Connecticut Construction Workers: “Shovel-Ready”

Construction workers are hearing a lot about economic stimulus and are waiting for it to put them back to work.

According to comments from several construction workers in Connecticut Local 478, John D’Ostilio, Ken Blake, Don Tenedine, Jack Hazelwood and George Van Tasel – heavy equipment operators, mechanics and support personnel, once they begin collecting a paycheck again, they can start contributing to their local economy. They are anxious for the talk to end and the work to begin.

Estimates put direct aid to Connecticut from the $787 billion economic Stimulus Package at $1.65 billion to nearly $3 billion. Of that, about $302 million will be spent on transportation projects, such as roads and bridges. There’s $137 million for transit projects.

A group of Connecticut agency heads, lawmakers and municipal leaders has begun sifting through thousands of projects to pick the ones that will receive federal economic stimulus funding. They hope to provide Gov. M. Jodi Rell (R) with a list within 30 days.

Gov. Rell’s office received more than 2,000 suggested projects, valued at about $11 billion, from state agencies, municipalities, nonprofit and for-profit organizations and state legislators. That list has been shortened to about $6 billion worth of projects that could be started quickly.

A website is being created so the public can track the spending.

Sen. Donald DeFronzo, (D-New Britain) co-chairman of the legislature’s transportation committee, said the committee created by Rell, the Connecticut Recovery Working Group, needs to come up with criteria for choosing which capital projects receive the federal funding.

“Clearly the jobs are the important thing here. We’ve got to get people working,” said DeFronzo, who wants to make sure that parts of Connecticut with higher unemployment rates, such as Waterbury, get approval for projects.

The White House has estimated the stimulus package could create or save 41,000 jobs in Connecticut, but members of the working group said they’re uncertain whether that estimate is accurate.

Matt Fritz, special assistant to the governor, said the group will examine each construction project and determine whether it will provide just short-term construction jobs, or also long-term employment, such as a new science research center.

“That’s where you really want to look and capitalize on,” he said.

The group, scheduled to meet again March 9, is expected to discuss whether to mandate that only Connecticut companies can bid on the projects.

The Connecticut Construction Industries Association is working with the committee to identify Connecticut firms that might bid on these projects. Given the state’s small size, Fritz said there’s a limited number of companies that might be able to participate.

There may be discussions of imposing local hiring requirements for projects funded by the stimulus money.

Meanwhile, DeFronzo said the group is working on possible legislation that will streamline some of the administrative procedures required for the bidding and contracting process.

Greg Sitek

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