To Connecticut lawmakers’ dismay, Congress approves transportation bill

Washington — Right before the current bill that authorizes federal spending on transportation projects expires, Congress Thursday approved a 90-day extension.

Connecticut’s House members balked at voting for that extension, even though it will mean millions of transportation dollars flowing to the state.

They voted no because Connecticut’s lawmakers, like many of their Democratic colleagues, preferred a bill the Senate approved last week that would have authorized transportation spending for two years.

But with the current transportation bill set to expire March 31, the House voted 266-158 for the short-term extension, and the Senate followed suit.

That 90-day extension requires Congress to take up the issue again later this spring.

“Anytime you just push the ball down the road, you can’t make long-term decisions,” said Rep. Chris Murphy, D-5th District.

Democrats like Murphy said Congress’ failure to approve a long-term transportation bill would cost tens of thousands of construction jobs as states are forced to put off major projects. But Connecticut’s Department of Transportation says it has enough money in the near term to continue work on its priorities.

“For all major projects now under way or about the start — like the Q Bridge in New Haven, Moses Wheeler Bridge on I-95 between Stratford and Milford, the New Britain-Hartford Busway — the money has been put into place for the foreseeable future, so ‘running out’ is not an issue at the moment,” said Connecticut DOT spokesman Judd Everhart.

Everhart also said that “in the highly unlikely scenario that the bottom completely fell out in Washington, we would have to re-prioritize things.”

For Everhart, “Congress has a way of coming through at the last minute for transportation because it’s such a critical component of the state, regional and federal economy.”

“We are not panicking,” he said.

But when Congress returns to the issue, the same problems will remain.

Conservative House Republicans rejected the $109 billion, two-year Senate bill because they say they don’t like how it would be funded.

“When you look at the pay-fors in there, you see what I’ll call gimmicks,” said House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio.

Conservative House Republicans want user fees like federal gas and diesel taxes to pay for a transportation bill even though they are insufficient to cover the current level of spending. They would also like states to pick up more of the cost of road projects.

Murphy said Boehner’s “problem with tea party members” would not have prevented other House Republicans and a majority of Democrats to approve the Senate’s two-year bill.

‘I’m just sick and tired of political games,” he said.

To Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, the lack of a long-term bill is a “failure of the (Republican) majority to govern.”

But House Republicans are confident they will eventually reach an agreement on a long-term transportation bill.

“I think our record so far speaks for itself,” said House Transportation Committee Chairman John Mica, R-Fla. “People want to get the (long-term) bill done.”