January 31, 2018

CT Construction Digest Wednesday January 31, 2018

Malloy, Fasano heat up transportation debate

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the state Senate’s top Republican intensified their debate Tuesday over an issue expected to be the focal point in Malloy’s final budget proposal: transportation.
The Democratic governor charged Sen. Len Fasano, R-North Haven, with misleading the public about an impending transportation crisis.
Fasano countered the governor and his fellow Democrats were rushing forward without sufficient information.
Though Malloy hasn’t disclosed specifics, the governor is expected to urge lawmakers to support higher gasoline taxes and tolls to fund a major transportation investment program.
One of the biggest challenges facing our state is the decades-long refusal to invest in our roads, bridges, tunnels, and rail,” Malloy spokeswoman Kelly Donnelly said Tuesday. “Yet, perplexingly, the Republican leader’s solution is to further slash our transportation investment.”
Malloy’s final budget is due on Feb. 7, the opening day of the regular, 2018 General Assembly session.
When Malloy challenged legislators in early 2015 to embrace a 30-year, $100 billion transportation investment plan, Fasano and House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, unveiled a significantly less costly proposal, arguing it was all Connecticut could afford.
“Predictably, Senator Fasano is recycling his misleading and outdated talking points,” Donnelly said, charging the GOP plan “would undermine Connecticut’s ability to compete with neighboring states and directly harm the state’s economy.  In short, while Senator Fasano, who has no original ideas of his own, tries to score cheap political points, legislative Democrats are putting forward real proposals to move Connecticut forward.”
Shortly after a dozen House Democrats announced Monday a proposal to establish electronic tolling for Connecticut highways, Fasano said, “It is irresponsible to approve a law, and subject people to more fees, without understanding the magnitude of the impact on Connecticut residents. They’ve been taxed enough.”
Besides the toll proposal, which is spearheaded by Rep. Tony Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill, another revenue-raising idea for the transportation program involves raising the retail gasoline tax from 25 to 29 cents per gallon. Rep. Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford, has recommended this as a stopgap measure until the legislature decides upon tolls or some other long-term funding mechanism for transportation.
“I understand some people are desperate to look at tolls as a cure-all for a state that has been damaged by years of failure under Governor Malloy and a Democrat-controlled legislature,” Fasano said. “But it’s reckless to rush to approve tolls before even understanding the economics of how they would work.”
“It is beyond irresponsible to criticize other people’s ideas that immediately fund critical transportation infrastructure projects when the governor and Democrat lawmakers have zero answers themselves besides calling for more taxes,” Fasano added. “It is pathetic. The governor clearly still doesn’t understand the ideas Republicans have put on the table, nor does he care because in his world the only ideas that matter are his own.”
But Malloy and several other transportation advocates argue time is of the essence.
The Malloy administration warned Wall Street credit rating agencies in November that the new state budget, adopted with bipartisan support, short-changes the transportation program.
Absent more funding, that program is headed for dramatic contraction over the next five years. CLICK TITLE TO CONTINUE

Report says NY construction fatalities going up

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — A new report says construction deaths in New York state hit a 14-year high in 2016.
The study issued Wednesday by the union-backed New York Committee for Occupational Safety and Health found that 71 workers died in construction-related accidents in 2016, the last year for which full data was available. That's up from 55 deaths in 2015 and the highest number of fatalities since 2002.
Deaths in New York City dropped from 25 to 21 from 2015 to 2016, a reduction attributed to efforts by city officials to crack down on unsafe workplaces.
The report's author, Charlene Obernauer, says funding cuts have hurt the federal Occupational Safety and Health Administration's ability to protect workers.
She says deaths can be prevented through better training and stronger enforcement of safety regulations.

