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    Sunday, April 21, 2024

    Buttigieg visits Gold Star Memorial Bridge

    U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg speaks with New London Mayor Michael Passero before a press conference at the Thames River Boat Launch in New London Wednesday January 4, 2023. The Gold Star Memorial Bridge repair project was awarded $158 million in federal grants to accelerate repairs as part of President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg looks at the Gold Star Memorial Bridge before a press conference at the Thames River Boat Launch in New London Wednesday January 4, 2023. The Gold Star Memorial Bridge repair project was awarded $158 million in federal grants to accelerate repairs as part of President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Connecticut Governor Ned Lamont speaks during a press conference at the Thames River Boat Launch in New London Wednesday January 4, 2023. U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg visited to announce the Gold Star Memorial Bridge repair project was awarded $158 million in federal grants to accelerate repairs as part of President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    Ruby Acosta, an apprentice with Local 15 Ironworkers union, is greeted by Senator Chris Murphy, D-Connecticut, after speaking during a press conference at the Thames River Boat Launch in New London Wednesday January 4, 2023. U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg visited the city to announce the Gold Star Memorial Bridge repair project was awarded $158 million in federal grants to accelerate repairs as part of President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    State Senator Martha Marx, D-New London, jokes with U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg following a press conference at the Thames River Boat Launch in New London Wednesday January 4, 2023. The Gold Star Memorial Bridge repair project was awarded $158 million in federal grants to accelerate repairs as part of President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    U.S. Senator Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, speaks during a press conference at the Thames River Boat Launch in New London Wednesday January 4, 2023. U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg visited the city to announce the Gold Star Memorial Bridge repair project was awarded $158 million in federal grants to accelerate repairs as part of President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg speaks with attendees following a press conference at the Thames River Boat Launch in New London Wednesday January 4, 2023. The Gold Star Memorial Bridge repair project was awarded $158 million in federal grants to accelerate repairs as part of President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg speaks during a press conference at the Thames River Boat Launch in New London Wednesday, January 4, 2023. The Gold Star Memorial Bridge repair project was awarded $158 million in federal grants to accelerate repairs as part of President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    U.S. Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg poses for a photo with Groton Town Mayor Juan Melendez, center, and other attendees following a press conference at the Thames River Boat Launch in New London Wednesday, January 4, 2023. The Gold Star Memorial Bridge repair project was awarded $158 million in federal grants to accelerate repairs as part of President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. (Sarah Gordon/The Day)
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    New London ― U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, a 2020 candidate for president and former mayor of South Bend, Ind., visited the city Wednesday to highlight a recently announced $158 million federal grant for repairs to the northbound span of the Gold Star Memorial Bridge.

    The work will involve structural repairs that increase how much weight the bridge can bear as well as a new multi-use path for people to bike or walk safely, Buttigieg said. The Connecticut Department of Transportation is proposing either a new path on the northbound span or a separate sidewalk widening project on the southbound bridge, according to a fact sheet from the department.

    The $158 million award is part of the Large Bridge Grants program of the Federal Highway Administration’s Bridge Investment Program. The BIP was established in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, also known as the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, which President Joe Biden signed in November 2021.

    “There’s nothing political, there’s nothing partisan, about making life easier for the companies and the workers and the commuters,” Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said Wednesday during a press conference under the bridge.

    Buttigieg noted the competitiveness of the Large Bridge Grants program as 48 applicants requested a total of $11 billion in funding, and the Gold Star Memorial Bridge was one of only four projects that were successful.

    Asked about funding accountability in a one-on-one interview after the press conference, Buttigieg told The Day there are a lot of standards and requirements with federal dollars. But he also said the fact the bridge won an award of this scope “reflects a high level of confidence that the project sponsors will be able to meet the requirements of the program.”

    At the press conference held at Thames River Boat Launch on State Pier Road, several people talked about the significance of the funding.

