State commission OKs port authority

New Haven may have gained the upper hand in its battle with Bridgeport to host a pilot feeder barge program.

On April 1, the Connecticut General Assembly’s Appropriations Committee unanimously approved the establishment of a New Haven port authority in a 49-0 vote. The test program will determine the effectiveness of shifting freight trailers from Interstate-95 to barges to reduce highway traffic. Bridgeport officials previously have stressed that their port authority made it the optimal trial site.

“We’re hoping to increase our port’s activity, and having a port authority should help us in the feeder barge program,” said Karyn Gilvarg, the executive director of New Haven’s City Plan Department.

New Haven is the nation’s largest port without a port authority. The bill would establish a port authority similar to the two other Connecticut port authorities in Bridgeport and New London.

The pilot program of the feeder barge service could begin as early as September. The Connecticut Transportation Strategy Board was scheduled to select the trial city by March 1 but has experienced delays in the evaluation process.

Robert Hammersley, manager of the Board, said that the Board has asked the state Department of Transportation to evaluate the two sites but has not received any information.

“We’re awaiting word from the DOT,” he said.

The 15-member board, which includes the commissioners of several state agencies, prominent businessmen and regional representatives, is finalizing the state’s ten-year transportation plan in preparation for its December deadline.

New Haven benefits from its rail connections and proximity to both I-95 and the southern end of Interstate 91. However, Bridgeport has the required space for water freight service, while usable areas in New Haven are scarce.

Port construction for the trial run is expected to cost $1.5 million, primarily for purchasing dock equipment and industrial cranes. The Transportation Strategy Board allocated $7 million last year for the entire project.

If the pilot program proves successful, both Bridgeport and New Haven will eventually have feeder barge service, regardless of which city is selected initially. The state hopes to increase water traffic overall.

“We’re going to look at New Haven and New London and Bridgeport in terms of commercial uses and also commuter uses,” said Oz Griebel, the Transportation Strategy Board’s chairman.

Gilvarg said New Haven officials hope to offer board members a tour of the New Haven port by the end of the month.

The Office of Legislative Research and the Office of Fiscal Analysis will consider the bill this morning. The bill will appear before the House later this month.

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