Infrastructure, DACA highlight Conn. concerns over state of union

WASHINGTON — In his State of the Union speech Tuesday night, President Donald Trump touched on the nation’s need for infrastructure improvements Tuesday, calling on Congress to generate $1.5 trillion in investment in roads, bridges, railways and water lines.
But his plan, which includes leveraging state and local money and, “where appropriate,” private sector money drew raised eyebrows and doubt from Connecticut’s Democratic congressional delegation.
Expectations that states can fork over the lion’s share of infrastructure funding “doesn’t help Connecticut” with its ongoing financial crisis, said Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn. And public-private partnerships — P3 in the infrastructure lexicon — are not practical for major reconstruction projects because they offer investors limited opportunities to turn a profit, he said.
“You cannot rebuild I-95 and the Northeast rail corridor” with public-private partnerships, Murphy said.
Sen. Richard Blumenthal called the infrastructure portion of Trump’s speech “vacuous,” adding: “He was very short on specifics.”
In a businesslike speech that marked a departure from Trump’s scalding insults on Twitter, Trump sketched out a vision of restoring “our building heritage.”
“We will build gleaming new roads, bridges, highways, railways and waterways across our land,” Trump said. “And we will do it with American heart, American hands and American grit.”
Trump previously promised a $1 trillion infrastructure investment, with $200 billion in federal dollars leveraging the remainder from states and the private investment world
In his speech, Trump cast the lack of progress on infrastructure as a regulatory issue.
“America is a nation of builders,” said Trump, himself a New York hotel and resort construction magnate before winning the White House in 2016. “We built the Empire State Building in just one year. Isn’t it a disgrace that it can now take 10 years just to get a permit approved for a simple road?”
Trump spoke after a topsy-turvy first year in office, in which he failed to replace Obamacare but won the battle to push through major tax code revisions — an overhaul that Democrats state have characterized as harmful to high-cost, high-service states like Connecticut.
But legislative wins and losses were less a mark of Trump’s first year than his personal attacks and insults, many launched on Twitter, and the ongoing investigation of special counsel Robert Mueller into Trump campaign collusion with Russian intelligence and possible obstruction of justice by Trump himself.
Connecticut senators and House members who attended the speech with special guests were looking for olive branches, but few saw such offerings from the president. CLICK TITLE TO CONTINUE

Route for trail between Thomaston and Torrington in the works

TORRINGTON — Officials are laying out the route for a trail between Torrington and Thomaston as the ongoing effort to craft the Naugatuck River Greenway continues.
The 10.9-mile area in question stretches from Bogue Road in Torrington to a planned piece of trail near the Water Pollution Control Facility on Old Waterbury Road in Thomaston, Aaron Budris of the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments said Tuesday in a release.
BSC Group, a Glastonbury-based consulting firm, “will inventory potential routes and rank them with stakeholder and public input with the goal of selecting a final preferred route with broad consensus” over the course of the year, as well as providing “phasing recommendations and construction cost estimates of the preferred route to help municipalities plan,” according to Budris.
“This routing study is a key part of moving the Naugatuck River Greenway forward,” said Rob Pinkney, manager of transportation services at BSC Group, in the release. “It will ultimately provide options that ensure the greenway meets each community’s long term needs and that the investments made are well-spent and provide the most benefit to residents.”
Budris said the analysis will “inventory potential routes, points of interest, property ownership, environmental constraints, and stakeholder preferences,” and consider public input.
Officials announced plans to design the stretch of the trail in June 2017.
The Naugatuck River Greenway is projected to eventually run for 44 miles, connecting Torrington to Derby.
Officials have touted the potential economic and health benefits of the trail in recent years, as the planning process has gone on. A study on the prospective effects of the trail was released by the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments and partners in April 2017.
“Currently, total annual visits to open sections, only about 4.1 miles in four communities, is estimated at about 195,500,” representatives of the NVCOG said at the time. “These visitors spend about $2.9 million each year on various items such as snacks, beverages, food, gear and travel. By 2031, annual visitations are projected at 2.6 million and annual spending would reach about $42.6 million under the baseline scenario.”
The Torrington stretch of the greenway is planned to run between Franklin Street and Bogue Road. It is expected to spur approximately $2.9 million in spending by 2031, and receive roughly 129,700 visits per year, according to the NVCOG study.
The City Council awarded a contract for the survey and development of design plans for the piece of the greenway in March, and Anchor Engineering Services, Inc., of Glastonbury, was allocated $58,800 for the work. The city received a $278,000 grant from the state to plan it in April 2016.
The council also awarded a contract to BSC Group to determine the best route between the end of the Sue Grossman Greenway on Harris Drive and the beginning of the Naugatuck on Franklin Street in June.
A portion of the trail in Torrington has already been completed, running from John Toro Fields to the Supreme Industries property. CLICK TITLE TO CONTINUE