    “My company needs this bridge to get all the products to our customers so they can keep the economy moving forward,” said Melody Majkut of Pawtucket, R.I.-based M&G Trucking. She added “investments like this in infrastructure help to avoid interruptions in that valuable supply chain.”

    Connecticut State Building and Construction Trades Council President Keith Brothers said in addition to investing in infrastructure and people like Majkut, the federal funding means investing in workers. He noted that the bridge work is being done under a project labor agreement, with set working conditions, safety standards and holidays.

    “This is not a bridge to nowhere. Remember that phrase?” said Gov. Ned Lamont, who came to New London from his inauguration and State of the State address in Hartford. “This is a bridge to opportunity, as Keith Brothers said.”

    Also attending were representatives from Laborers’ International Union of North America (LiUNA), Teamsters, International Union of Operating Engineers Local 478, and Ironworkers Local 15.

    Project timeline, details and funding

    The nearly 6,000-foot-long Gold Star Memorial Bridge, the longest in the state, began construction in 2022 for the first phase of a $407.7 million rehabilitation project. The anticipated project competition date is November 2029, according to CTDOT.

    Outgoing CTDOT Commissioner Joseph Giulietti noted there is now a 17-mile detour for heavy trucks and vehicles, sending them through more than 20 traffic lights, but the completion of this project will allow the bridge to accommodate all legal and permit vehicles.

    New London Mayor Michael Passero said Buttigieg’s “advocacy for this bridge recognizes its strategic, economic importance, not just for this region but for the Northeast, as it sits midway between New York and Boston.”

    Giulietti said this federal funding eliminates at least one year of construction, and Buttigieg said without the work funded by the $158 million, projections show that down the road, there would be more load restrictions impacting more vehicles.

    Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and Murphy credited Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, for his work getting the grant, but Courtney was in Washington, D.C. for the House session in which a new speaker was being chosen.

    Buttigieg and airlines

    On another topic, Blumenthal thanked Buttigieg for providing “the kind of strength and dedicated leadership that is necessary to hold the airlines accountable.” But others have criticized Buttigieg’s handling of airline complaints ahead of Southwest Airlines’ flight cancellation crisis at the end of December.

    A bipartisan group of 38 attorneys general wrote in an August letter to House and Senate leaders that US DOT has “failed to respond and to provide appropriate recourse” in airline consumer complaints, and that “both Republican and Democratic Presidents have failed to spur the US DOT to act in a manner that responds effectively to consumer complaints.”

    They asked Congress to pass a law authorizing state attorneys general to enforce consumer protection laws around the airline industry.

    Buttigieg told The Day, “I don’t think having 50 different systems for regulating something national like aviation makes a lot of sense, but I do actually think the attorneys general can play an important role.”

    He said US DOT has done work over the summer on airline accountability and got the top 10 airlines “to file a stepped-up consumer plan with us.” He said the department will be “putting Southwest under a microscope to make sure they’re following through on that” and will be following up on thousands of complaints.

    “I stand by our work as the strongest work that’s been done,” Buttigieg said, adding that since the summer, US DOT initiated enforcement actions against airlines that led to more than $600 million in refunds to passengers.

    The other three bridges

    Biden administration officials this week are visiting the other three bridges getting Large Bridge Grants. Biden on Wednesday went to the Brent Spence Bridge, spanning the Ohio River between Ohio and Kentucky, with Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell; Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio; Republican Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine; and Democratic Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear.

    Vice President Kamala Harris went to Chicago Wednesday to highlight $144 million to rehabilitate four bridges over the Calumet River. On Thursday, White House Infrastructure Coordinator Mitch Landrieu and former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi are celebrating a grant for the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco.

    Buttigieg said in the press conference Wednesday, “These four bridges were chosen not just because they’re iconic pieces of infrastructure but because they’re essential to America’s strength.” He told The Day that US DOT will announce funding for medium-sized bridges later this winter.

    Editor’s note: This version corrects the amount of money airlines refunded to passengers after US DOT enforcement actions.

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