The administration of Gov. Ned Lamont chose a railroad station Wednesday to say goodbye to Joseph J. Giulietti, the railroad lifer lured out of retirement four years ago to run the Department of Transportation, and ratify his choice of a successor, Garrett Eucalitto.
Giulietti, 70, who went to work on the railroad as a 19-year-old Penn Central conductor and left the industry as the president of the Metro North commuter rail system, only laughed when interrupted by the announcement of an arriving train at Union Station in Hartford.
“No, no, it’s OK,” Giulietti said. “It’s music to my ears, anyways.”
The press conference formalized what has been set for months: Giulietti will step down as commissioner in December, and Lamont intends to nominate his well-regarded deputy, Eucalitto, to run ConnDOT at a crucial juncture for the rebuilding of highways and mass transit in America.
Federal transportation funding is at an all-time high, available to Connecticut under formula and competitive grants. Virtually all of the state’s rail improvement priorities were included in the $24 billion in funding approved for the Northeast rail corridor.
But the DOT’s engineering ranks are understaffed, the state must provide matching funds, and the construction industry long has complained that Connecticut moves too slowly on infrastructure.
Eucalitto, 41, who grew up in Torrington and lives in New Haven, is a departure as commissioner, neither a highway engineer nor transit executive. He is a self-described policy nerd, schooled in complexities of how to best finance massive infrastructure projects as well as how to assess their impact on what it means to commute and live in Connecticut.
“My decision to leave the DOT would not have been possible had I not known that Garrett Eucalitto is here to step up and step in,” Giulietti said. “No one is more passionate and committed to transportation, equity, inclusion and roadway safety than Garrett.”
Eucalitto had an unsatisfying stint as an underutilized undersecretary for planning and intergovernmental policy at the Office of Policy and Management, researching and developing transportation, environmental and regional planning initiatives for the administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
He left OPM in 2017 to become the transportation program director for the National Governors Association in Washington, where he previously had been a policy aide for U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman. Eucalitto said he had no intention of returning to Hartford until approached by Giulietti in late 2019.
Eucalitto was hired as deputy commissioner in January 2020.
Lamont praised Giulietti for recruiting his eventual successor.
“Garrett had, I thought, a really appropriate resume,” Lamont said. Then he smiled and glanced sideways at Eucalitto. “Worked for Joe Lieberman, Dan Malloy. What could go wrong with that?”
Lamont lost a Senate race to Lieberman in 2006 and a gubernatorial primary to Malloy in 2010.
In Eucalitto, the agency is getting a leader with a holistic view of transportation, from what it means to be a pedestrian to how to replace 19th-century rail bridges that were designed during the administration of William McKinley and contribute to slower times today than when Giulietti punched his first ticket.
“We need to make our transportation network safer for anyone using our systems, which means continuing to improve our roadways, building out sidewalks and crosswalks, roundabouts, bike lanes, cleaning up our transportation system — making transit easier and more appealing for passengers,” Eucalitto said.
Rep. Cristin McCarthy Vahey, D-Fairfield, the co-chair of the legislature’s Transportation Committee, said she was sorry to see Eucalitto leave OPM in 2017 and thrilled when Giulietti brought him back as his deputy in 2020. She called him a big-picture “systems thinker.”
Giulietti hired him in part for his expertise in transportation financing. Connecticut is one of the few states that wholly rely on state bonding to finance transportation infrastructure, eschewing competitive federal loan programs such as TIFIA, the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act.
TIFIA loans require dedicated revenue sources, but they are cheap and can be paid back over as long as 75 years, an appropriate span for financing major rail bridges that remain in use for a century, Eucalitto said.
In the last budget, the General Assembly agreed to the administration’s request to create 206 new positions for the DOT, many of which will go to an Office of Innovative Financing. About 150 have been filled, he said.
Connecticut eliminated highway tolls in the 1980s, and Lamont failed to bring them back in 2019 to stabilize a nearly insolvent special transportation fund that relies on gasoline taxes and a share of the sale tax. A highway use tax on trucking that goes into effect in January will provide a new funding source.
Lamont and Eucalitto each responded quickly and curtly when asked about whether the administration would revisit tolls. Each said, “No.”
Eucalitto added, however, that every state that relies on gasoline taxes will have to find other revenue in 20 years as electric vehicles become the norm.
To help consumers cope with rising gas prices, the state suspended its 25-cents-a-gallon tax on gasoline in April through Dec. 1, costing about $30 million a month in lost revenue. Next week, the General Assembly is expected to meet in special session to pass a bill adding a nickel back every month until the full 25 cents is reinstated.
The state has made up the difference with federal pandemic relief money, as well as the higher revenues generated by a price-sensitive gross receipts tax on fuel. But Lamont said the state cannot afford the gas-tax holiday indefinitely.
“I’m pretty sensitive about the special transportation fund, especially given where we were four years ago, and given the increased demands,” Lamont said. “With all the additional money coming in from the feds, we still have to make a 20, 30, 40% contribution, depending on the competitive grant.”
Donald Shubert, the president of the Connecticut Construction Industries Association, said Eucalitto is well-positioned to take over the DOT.
“I’ve known him since he started doing transportation with Sen. Lieberman two decades ago, and he has has worked diligently towards this his entire professional career,” Shubert said.
The DOT is currently has 700 openings, and it is competing for engineers and other professionals in a tight labor market.
“We definitely need more engineers. We’ve tapped I think every engineer that works in the state of Connecticut,” Eucalitto said. “We’re going to job fairs all across the tri-state region now as well.”
Historically, hiring has been slowed by the involvement of two other agencies, the Department of Administrative Services and the Office of Policy and Management.
Eucalitto said the process has improved, with DAS quickly posting job openings.
“It’s night and day compared to when I was at OPM. There’s a much better relationship between our sister agencies,” he said.
This story originally appeared at ctmirror.org, the website of The Connecticut Mirror.