Construction on Plymouth's N. Main bridge to continue

PLYMOUTH - The Connecticut Department of Transportation will continue work on the North Main Street bridge, despite the state postponing many other infrastructure projects.
The bridge over the Poland River, near where North Main meets Poland Brook Road, has been closed for about a year as it is being rebuilt.
The $620,000 in state money for the bridge was on the recently released list of $4.3 billion worth of projects Gov. Dannel Malloy and the DOT said would be postponed indefinitely until new revenue is appropriated for the state’s Special Transportation Fund.
Mayor David Merchant said when the state sent out the list, “I immediately let them know this bridge is three quarters done.”
Merchant said there was a mix up with the paperwork last May. He recently talked with DOT Commissioner James Redeker and representatives from the Naugatuck Valley Council of Governments to straighten it out.
“We have since filled out the paperwork and filed it with the state, so they assured us that we would be fine with that money and the project will continue,” he said.
Merchant said the recent cold weather slowed work on the bridge, but he expects it will be finished by May or earlier. Residents and parents who drop off children at the nearby Fisher Elementary and Eli Terry Jr. Middle schools will likely be happy to see it open again, he added.
Two other local bridges were included on the list of postponed projects. One was on East Orchard Street over an unnamed brook, at a cost of $222,000, and one was on Keegan Road over Todd Hollow Brook, at a cost of $283,000.
They were originally meant to be included in a 2016 bond package, but were taken out when some members of the public disputed the costs and the need for the bridges to be replaced.
“They weren’t even on our radar at this point, so they don’t matter to us,” Merchant said.
The fund finances the state’s transportation system, including the operating costs of the DOT and all of the services it provides. In December, Malloy had repeated past warnings on the solvency of the fund following the release of a report showing that, without prompt action, the fund will be in deficit by fiscal year 2019, which begins this July 1.
Hundreds of projects across the state - including improvements to the I-91/Route 15 interchange on the Charter Oak Bridge in Hartford, the replacement of the Waterbury I-84 “Mixmaster,” and the widening of I-95 from Bridgeport to Stamford - were postponed indefinitely, or until resources are found to allow them to continue.
The projects were scheduled to be done over the five-year period from fiscal years 2018 through 2022.
Routine highway maintenance and transportation aid to cities and towns are also affected by the postponement.
“If Connecticut does not take the necessary action to allow us to restart these vital projects, not only will it put the state’s infrastructure into a further state of disrepair, it will hurt our economy,” Malloy said, on releasing the list.
“This isn’t a problem that can be punted until future years. Connecticut needs immediate action,” Redeker said. “As Gov. Malloy noted last month, the solvency of the Special Transportation Fund is in doubt without new revenues. In real terms, that means we need to postpone indefinitely important projects today.”
Malloy is expected to release his recommendations to ensure the solvency of the fund in advance of the 2018 legislative session, which starts in February.

