CT borrowing more than $1 billion for transportation, new voting machines

It's a lot of money to borrow, but thanks to last year's Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the federal government will match the funds 2-to-1.

John Craven

Oct 6, 2023, 4:51 PM

Updated 236 days ago

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Everything from your morning commute to election results could get faster, thanks to more than $1 billion in new state borrowing authorized by Connecticut's State Bond Commission on Friday.
"ABSOLUTELY TRANSFORMATIVE"
The lion's share – $1.1 billion – will go to road, bridge and train projects.
"For a state like Connecticut, which has a lot of old infrastructure – which is roads and bridges and rail – it's going to be absolutely transformative," said Gov. Ned Lamont.
Highways will get safer too. Across the state, 70 more intersections are getting systems to detect wrong-way drivers. It follows a wave of deadly crashes, including one that killed state Rep. Quentin "Q" Williams.
It's a lot of money to borrow, but thanks to last year's Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, the federal government will match the funds 2-to-1.
"In my world 'OPM' is 'Other People's Money,'" said Lamont. "So, we're able to – really able to make the investments and speed this state up, to keep things growing."
Borrowing is more expensive now, thanks to high interest rates. But Lamont said that added expense is offset by huge pension payments the state has made over the past few years.
TRAIN UPGRADES – AMID SERVICE CUTS
Almost $400 million will go to make trains faster and able to hold more passengers. But ridership still lags behind pre-pandemic levels – and in just a few weeks, the state is actually cutting Metro-North service.
"We're eliminating eight trips per day on Fridays, because people are continuously teleworking on Fridays," Connecticut Department of Transportation Commissioner Garrett Eucalitto told News 12 last week.
Jump-starting projects could be a challenge because of DOT staffing shortages.
"We're squeezed for engineers and such, but Garrett's got us ahead of the curve," Lamont said.
Eucalitto told the Bond Commission that the agency has hired 200 employees this year.
"More work is getting done, and you're going to see it continue to grow," he said.
NEW VOTING TABULATORS
Election night is exciting, but results can sometimes take days to come in because Connecticut's voting tabulators are nearly two decades old.
That's about to change.
The Bond Commission approved $25 million for new machines, but they won't be ready for at least a year.
"Early voting begins in the presidential preference primary on April 2 of 2024," said Secretary of the State Stephanie Thomas. "But we will certainly not have new tabulators in place that quickly."
Thomas plans to purchase about 3,000 new tabulators for every community in Connecticut. Larger cities, where vote counting is notoriously slow, could get even faster machines.
New tabulators are also more accurate. Republicans said it's a small step toward rebuilding public confidence, as Bridgeport faces yet another ballot tampering investigation.
"If our residents are going to have confidence in the voting process, we need technology that works," said state Rep. Holly Cheeseman (R-East Lyme). "One vote, two votes, seven votes. We have to have a voting system that's modern, that's reliable."
RANKED CHOICE VOTING?
Thomas said the new tabulators can also accommodate ranked choice voting, where voters rank candidates instead of picking just one. It's now used in Maine, Alaska and New York City.
"Voters are becoming increasingly disenfranchised by the behavior of public officials from Bridgeport, CT to Washington, D.C., who fail to put the interests of voters first," said Scott Muller with CT Voters First, a group lobbying for the change. "Ranked choice voting has proven to increase participation and enthusiasm in elections by providing more choice."
But despite a tepid endorsement from Lamont, Connecticut leaders have been slow to embrace ranked choice voting.
"I think it's an interesting concept, but I also think there are lots of interesting concepts that are not necessarily right for the state or the country," said Cheeseman.
OTHER INVESTMENTS
Other notable projects approved by the Bond Commission on Friday:
$22.5 million to finally demolish the old PSEG power plant in Bridgeport
$9 million to tear down Stamford's crumbling train station garage. It will be replaced with a new development
$15 million for upgrades to New Haven Union Station
$30 million for a new nursing program facility at UConn, to be completed in 2026. Subway restaurant chain owner Elisabeth DeLuca is donating an additional $40 million for equipment and scholarships.
$25 million to extend Time To Own, a program that gives first-time homebuyers up to $50,000


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