Himes calls for major, long-term infrastructure funding in Norwalk visit

Mayor Harry Rilling
U.S. Rep Jim Himes (D-Conn.), center, and Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling, right, chat near Monday near the Yankee Doodle Bridge.

NORWALK, Conn. — The nation’s infrastructure is crumbling, and Connecticut is in the forefront of the dubious movement that is threatening the nation’s global economic standing.

That was the message U.S. Rep Jim Himes (D-Conn.) and a gaggle of state and local politicians and union leaders attempted to drive home Monday while standing near Norwalk’s deteriorating Yankee Doodle Bridge.

A recent study showed Connecticut and Rhode Island have the worst roads in the country. A White House report says 41 percent of state roads are in poor condition.

“I don’t think people in Fairfield County need a reminder” about the situation, Norwalk Mayor Harry Rilling said before introducing Himes. The area has “horrible, horrible infrastructure” that needs the attention of the federal government in co-operation with the state, he said.

“This is the fourth worst bridge in the state,” Rilling said of the Yankee Doodle Bridge, and he invoked the memory of the Mianus River bridge tragedy of June 1983, when a 100-foot section of the I-95 North span in Greenwich collapsed, killing three people. “It’s a disaster waiting to happen.”

Himes and Rilling were joined by state Sen. Bob Duff (D-Norwalk); state Rep. Chris Perone (D-137); state Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143); state Rep. Bruce Morris (D-140); Don Schubert, president of the Connecticut Construction Industries Association; Lori Pelletier, executive secretary-treasurer of the Connecticut AFL-CIO; and Glenn Marshall, president of Carpenters Union Local No. 210.

Himes, who is running for re-election in November, made his pitch for long-term federal transportation investments to create jobs and improve the safety and efficiency of Connecticut’s transit and highway networks. His message: Unless Congress acts, the Highway Trust Fund, which reimburses states for highway and transit projects, will go bankrupt later this summer. That could mean significant delays for planned repairs on the Yankee Doodle Bridge and thousands of other road and transit projects nationwide – and cost the U.S. economy up to 700,000 construction jobs in the next year.

“The Highway Trust Fund is absolutely vital to Southwest Connecticut’s economy and safety, and keeping it solvent is a basic responsibility,” Himes said. “But we can no longer afford short-term fixes that inevitably cause more uncertainty and push us from crisis to crisis. Our nation’s transportation infrastructure is the bedrock on which we build economic growth and create jobs. We need a long-term transportation bill that invests in our crumbling bridges, roads and railways to ensure the safety of our people and make our economy more competitive.”

Himes said he voted “not happily” last week for what he called a “patch” that is “full of gimmicks,” including pension smoothing, which, he said, would likely result in underfunded pensions in the future.  The $10.8 billion measure will temporarily replenish the Highway Trust Fund through May 2015, and a similar bill awaits action in the Senate.

“We need a long-term solution,” Himes said. “It’s trillions of investments we need to make.”

“We need to find revenue somewhere. We’ve been pushing for a national transportation trust fund for years,” Himes said, repeating several times that the situation is not a partisan issue. “That would mingle private money with public funds, and institute more discipline than we usually have.”

He said some tough choices need to be made, and mentioned the possibility of two things that are sure to be unpopular with the populace: gas taxes and tolls.

“Traditionally, a federal excise tax on gasoline is how we’ve always done it,” Himes said. He pointed out that increased vehicle fuel efficiency combined with a bad economy that caused people to drive less were the “prime driver” in the current deficiencies in the highway budget.

He acknowledged that tolls are as controversial as an increased gas tax. Before Connecticut eliminated all tolls on I-95 in December 1985, the toll plazas were blamed for several accidents, including a 1983 crash in Stratford that killed seven people and injured several more. The plazas also were blamed for backing up traffic along what is one of the most heavily traveled highways in the nation.

But the system of collecting tolls has changed, Himes pointed out, saying “now E-ZPass makes it different.”

He pointed out that there is a greater economic reason for the federal government to increase infrastructure funding.

“Countries we’re competing with spend 3 to 7 percent of their gross domestic product” on infrastructure, he asserted, citing China and Europe.