Connecticut Governor To Propose Highway Tolls

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is expected to announce his support for electronic highway tolls and an increase in the gasoline tax to pay for road projects as he unveils his transportation plan Wednesday, officials said.
The proposal calls for an increase in the state’s gasoline tax by 7 cents per gallon, phased in over four years, according to sources who have been briefed on the plan. The tolls would be operational around the state by July 2022 or sooner, and the money would be collected by the 2023 fiscal year.
Malloy and others have said that tolls cannot be erected immediately due to the time needed for the necessary environmental approvals and public bidding for the project. Rather than the old-fashioned tollbooths, the project would utilize the latest in technology to gather driver information as cars speed along the highways and either collect electronic payment or trigger a bill sent through the mail.
Malloy’s chief spokeswoman, Kelly Donnelly, would not confirm the details of the plan, but noted that Malloy has scheduled a news conference at 10 a.m. Wednesday to discuss transportation funding .
Some Democrats have been pushing for a vote on tolls in advance of the legislature’s regular session, which begins next week. They joined with construction workers Monday to push for tolls as the best way to fund the state’s bridges, roads and highways.
Malloy’s move would provide money for the Special Transportation Fund, which has been taking in less than expected in tax revenue, partly due to relatively low gas prices and more fuel efficient cars, which reduce the amount of tax paid.
Malloy was locked Tuesday in a bitter clash with Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano of North Haven over transportation funding. Fasano said that Malloy and his transportation commissioner, James P. Redeker, were deliberately “overselling their case back in December’’ by saying that the transportation fund was running out of money.
But the transportation numbers started looking better under a new analysis by Malloy’s budget office and the state treasurer that was completed in preparation for an upcoming sale of transportation bonds worth $800 million. A five-year projection of funding is required before the state can sell the bonds.
Malloy and Redeker had sounded the alarm about problems with the fund and halted $4.3 billion in projects around the state because they said the state could not afford those projects without an increase in funding

January 30, 2018

CT Construction Digest Tuesday January 30, 2018

Governor Malloy Press Conference to Announce Plan for Increasing Transportation Funding
When:  10amWednesday, January 31, 2017
Where:  Old Judiciary Room at the State Capitol Please arrive early to park in the Legislative Office Building Parking Lot, go through security, and walk through the tunnel to the State Capitol.  

Capitol News Briefing Concerning Legislative Proposals on Electronic Tolling

Dozen House Democrats vow new drive for tolls despite rocky road

A dozen House Democratic legislators pledged Monday to propose a bill in the upcoming legislative session to establish electronic tolling throughout highways in Connecticut – a pitch that has been made numerous times in recent years but has failed to win approval.
The measure would empower the Department of Transportation to establish tolls, which eventually would become the chief source of revenue for the Special Transportation Fund. The fund’s chief sources of revenue now are fuel taxes.
Proponents of tolls say the investment is necessary to bail out the fund that supports transportation construction projects, and dismissed criticism that the money would just be raided to help cover the state’s operating budget, as has been done in the past.
“I promise you if we do this, this state will thrive,” said state Rep. Tony Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill, the longtime House chair of the legislature’s Transportation Committee.
House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said the key is having voters this November approve locking in the revenue generated by tolls so it cannot be raided going forward.
“That is a win for Connecticut taxpayers. It’s a win for transportation advocates and it’s a win for businesses, because now you don’t have to leave three hours early to leave for Stamford,” he said.
Ritter and Guerrera’s support for tolls is not new, though they said they believe the growing recognition that necessary transportation projects don’t have a funding source could help the measure pass this year.
That’s still a tall order given that Democrats hold an extremely narrow majority of votes in the General Assembly, Republicans have not come out in support of tolls and Democrats are divided on the issue.
“Yes, this will be a tough vote, I get that,” said Guerrera, and for those against tolls, he asks, “What’s the alternative?”
Republicans have said in the past that transportation projects could be funded by prioritizing what the state borrows money for and limiting other non-transportation projects.
“This issue will certainly be debated in the coming legislative session, and public opinion will likely move around once the location and number of tolls are defined and we learn how much revenue they will generate,” said House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby.
Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano said tolls could have the unintended consequence of putting federal funding at risk.“It’s reckless to rush to approve tolls before even understanding the economics of how they would work,” said Fasano. “Connecticut needs to consider ways to fund transportation without asking for more from state taxpayers who have already been drained enough.”
Ritter disagrees that the state could reprioritize its borrowing habits to save transportation projects.
“I just don’t see how it works,” he said, saying it would sideline other important projects and the state badly needs a new funding source for transportation. “We hope common sense prevails and this passes,” he said.
Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has hinted strongly he will propose additional funding to meet the transportation programs’ needs, both in the short-term and the long-term, in his next budget plan. That plan must be submitted to the General Assembly on Feb. 7.
The Malloy administration warned Wall Street credit rating agencies in November that the new state budget short-changes the transportation program. Absent more funding, the program is headed for dramatic contraction over the next five years.
The Special Transportation Fund, which holds about $1.51 billion this fiscal year, represents about 7 percent of the overall budget. It chiefly is used to cover debt payments on transportation-related borrowing and Department of Transportation operations.  CLICK TITLE TO CONTINUE

