WALLINGFORD — If you’ve driven north through Wallingford on Route 15 in recent months, you’ve likely noticed a flurry of construction activity near Exit 65.
So far, most of the work has taken place on surrounding local roads, but on Monday the cones and equipment moved much closer to Route 15. Morning commuters seemed unsure of what to make of the changes. Some slowed significantly, trying to determine if a lane change was needed when passing through the area.The $4.3 million project, which will move and lengthen the Exit 65 on-ramp, is meant to address safety concerns. Work is 90 percent federally funded and 10 percent state-funded.
Matthew Vail, who is managing the project for the state Department of Transportation, said in January the project should be finished by late summer.The project began last April. Several trees were taken down along Route 15 north in July as part of the project. Construction vehicles and mounds of dirt sit along River Road and the portion of the highway next to Community Lake Park. Crews are moving the on-ramp, which is currently off River Road, east of the overpass carrying Route 150 over Route 15. The new on-ramp is meant to ease traffic congestion in the River Road-Route 150 area and make it easier to merge onto the highway. Vail said it will give motorists more room to speed up and merge.
“Now you’ll have a proper acceleration lane to gain speed and match the speed of the traffic on Route 15,” he said. “We’ve had quite a few accidents on Route 15 northbound with that on-ramp. You have people going from stop to high speed” leading to more rear-end accidents.
MERIDEN — The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development recently gave the Meriden Housing Authority the go-ahead to relocate the remaining tenants at the Mills Memorial Apartments and demolish the outdated housing project, board members were told Monday.
HUD also gave the housing authority a land transfer agreement that allows the MHA to transfer title of 144 Pratt St. to the city, which will allow it to extend its flood control and park project to Cedar Street. In return, the MHA will receive 177 State St. to allow it and its partners Pennrose Properties to build Phase I of Meriden Commons, a 75-unit mixed-use housing development.
The MHA had already cleared the two low-rise buildings at the Mills complex and relocated 24 tenants from there. It was awaiting HUD’s permission to begin moving the remaining 100-plus families from the three high-rise buildings.
According to MHA Executive Director Robert Cappelletti, HUD has given him assurance that housing vouchers for the remaining families will be forthcoming. Cappelletti expects to have the apartments cleared by the end of the summer and demolition work begin in the fall “By next winter there may be no more Mills,” Cappelletti told members of the MHA Board of Commissioners Monday. “There was a rush to close because of the tax credits. Everybody is pretty excited about it and will be shopping for units.”
A HUD lien on an energy performance contract held up the land swap with the city, but the contract stipulates the $3 million will be secured through the ground lease or through developer fees on the project, or alternative funding.
“They are very excited for their futures,” said resident commissioner Emely Morales, who attended a recent tenant meeting at the Mills. “Some people are very appreciative of their homes at 24 Colony St. It’s an exciting time for Mills residents.”
The MHA is required to replace every demolished unit one for one and has met that requirement by showing HUD, one-, two-, three- and four-bedroom projects coming online at 177 State St., Yale Acres, 11 Crown St. and on Pratt Street.
The replacement housing won’t be ready for the tenants who are relocated this spring and summer, so the MHA is actively working to help them move where they want, Cappelletti said.
“Their vouchers are good anywhere in the U.S.,” Cappelletti said.
A review of the dislocated tenants in the low-rise buildings showed several chose to leave the state, others moved to other cities, and some relocated within the city. CLICK TITLE TO CONTINUE
The other bill would grant the casino-owning Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes the exclusive right to jointly pursue a third Connecticut casino, Rep. Joe Verrengia, D-West Hartford, said Monday in a phone interview.
Both bills could become available as soon as Tuesday, Verrengia said, in which case a public hearing could be scheduled for next week.
Earlier Monday, the tribes announced that they’ve picked East Windsor to host the third casino they hope to build as a hedge against MGM Springfield, the $950 million Massachusetts project that threatens jobs and revenue generated by Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun.
The East Windsor site, now occupied by a vacant Showcase Cinemas building, is right off Exit 45 of Interstate 91 and plainly visible from the highway.
“I’m not so sure a bill would pass out of committee that would deal exclusively with the tribes,” Verrengia said. “I don’t even know if there’s enough support for a third casino at all.”
At an informational meeting last week, committee members raised questions about the tribes’ plan to develop a $300 million “satellite” casino, a project the tribes believe they can pursue through an amendment to their existing gaming agreements with the state. Under those agreements, or compacts, the tribes pay 25 percent of their casinos’ slot-machine revenues to the state in exchange for the exclusive right to operate casinos in Connecticut.
Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun, located on the tribes’ respective reservations in southeastern Connecticut, are tribal casinos and are subject to federal regulation as well as the terms of the compacts. The proposed third casino — a commercial rather than tribal venture — would be built on nontribal land.
Allowing another operator to open a commercial casino in the state would break the compacts, causing the tribes to cease making slots payments to the state. Those payments are expected to total between $200 million and $250 million this year.
