For the third time, Connecticut's hopes for big federal bucks dashed
New Haven-to-Springfield: State officials sought $227M in federal funds
WASHINGTON -- It was about one-tenth of what the state hoped to get.
True, the announcement by federal officials that Connecticut would receive $30 million for improvements on the 62-mile New Haven-to-Springfield, Mass., line drew expressions of satisfaction from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
But for the third time in two years, hoped-for federal largesse for Connecticut either failed to materialize or came in far below what state officials were hoping to receive.
In this case, Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood's grant announcement Monday was well below the $227 million sought by Malloy.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal expressed dismay about the size of the funding.
"This is very disappointing, especially after the reassuring remarks from federal officials who had spoken or visited with us,"Blumenthal said. "I am absolutely determined to continue this fight and am demanding an explanation about why Connecticut was so shortchanged.
"There's been no explanation forthcoming and that's why I want an explanation from the Department of Transportation. They know of our dismay."
Malloy tried to emphasize the positive.
"You ask for a lot of money in the hopes that you're going to get it," Malloy told reporters while visiting the East Hartford headquarters of Pratt & Whitney. "Amtrak asked for a lot more than they're getting. Everybody asks for more than they're getting.
"What's significant is we got $30 million on top of $400 million, which has already been set aside, much of which is, in fact, federal money to jump start the reinvention of the New Haven-to-Springfield line."
U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-4., who was also at Pratt & Whitney, said the state faced stiff competition for the money.
"As I understand it, there were a lot of applications, well over 100 applications, for the amount of money," she said. "Right off the bat, would I have loved $227 million? You bet. That would have given us a total of $388 million and would have made the project complete. As I understand it, a sizable amount of the money from this effort went to New England, so in a sense, we all benefit from that. We have $30 million and we'll take that and continue on."
In July, Connecticut came up empty in the competition to snare a piece of the $4.35 billion jackpot known as Race to the Top -- President Barack Obama's top program for funding innovation plans to improve student achievement. The state Legislature had enacted a series of reforms, to no avail, hoping to make the state more competitive in landing those funds.
Months earlier, all of Connecticut's 23 applications for a piece of
$1.5 billion earmarked by the federal government for shovel-ready transportation projects were rejected.
That action set off a spasm of finger-pointing between the state's congressional delegation and officials with then-Gov. M. Jodi Rell's administration.
In Monday's grant announcement, the DOT selected 15 states and Amtrak to receive the $2.02 billion for 22 high-speed intercity passenger rail projects as part of a nationwide network that will connect 80 percent of Americans to high-speed rail in 25 years.
The money became available after Florida Gov. Rick Scott rejected funds for a high-speed rail line linking Orlando and Tampa, saying the line would saddle the state with cost overruns.
According to the DOT announcement, the $30 million for Connecticut "will be used to complete double-track segments on the corridor, bringing added intercity rail service to a route that plays an important role in the region, connecting communities in Connecticut and Massachusetts to the NEC (Northeast Corridor), as well as Vermont."
Those improvements would enable Amtrak trains to increase their top speed to 110 mph from
79 mph. The state had previously received
$160.9 million for high-speed rail improvements in the corridor. The latest grant ranks Connecticut in eighth place for the highest amount of high-speed rail funding to date, according to the DOT.
State officials are setting up a meeting with the Federal Railroad Administration to discuss whether additional federal funding will be available at some point and whether the overall scope of the New Haven-to-Springfield project will need to be revised in any way, according to Judd Everhart, a spokesman for the state transportation department.