Cromwell’s northern tier industrial park soon will be home to largest building in town

CROMWELL — Construction is underway on a 28-acre parcel in the County Line Road industrial zone, where a state-of-the-art warehouse and the largest building in Cromwell eventually will be built. The plot, formerly occupied by Gardner’s Nurseries, was purchased by Indiana-based developer Scannell Properties in the town’s northern tier. A 403,000-square-foot facility will be erected on the lot next to the town’s transfer station, Town Manager Anthony J. Salvatore said Monday afternoon.
Construction crews were out Monday clearing the land near Route 9.
The business that originally expressed interest in the parcel withdrew from negotiations, so the developer decided to build the structure on speculation, hoping one or more firms will be interested in occupying the space, Salvatore said.
The town already approved a seven-year, 100-percent tax abatement for the developer, Salvatore said Scannell Properties focuses on build-to-suit and speculative development projects throughout the United States and has completed several projects in Connecticut, according to its website.
 The northern tier contains most of the undeveloped and commercially zoned land in town, according to Salvatore, who said he and Director of Development and Planning/EDC Stuart Popper have been working on the deal over the past 18 months.
Economic development is on the upswing in town. A little over 2 miles down the road in the Cromwell Square shopping plaza, the Kmart and Xpect Discounts spaces at 45 Shunpike Road, vacant for a year, will soon welcome ShopRite supermarket “(The proposal) is now before the state traffic administration, so hopefully that’ll be wrapped up shortly,” Salvatore said, “and there will be another vendor or two for (the) remaining parcel. That’s in the works, but I understand they’re closer on finalizing that also.”
The town is very amenable to new businesses moving in, Salvatore said.
Last September, the same developer announced plans to build a 356,000-square-foot distribution warehouse on County Line Road, near the Rocky Hill line.
Scannell will buy the land, construct the building and then lease it to Arett Sales, which supplies some 6,500 products to “mom and pop shops,” officials said last year, and hardware and garden center stores. Arett has operated a distribution center in Bristol since 2000.
 “If we hear someone is looking for something, we definitely try to fit them in where we think there’s a need and we have possible accommodations. We do that on a regular basis. It really comes down to can that entity cut a deal with the property owner,” Salvatore said. CLICK TITLE TO CONTINUE

