Governor Ned Lamont, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy and local officials from across Connecticut recently gathered in Hartford to highlight the array of new Infrastructure projects currently underway in the state and discuss other changes residents are likely to see over the next decade and beyond.
But amid calls to strengthen Connecticut’s transportation and energy infrastructure, officials focused their discussions on one aspect of infrastructure growth: accommodation.
The gathering was billed as the first inaugural infrastructure summit, intended to lay out a roadmap for investments Connecticut is likely to make by 2035.
The event, which was to coincide with the second anniversary of the passage of Bipartisan Infrastructure Act of 2021, included mayors, elected officials, state legislators, state agency leaders, economic development officials and private developers.
The summit included several panels that provided an overview of investments made as a result of the federal infrastructure law, which authorized more than $1.2 trillion in infrastructure spending in the United States.
Connecticut Democratic leaders also used the summit as a victory lap, touting their political support for the infrastructure law and highlighting the state’s efforts to capture much of that federal spending.
To date, more than $6 billion in federal infrastructure spending has been announced for Connecticut. Mark Boughton, state commissioner of the Department of Revenue and Services and Lamont’s senior adviser on infrastructure, said the state is focused on securing additional competitive grants from federal agencies.
“Here in Connecticut, we take its implementation very seriously,” Boughton said.
Murphy, who is seeking his third term in the U.S. Senate, joked that there are so many infrastructure projects under construction that U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal isn’t able to keep up.
“There are so many ribbon cuttings in Connecticut these days that Blumenthal can only do half of them,” Murphy joked.
Even with all the federal funding coming to Connecticut and other states, Murphy argued that Congress needs to do even more to improve the nation’s energy, water and transportation infrastructure.
Murphy noted that China was capable of building a high-speed railway between Beijing and Shanghai, and he noted that the distance between those two cities is twice the mileage between Boston and Washington, DC.
“This is not the time for us to rest on our laurels,” Murphy said.
Many other speakers at the event, however, focused on projects already underway.
Panelists and attendees spoke extensively about investing in water and sewer systems, improving the state’s internet connectivity, rebuilding bridges, re-engineering highway interchanges, building new rail stations, installing electric vehicle charging stations, accelerating passenger rail between New Haven and New York and preparing the state for the future effects of climate change.
But the most important topic of discussion was housing – a vital but politically tense issue at the moment.
Lamont, who is in his second term as governor, and many other speakers expressed the need to build new housing stock in Connecticut, a state with one of the highest apartment vacancy rates bottom of the country.
Lamont and Daniel O’Keefe, the new nominee to become commissioner of the State Department of Economic and Community Development, stressed that housing is an essential part of the state’s infrastructure. And they said it’s a necessity for the state’s continued economic development, which is why they highlighted the millions of dollars in state funding going toward new housing development.
“We’re doing everything we can to build housing,” Lamont said.
Lamont, however, continued to show deference to Connecticut municipalities where local zoning ordinances have been used to block new housing developments in recent years.
“For cities, we follow your lead,” Lamont said during one of the panels.
Housing advocates say these zoning laws — and local opposition to multifamily developments — are likely Connecticut’s biggest obstacle to solving its housing crisis and increasing the number of apartments and houses available to low-income households. income.
Lamont acknowledged the difficulties developers have faced in many suburban municipalities when trying to build multi-family housing. He joked that in his hometown of Greenwich, he saw signs saying state lawmakers wanted to build the Empire State Building on Greenwich Avenue.
The governor asked several panelists how they were able to plan and build more multifamily housing in the face of this type of resistance.
West Hartford Mayor Shari Cantor said she was able to advance housing development in her city by telling residents it was necessary for the city’s growth and economic development.
But Cantor said that doesn’t mean all housing developments have been supported by the entire community. As an example, Cantor said, she was meeting Friday afternoon with several city residents who oppose one of the new housing developments being planned in West Hartford.
Jocelyn Ayer, director of Litchfield County Housing Opportunity Centeralso spoke about his experiences trying to counter local resistance to new housing construction in the northwest corner of Connecticut.
“When we talk to cities about where they can locate new housing, they shrug their shoulders,” Ayer said.
Ayer said she counters that response by pointing out old parking lots or vacant schools that could be turned into multi-family housing.
“We can turn them into community assets,” Ayer said.
Andrew Brown is a reporter for The Connecticut Mirror (https://ctmirror.org/). Copyright 2023 © The Connecticut Mirror.