakthrough”

- FILE - The Waterbury mixmaster, where I-84 and Route 8 interchange (Photo: CT DOT)

NEW HAVEN, Conn. (WTNH) — A federal transportation bill is heading to President Obama for his signature after a rare bipartisan move by Congress. It’s a huge bill that will hand out $305 billion across the nation, and it brings to an end to years of short-term transportation funding that made it hard to plan for big projects.

“This transportation bill is an historic breakthrough,” said U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, (D) Connecticut.

Historic because, for the past decade, congress has only funded the country’s transportation infrastructure a few months at a time. That has made life very difficult for the men and women who build and maintain roads and bridges.

“For the last 10 years, the entire construction industry has basically been on standby,” explains Don Shubert, President of the Connecticut Construction Industries Association. “We can’t buy new equipment, we can’t invest in our workforce, there’s a lot of things we can’t do without long-range planning.”

This bill provides $305 billion nationwide over the next five years, about 3 and a half billion for Connecticut. The construction industry says long term funding will mean faster work.

“Now you’re going to see the momentum pick up, you’re going to see the pace pick up,”said Shubert. “You’re going to see all the improvements right away.”

Connecticut’s U-S Senators came to Union Station to point out the bill also helps mass transit with Positive Train Control systems that could prevent deadly crashes like the ones in the Bronx and outside Philadelphia, and safety systems that were not in place when Metro North foreman Robert Luden was killed on the tracks in West Haven two years ago.

“Redundant signal protection could have saved his life, it’s now required in this bill,” Senator Blumenthal said.

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It also splits Amtrak’s northeast service from the rest of the country. Amtrak only makes money along the high-density northeast corridor and loses money on the rest of the country. Now, Amtrak can only spend the money it makes here on improvements here. In addition, the bill increases fines for auto makers who don’t report defects in their cars, and makes it illegal for rental car companies to rent you a car that’s been recalled for safety issues. The bill does not increase the deficit or add new taxes, but does use some controversial funding.

“I don’t like the way that the bill is paid for,” admitted U.S. Senator Chris Murphy, (D) Connecticut. “Many of the revenue sources are one time, meaning that when we go to pass a new bill they won’t be there again.”

Senator Blumenthal added that, compared to the way other bills in congress are funded, this one is a “paragon of virtue,” in his words. When it comes to the time frame, 5 years might not seem all that long when it comes to transportation project, but remember they say things should move a lot faster now that this bill has been passed.

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