Ansonia’s $5.2 million Wakelee Avenue rebuild to start April 1

ANSONIA-It’s historic, heavily traveled and desperately in need of a facelift.
Come April 1 reconstruction of Wakelee Avenue from Nolan Field to Division Street will begin thanks to $4,416,510 in state bonding, an additional $441,000 in state contingency funds and $441,000 from the city.
“This is great news for the residents and businesses on the West Side,” said Mayor David Cassetti as he signed a contract with J.Iapaluccio Construction of Brookfield Tuesday. “Wakelee Avenue serves as the gateway to Ansonia from Seymour and Derby. The residents will be getting a brand new street.”
Unlike other municipal highway projects which have been delayed or scuttled by the state’s budgetary crisis, the check for this project is in the city’s hands.
Plans call for straightening, milling and paving the slightly more than mile-long buckled, patched roadway which residents like Waldy Beltran describe as a roller coaster ride. Cassetti said the entire surface will be dug up, the asphalt covered turn-of-the century trolley tracks underneath removed and new drainage and catch basins installed. “Residents deserve to see their neighborhoods refurbished,” said Corporation Counsel John P. Marini. “It increases the value of their homes. It makes the city more aesthetically pleasing to investors.”
He admitted there will be “short-term inconveniences” but said they’ll “lead to a very positive long-term impact.” All of the deteriorated sidewalks on both sides of the street will be demolished and a new base with cement will be installed. Corners will have granite curbs cut for handicapped access while street lights will be installed every 75 feet.
For people like Chris Godfrey that’s “great news.” On Tuesday afternoon Godfrey slowly manipulated his crutches over the broken up sidewalk between his Pork Hollow home and Jackson Street bus stop while he and Marissa Mansfield waited for their seven-year-old son, Kevin.
“It’s about time these sidewalks were fixed,” said Godfrey, who is recovering from knee surgery.“Try pushing a baby stroller down these sidewalks.” said Mansfield. “It’s difficult. These sidewalks need to be replaced.”
What won’t be replaced Cassetti said are the cement block horse ties or the Pork Hollow monument installed in 1901 in front of Klanko’s Market. The monument commemorates the actions of colonial soldiers and civilians who hid provisions, particularly pork, from an invading British Army in 1777.
“Those monuments are very important. Please, Please be careful,” Cassetti told Kris Nigro, Iapaluccio’s vice president of construction work. She said Iapaluccio’s work includes the Brookfield and Madison streetscapes and New Haven’s Bowen Field.
The project is something Cassetti has been pushing since taking office in 2013 CLICK TITLE TO CONTINUE

Democrats: Tolls key to state’s economic survival

HARTFORD — After years of controversy and numerous rejections in the General Assembly, Democrats on Monday said that high-speed tolling is the key to Connecticut’s economic survival.
Republicans, however, are not so certain, standing pat on a three-year-old proposal that would support transportation projects without tolls.
“We as legislators have to do the right thing,” said Rep. Antonio Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill, who as co-chairman of the legislative Transportation Committee has tried and failed in recent years to persuade lawmakers of the need for toll revenue to help fix the state’s transit infrastructure. “If we do this, this state will thrive.”
Guerrera said that as much as $800 million a year in new revenue is being left on the table because the state, which hasn’t had tolls in more than 30 years, continues to balk.
He stressed that recent polls indicate the public is ready for the type of high-speed tollings that provides hundreds of millions of dollars in revenue throughout the region.
“Our roads and our bridges are in bad shape,” he said. “Our funds are drying up. We cannot sit here, as a legislative body, and wait for something bad to happen before we have the guts, and I will say that again, before we have the guts to make a vote that will put this state on good ground. Why would any company want to move to the state of Connecticut, if they can’t bring their goods and services throughout the state in a timely fashion?” He estimated that about 40 percent of state traffic comes from outside the borders. Legislative proponents say state residents would get a discount or rebate on any tolls.
“It’s common-sense,” said House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford. “It’s high time.”
 While state voters will have the opportunity in November to vote on an amendment to the Constitution to create a so-called lock box for transit-improvement funding, the issue remains a tough vote for lawmakers who have continued to defeat the proposal in recent years even as the Special Transportation Fund is on track to become insolvent.
No Republican lawmakers joined Guerrera and other Democrats, including Rep. Dorina Borer of West Haven and Chris Perone of Norwalk, during a morning news conference in the Legislative Office Building.
The state Department of Transportation is working on a study of possible locations for the electronic gantries over state highways. A previous draft plan included several tolls along the Merritt Parkway and more on I-95 between Greenwich and New Haven, as well as I-91, I-84 and limited-access highways including Route 8 “Our roads and bridges are crumbling, along with our state’s economy if we fail to act,” Perone said. “We’ve gotten to a point now where it is a critical stage. We are in a situation where failure to act now means we are going to pay a price that nobody in the state wants to pay in terms of lack of job growth, in terms of taxes that are too high.”
Borer said that while Maine tolls generate $133 million a year from tolls, Massachusetts reaps $434 million and New York collects $2.7 billion. CLICK TITLE TO CONTINUE

