UPDATED: 'Adamant' on passing infrastucture bill, Courtney gets committee approval for six earmarks
Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, announced Wednesday that a committee approved six of the projects, including a New London pedestrian bridge over the railroad tracks where a Coast Guard museum is planned, that he requested to be included in a proposed infrastructure bill.
Earlier in the day, he had advocated for federal investment in infrastructure and praised President Joe Biden's budget proposal for its funding of submarine construction, during a virtual business breakfast held by the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut.
During that event, he noted that the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee was marking up the $547 billion Investing in a New Vision for the Environment and Surface Transportation in America Act that day, which he said was "a real milestone." His office later announced the committee approved the six "Member Designated Projects."
"We really have been lagging internationally, in terms of infrastructure investment," Courtney said. He said under the bill, Connecticut could receive a 50% increase in base infrastructure funding, which could be put toward major projects such as rehabilitating the northbound lanes of the Gold Star Bridge.
The congressman said the bill also includes new funding for high-speed rail, transit and community-directed projects, also known as earmarks, which can only go to nonprofits, municipal governments and state governments.
Courtney said each member has about $18 million to $20 million allotted for earmarks, Republican or Democrat, that there "was no favoritism in terms of how it was done."
He listed funding for six projects in his district that are in the bill: $5 million for the East Haddam/Haddam Swing Bridge Rehabilitation Project, $4.9 million for the New London Pedestrian Bridge and Public Access Project, $2.4 million for the Essex River Road Bridge and Sidewalk Project, $2.2 million for Route 195 pedestrian safety improvements in Mansfield, $1.2 million for the Coventry Main Street Sidewalk Project, and $2.1 million for the Plainfield section of the Quinebaug River Trail.
The state Department of Transportation is sponsoring the East Haddam project and the state Department of Economic and Community Development is sponsoring the New London project, while the other four are sponsored by their respective municipalities. Courtney will host a virtual roundtable with the sponsors Friday morning.
Courtney previously also requested $1.2 million for the Groton Quaker Farm Road Culvert Replacement project and $4 million for the Amtrak Rail Bridge over Main Street Replacement Project in Enfield. He told The Day on Wednesday the T&I Committee removed these projects, as transportation officials determined they weren't eligible.
Courtney said he's going to try to get funding for the Enfield project in the Appropriations Committee, and is trying to see if there's other funding for the Groton project.
"Having said that, we pretty much hit the mark in terms of the total amount that each member is getting, and again I think we tried to be fair in terms of the geography of this very big district," Courtney said.
Talking about the New London project, he said people at other rail stations in Connecticut can get to their platform without having to walk across the tracks. He said even if the Coast Guard Museum — which he supports — doesn't come to fruition, "this proposal has merit by itself."
Chamber President Tony Sheridan also said he thinks this bridge is "essential" and a matter of public safety.
"We need to get an infrastructure bill done. I am adamant about that," Courtney said, having said he hopes Congress can come up with a bipartisan agreement. He added, "It would be a real missed opportunity to not get that to finally move forward, because the economic benefit is so strong."
Courtney was asked if the North Atlantic Rail project — providing high-speed rail in New England and New York — is included in the infrastructure bill. He said it's not.
Courtney was not among the 23 House Democrats who wrote to Transportation and Infrastructure Committee Chairman Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Oregon, asking for authorization of the North Atlantic Rail Corporation.
Courtney explained he thinks it's a "well-intentioned project" but has a lot of questions about the quasi-public governance structure being proposed and objects to the lack of representation from states.
As for the annual budget Biden proposed on May 28, Courtney called it "a very good budget for shipbuilding, particularly submarine construction in our region."
He noted it fully funds Virginia-class submarines and the Columbia program. Last year, he said "we had to scramble to restore one of the Virginia-class subs" so "we're starting from a much better place."
The congressman also gave updates on past and ongoing COVID-19 relief. To date, he said, companies in Connecticut have gotten $3.2 billion in Paycheck Protection Program loans and $2.3 billion in Economic Injury Disaster Loan funding.
He also talked about how the American Rescue Plan has provided $85 million to Connecticut to lower health insurance premiums for two years for people with plans through the state's Access Health CT exchange.
Courtney said the Biden Administration and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi support making the subsidy permanent, "and this is still a little bit of a fluid situation." He thinks "having people fall back into the unsubsidized high-cost premiums really would be a step back, in terms of affordability."
Editor's Note: This version has been updated to include more information on the earmarks in Courtney's district.
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