Deficit may slow bridge construction

The transformation of the I-95 Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge into a 10-lane bridge crossing the Quinnipiac River may be temporarily suspended, hindering New Haven’s efforts to alleviate highway traffic.

The Federal Highway Administration threatened to suspend the project in a three-page letter to Conn. Department of Transportation Commissioner Stephen Korta. The FHWA letter articulated the federal government’s concern that unresolved funding issues between the state and New Haven officials may delay construction. New Haven City Planning Representative Karen Gilvarg said the FHWA has given ConnDOT until Nov. 17 to decide between two courses of action — agreeing to temporarily suspend the project so that it can undergo complete reevaluation, or resolving the funding issue with the city so that the project can continue.

“This is the Feds saying to the state: ‘You guys need to get your act together’,” Gilvarg said.

Derek Slap, the press secretary for New Haven Mayor John DeStefano Jr., said recent questions regarding state funding for city projects have increased tensions between the two levels of government. Slap said the state has committed to funding building projects to accommodate the bridge construction, including a waterfront park and a replica of a boathouse that will be torn down make way for the bridge. The state has also agreed to fund improvements to the New Haven bus system, an improved ferry system and land restoration along parts of the shoreline in conjunction with the bridge construction, he said.

But Slap said the mayor is determined to address funding concerns with the state so that highway construction can proceed.

“Mayor [DeStefano] is absolutely committed to getting the highway construction project done as soon as possible,” Slap said. “But the mayor wants to enter into a dialogue with the state about these funding concerns and recognizes that compromise might be necessary”.

The FHWA letter, written by Division Administrator Bradley Keazer, emphasizes that the state of Connecticut remains “eligible” for federal aid and that the project will continue to progress as soon as ConnDOT “[makes] a decision on which option [FHWA] should undertake.”

The letter also expressed concerns about the cost of the construction program, which have grown from a projected $850 million to over $1.4 billion. But Gilvarg said the increase in costs should have been anticipated.

“That we are beyond the original budget and the original time frame isn’t too surprising given the scope of the project … given rising oil and steel prices over the last two years,” Gilvarg said.

Slap said New Haven officials are also concerned about the implications of land being confiscated in order to construct the bridge.

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