Leaders of Connecticut’s transportation construction industry joined U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney in Enfield Wednesday to plead for Congress to pass a long-term, bipartisan bill to invest in the state’s highway and transit priorities.
A crowd gathered next to the Route 5 bridge over Route 190, which was built in 1966 and was recently rated structurally deficient.
"That's why we're doing it here. There are about 506 others in Connecticut in the same category. If you give them the resources, these guys can make these bridges safe and long-lasting. It's crazy," Courtney said.
In 2009, the Transportation Authorization law that provides annual funding to states expired; since then, funding has been provided through short-term extensions.
Courtney advocates a two-year bill, which has been passed by the Senate, that would maintain the current funding and enable planning for future projects. The problem, he said, is the insistence of House Republicans on a partisan bill that will reduce the state's funding by more than $400 million over the next five years.
"Leadership in Congress is basically causing a self-inflicted wound on the economy of this great country," Courtney said. "The folks that are here today, from management and labor, are ready to go to work to fix the infrastructure of this country, to make our economy function better and to keep us safe. Yet, for the first time in 50 years, the Transportation Authorization bill, which was always a nonpartisan bill going back to Dwight David Eisenhower, is now trapped in this toxic, partisan, scorched-earth politics in the House of Representatives."
Courtney faulted Speaker of the House John Boehner and his supporters.
"John Boehner and the Tea Party members of his caucus blocked consideration of that two-year bill, and instead said we're going to do a 90-day extension," Courtney said. "You can't fix that bridge in 90 days. You need to have a decent amount of horizon for any transportation progress of any magnitude. 90 days is a joke in terms of the priorities we need in this country for mass transit, rail, roads and bridges."
"I was very pleased when I heard Congressman Courtney voted against extension of the transportation bill," said Don Shubert, president of the Connecticut Construction Industries Association. "He basically wants Congress to go forward and pass a bill to get us back to work."
A handout Courtney provided to the media showed 107 Connecticut bridges considered either "serious" or "critical." Among those in northern Connecticut are the Route 74 bridge over I-84 in Tolland, the Charters Brook bridge on Route 140 in Ellington and the Mountain Brook bridge on Route 219 in Granby.