“We’re doing 1 percent,” he said. “If we do that for an extended period of time, we’re not going to have the infrastructure – the skeleton – to compete with those other countries.”

Lavielle, who crashed the Democrats’ event to add her perspective, said she appreciated Himes coming to Norwalk and said, “I agree completely, this has absolutely nothing to do with party politics.” She said the situation has taken on the “proportions of a crisis – we are deluding ourselves if we think a short-term fix is going to do it,” and said funding infrastructure repair is essential to the state’s survival.

She also question the state’s priorities when it comes to transportation projects.

“Sometimes projects in the middle of the state have taken precedence” over those in south Fairfield, she said, pointing out that I-95 carries more than 35 million passengers annually.

Duff added that 40 percent of the traffic comes from out of state, pointing up the need for federal dollars.

The Yankee Doodle Bridge is slated for repairs, but not a rebuild, Himes said, with work to start in June 2016.

“That assumes the highway trust fund remains solvent,” he said. There is $15 million worth of structural maintenance planned, with $13.5 million coming from the federal government and $1.5M from the state.

The Walk Bridge is another story. Several speakers addressed the urgency regarding repairs to the ancient rail bridge that broke down this spring, shutting down rail travel in the Northeast Corridor, the most heavily traveled section of railroad in the country.

“The absurdity of using post-Civil War technology in a 21st century economy is pretty clear to everybody,” Himes said. “Everybody understands how urgent this problem is.

Himes said the bridge will be rebuilt, and the current price tag is around $350 million. The bridge is slated for about $3 million worth of temporary repairs to keep it open in advance of the replacement.


4 responses to “Himes calls for major, long-term infrastructure funding in Norwalk visit”

  1. piberman

    Looks like a re-election ploy to redirect attention from the Governor’s and Democratic Legislature to fund ling needed state infrastructure projects in CT. Amidst all the major issues facing the nation couldn’t our distinguished Congressman tackle some really important ones ? Here’s one – what does the Congressman propose to secure our borders as do all nations ?
    Here’s another. After seeing an estimated 25 billion of US supplied arms to Iraq captured by ISIS what should the President do ?

  2. Spanner

    It’s a joke they are telling us things we knew and for some of us we are blaming them for the problem .They must think we are all stupid,stupid enough to. Vote for them again.The mayor is on a political high someone tell him he won its time to go to work .They probably got the info from Duff he was in charge of the dept of transportation in the state house and caused most of the delays.larry and Curley look like they are telling stories around the cookie jar.The best Norwalk has? Now is the time to get some experience in those seats I don’t care who anyone but these pathetic losers.

  3. One and Done

    You have to feel bad for anyone who still believes that this clown actually cares. Please get me a barf bag, I don’t think I’m going to make it to November 4th.
    The sick part is even if people wake up and do the right thing, Himes will be pulling down a 7, possibly 8 figure salary from one of the banks he’s been enriching the last six years.

  4. Norewalk Lifer

    Norwalk’s roads are deplorable, anyone who doesn’t see that is either holed up in their homes or a complete fool.
    But then again, there are many fools in Norwalk,

    Infrastructure work is vital to the economic growth of this town, is anyone going to deny that? what do businesses require, good and sturdy stewardship of the “commons”, you all seem to dismiss that running right thru the spine of Norwalk is the “boston post road”, now tell me, all you wonderful historians, had it not been for this road, would Paul Revere’s “little exaggeration” about five people killed by Lobsterman guarding the door of the tax collectors in Boston, “the very first person to die being Crispus Attucks, a runaway slave turned merchant marine” would have made it to the “fence sitters” in Virginia?
    Weren’t the good people of Virginia “willing” to take the guff of that lunatic in England, King George, until the “boston massacre”?
    Of course they were!, and now you see Jim Himes trying to build up from the bottom the infrastructure that is basis of a civilization since ancient times, and you cry foul!
    Bottom line, you people don’t know what you want, but you all seem to have a clear understanding of what you don’t want, until that changes tomorrow.

    Thank you Mr. Himes, for doing this, you put yourself in a tenuous situation by doing so.

    Norwalk Lifer

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