Some believe it’s unclear whether the tribal partnership that would develop the third casino — MMCT, which stands for Mashantucket, Mohegan, Connecticut — constitutes a separate entity. CLICK TITLE TO CONTINUE
Connecticut Port Authority announces small harbor improvement program
The Connecticut Port Authority announced Monday that it is setting aside $7.5 million for improvement projects at harbors and marinas along Connecticut's coastline.
The newly created Small Harbor Improvement Projects Program will provide grants for the preparation of plans and studies, as well as construction projects that improve state, municipal or other properties in or next to Connecticut waters. Grant applications must be received by April 17.
A similar program, which provided grants for dredging and other infrastructure projects at the state's smaller harbors, existed under the Connecticut Department of Transportation. When the Connecticut Port Authority took over DOT's maritime functions, it assumed responsibility over the smaller harbors.
The port authority, a quasi-public agency, is responsible for developing and marketing the state's ports and promoting its maritime economy. The state has three deep water ports in Bridgeport, New Haven and New London.
For more information visit www.portsct.com.
Tribes pick East Windsor to host third casino
The Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes on Monday said they have selected East Windsor as the site for Connecticut's proposed third casino.
Rodney Butler, chairman of the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation, and Kevin Brown, chairman of the Mohegan Tribe, who together comprise MMCT Venture, described the proposed casino as both an entertainment and gaming facility. In choosing East Windsor, they are rejecting two potential sites in Windsor Locks, one at Bradley International Airport and the other at the Thrall tobacco farm near I-91.
Butler said East Windsor has shown, through its selectmen's recent unanimous vote on a proposed development agreement on Saturday, that the town is "eager to have us." The site is at the former Showcase Cinemas.
That development agreement states that MMCT will pay the town $3 million no later than 15 months before the casino opens, as well as $3 million annually in addition to regular tax payments expected to total about $5.5. million a year.
MMCT has committed to use of union labor for construction of the facility, the tribes said. About 75 percent of the permanent positions at the new casino will be full time.
MMCT also said that no less than 4 percent of the casino workforce will be made up of East Windsor residents, and no less than 15 percent of employees will live within a 25-mile radius of the facility. The tribes will host two job fairs in East Windsor.
Reached after the announcement, Windsor Locks First Selectman J. Christopher Kervick said the tribes informed him that the reason his town wasn't chosen was because a number of municipal officials, particularly on the Board of Finance, did not support the concept.
Earlier in the day selectmen had set a special meeting for Tuesday, which had included setting a referendum on a proposed agreement with Windsor Locks.
"We wish our friends in East Windsor well," Kervick said. "I've always thought a decision with this much community impact should be decided by the whole community and my biggest regret is that the people of Windsor Locks will not get the chance to be heard." CLICK TITLE TO CONTINUE
Highway Tolls Prompt Spirited Debate At Legislature
ighways in Hartford and Waterbury need hugely expensive maintenance, transit users are tired of steadily rising fares and Fairfield County drivers want relief from ever-worsening traffic congestion.
Those were just a few of the arguments put forward Monday at a five-hour-long legislative debate over the idea of levying tolls on Connecticut highways.
A long line of speakers agreed the transportation network needs plenty of improvements, but virtually nobody — not truckers, commuters, border-town residents or others — is interested in paying more.
Lobbyists and lawmakers dominated the debate, but one resident — retired dentist Bob Hall of West Hartford — showed up to endorse tolls.
"Is this going to be popular? Of course not," Hall told the General Assembly's transportation committee. "But Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, New York, New Jersey, Delaware, Maine — they all have toll roads."Hall dismissed the argument that tolls are just a disguised tax, and said there's a pressing need for revenue.
"I consider this a user fee," he said. "I'm concerned the money is running out and we can't maintain our infrastructure."
Connecticut hasn't charged tolls in more than two decades, and opponents insist that motorists will be furious if they're brought back. Toll proponents say transportation safety is at risk if bridges and highways continue deteriorating faster than the state maintains them.
The committee will decide in March whether to advance a toll proposal to the full General Assembly. Some Democrats endorse the idea, but others — and the vast majority of Republicans — have been leaning against it.
Supporters believe they gained ground last week when the state budget office predicted the special transportation fund will run out of money in about three years. Afterward, several Republican lawmakers indicated they might be open to some compromise for raising new revenues.
"The sins of our fathers are catching up to us. We keep kicking the can down the road," Rep. Tom O'Dea, R-New Canaan, said Monday.
He said he'd oppose tolls unless there's some offset — such as a steep reduction in the gas tax — to benefit residents.
"The only people paying the gas tax are Connecticut residents," said O'Dea, who said out-of-state drivers are getting a free ride on state highways.
O'Dea and others appeared drawn by the prospect of getting money from through traffic.
Bethel First Selectman Matt Knickerbocker countered that Connecticut people who commute on the highways would be hit with a new expense. He and other western Connecticut speakers said they're adamantly against border tolls that would hit their communities but not the rest of the state. CLICK TITLE TO CONTINUE