Everything you need to know about Plainville's water pollution control upgrades

PLAINVILLE – Voters will head to the polls Tuesday to decide on a $15.7 million upgrade project to the town’s water pollution control facility in order to comply with the state-mandated removal of phosphorus.
“There’s not a lot of choice in the matter,” said Town Manager Robert Lee.
According to the Town Charter, the referendum must be held for long-term borrowing purposes even though the project is a state requirement. The town is expected to receive a state grant to cover 41.2 percent of the total project. The town will be responsible for the remaining $9.2 million.
The new phosphorus limits require the town to reduce the amount discharged into the Pequabuck River by 88 percent.
Phosphorus is naturally occurring and essential to supporting plant growth, but becomes detrimental to aquatic life when present in excessive amounts. Too much phosphorus in fresh water, like the Pequabuck River, can lead to algal blooms as well as a reduction in water quality and fish kills.
Historically, 29 pounds of phosphorus is discharged from Plainville’s water pollution control facility on Cronk Road. The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection issued a permit to the town to reduce the amount of phosphorus to 3.49 pounds with a compliance date of July 10, 2019.
The facility was last upgraded in 2009 to remove conventional pollutants and nitrogen but did not include the removal of phosphorus. This time around the focus will be on phosphorus discharge reductions and the improvement of the sludge processing system.
The system consists of aging equipment which will be replaced with a new processing room, formerly the lime silo room.
The complete project design has already been approved by the state.
Bids for construction are expected to be received by March with a start date for the project as soon as May. The project is expected to take two years to complete.
If the referendum fails however, the town could risk losing $2 million in grants. The town could also face fines if the project is not complete by summer of 2020.
“I think it’s going to be quiet,” Lee said. “It hasn’t generated a lot of controversy.”
A public hearing was held late last year in which a few residents voiced their concerns on the financing and sewer increases associated with the project.
The Town Council recently agreed to a 4.8 percent sewer user fee increase in order to cover project expenses. The council said rates are expected to decrease by 2025.
The referendum will take place, Tuesday, Jan. 30, from 6 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the fire house.

