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Infrastructure Bill Could Transform Hartford

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Jamil Ragland Columnist
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My brother recently started a new job. The hours aren’t conducive to public transportation and the costs of taking an Uber to work quickly became too much. He decided to buy a car, and with his savings and some help from our parents, he was able to get a somewhat reliable car that wouldn’t break down every other month. 

Or so he thought until he encountered one of Hartford’s infamous potholes. Not three weeks after purchasing it, he was driving the car back to the dealership, a loud scraping sound beneath the car announcing his presence to everyone within earshot. He was worried about the damage; how could he afford to get his car fixed, make the payments, and fulfill all the other obligations which eat up his paycheck?

My brother’s story is just one anecdote for how the city’s crumbling infrastructure negatively impacts its residents but there is also data to support our collective experience. According to the U.S. Department of Transportation, Connecticut’s drivers spend over $700 a year in costs due to roads being in disrepair. For many people, that’s equivalent to an additional half month of rent on top of their other bills.

Potholes aren’t the only challenge on Hartford’s roads. Despite the relatively small size of Hartford’s metro area when compared to other areas around the country, traffic flow is a huge problem on the highways which bisect the city. The American Transportation Research Institute ranks the I-84/I-91 interchange as the 24th worst trucking bottleneck in the United States. 

Bad roads are just one aspect of the city’s poor infrastructure though. Last summer saw some of the heaviest rains Hartford and the rest of the state have experienced in a generation. Roads all over the city were the sites of flash floods that immobilized cars and made the streets impassable. The water also seeped into resident’s basements causing untold amounts of damage in both cost and the overall health of residents. Hartford’s sewage system is over 150 years old and originally designed to serve the needs of only 15,000 residents. 

Hartford’s infrastructure woes don’t remain in the city limits. The surrounding towns rely on Hartford for their transportation and sanitation. The problem has become so bad that West Hartford residents are speaking out about the inadequacies of the city’s infrastructure affecting them as well. The rapid pace of climate change will only make these problems worse as the state faces heavier rainfall in the summers and unpredictable precipitation patterns in the winter that range from snow to ice to unseasonable warmth.

Therefore, the infrastructure bill which recently became law couldn’t have come at a better time. The bill was a key part of President Joe Biden’s “Build Back Better” platform promising to reinvigorate the economy and improve people’s lives by pumping money directly into projects that would address failing infrastructure around the country. Connecticut stands to receive a large portion of funds from the bill. According to the Hartford Courant, more than $5.4 billion has been allocated to the state. The money is earmarked for projects ranging from railroads and electric vehicle charging stations to expanding broadband access and improving airports. 

Most importantly, the bill provides $4 billion for road and bridge construction, and the state can compete for billions more over the coming years. Additionally, $445 million is allocated for improving the state’s water infrastructure. 

Hartford is in desperate need of this infrastructure funding. As the federal spigot opens, lawmakers must not overlook the capital city when dispersing funds across the state. Hartford residents deserve to drive on safe, well-maintained roads that don’t sap money from their pockets in the form of car repairs. City dwellers and those in surrounding towns shouldn’t have to deal with sewage spilling into the streets as the inevitable results of climate change douse the city with bigger, more intense storms. 

Elsewhere, residents have taken it upon themselves to solve infrastructure problems, from filling potholes themselves to using more creative, artistic means to draw attention to the problem. These are direct actions that residents can take but the larger problems of Hartford’s infrastructure will require residents to reach out to elected officials and let them know that the current state of the city is unacceptable. 

Local and state leaders need to be pressured to ensure the city gets its fair share of funds. As the President stated, this is the largest investment in infrastructure in almost a century. There is an opportunity here to have a transformational impact on the city that will improve the health and financial well-being of its residents. It must not be squandered.

Jamil Ragland is a writer from the Hartford area. His work deals with politics, race and culture. Jamil lives in Hartford with his son.

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