Lawmakers to pitch statewide road tolls

Connecticut's transportation bank account continues to approach insolvency, which promises to be a major topic in the three-month legislative session that kicks off next week.
Lawmakers are certain to discuss tolls and gas taxes as potential mechanisms to shore up the Special Transportation Fund (STF), which pays for road and bridge capital projects, bus and rail, and the operations of the Department of Transportation.
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz (D-Berlin) said in an interview last week that he has vowed to Transportation Committee co-chairman Antonio Guerrera that he will push the topic of road tolls to the forefront.
"I've already committed to Rep. Guerrera that a vote on tolls will happen this year [in the House]," Aresimowicz said.
On Monday morning, Guerrera, a longtime advocate for tolls, announced his committee would introduce a bill calling for statewide electronic tolling.
"Why would any company want to move to the state of Connecticut if they can't bring their goods and services throughout the state in a timely fashion?" Guerrera said. "I have been saying this for four years. I knew this day was going to come."
He was joined at a press conference by House Majority Leader Matt Ritter (D-Hartford).
"As the majority leader, I'll make sure we do everything we can to pass it in the House this year," Ritter said.
Should the legislature take action on tolls before November, when voters will weigh in on a transportation funding "lockbox" that is meant to shield funds from budget-balancing raids by future legislators?
"I'm not willing to wait," Aresimowicz said. "Our transportation fund will be broke."
Meantime, Rep. Jason Rojas (D-East Hartford), said this month that he intended to propose a 4 cent hike in the state's gas tax -- a key funding source for the STF.
Guerrera said he views a gas tax increase as a potential temporary measure. He hopes the state could lower the tax below current levels over time to become more competitive with other states.
Tolls and tax increases could be key issues in an election year. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who is not running for reelection in November, has been spurring the legislature to boost transportation revenue for several years.
In 2015, Malloy released a $100 billion, 30-year transportation blueprint called "Let's Go CT."
The governor is expected to issue his own recommendations soon for how the legislature can ensure the STF's solvency. Ritter said he expects Malloy to "go big" on his calls for transportation revenue.
This month, he ordered an indefinite halt to $4.3 billion worth of projects, amounting to 41 percent of the Department of Transportation's $10.5 billion capital plan. Delayed projects range from the replacement of the Waterbury mixmaster to a widening of Interstate 95, and even routine highway maintenance and municipal road aid.
Malloy said the projects could resume once financial sources are identified to pay for them.
After a failed attempt in 2015, lawmakers last year agreed to place a constitutional lockbox question on the ballot this November.
The project postponement followed the release of a report in December by DOT and the Office of Policy and Management, warning that if STF revenues don't increase soon, the state would have to defer or cancel projects, cut paving, maintenance and snow removal operations, hike bus and rail fares and reduce service. The DOT would also have to cut 15 percent of its staff, the report said.
"As we prepare to enter a new year, I will encourage and facilitate continued dialogue with my fellow leaders in state government to ensure that action is taken, and taken soon," Malloy said last month.
A government panel studied the STF in 2015, warning that new funding sources were needed to sustain future solvency.
The panel recommended raising the gas and sales tax, reevaluating permit fees, implementing congestion tolls on major corridors, among other ideas. (The panel's final report can be downloaded here) CLICK TITLE TO CONTINUE

State Analysis: Transportation Fund Revenues Rising, Not Falling

Since December, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and his staff have been warning of dangerous declines in state transportation funding, but the latest figures from state experts indicate that the fund’s revenues are actually on the increase.
Overall, according to this latest state estimate, net revenues for the transportation fund are projected to rise by about $447 million during the next five years, to $1.841 billion.
The new analysis takes into account those rising transportation tax revenues, planned bus and rail fare increases, some proposed transit service cutbacks, and putting a number of proposed projects on hold. Using those assumptions, state experts project the Special Transportation Fund would have a cumulative balance of $234.2 million by June 2022.
“There’s been a change in the landscape,” Chris McClure, a spokesman for Malloy’s Office of Policy and Management, said last week. “It’s improved… so it’s not quite so dire.”
Republicans like the Senate’s top GOP leader, Len Fasano of North Haven, believe Malloy and Transportation Commissioner James P. Redeker were deliberately “overselling their case back in December … It definitely was, ‘The sky is falling,’ ” Fasano said.
The governor’s bleak warnings that the transportation system “is at a crossroads” and similar doomsday predictions from Redeker are linked to a laundry list of $4.3 billion in state projects that have been authorized but not yet funded.
The projected transportation revenue increases wouldn’t be enough to cover the cost of those big, unfunded rail and highway plans, most of which were authorized by the General Assembly in 2015. They include projects like the I-84 viaduct replacement in Hartford, the Waterbury I-84 “mixmaster,” and various new train stations along the planned New Haven-Hartford-Springfield rail service.
Malloy has repeatedly called improvements to Connecticut’s deteriorating transportation system a top goal of his tenure as governor, which ends next January. But he has been unable, largely because of major and ongoing budget deficits, to convince state lawmakers to approve things like tolls or new gas tax hikes that would be needed to pay for the ambitious transportation plans.
“This is just the status quo,” McClure said of the new transportation fund analysis, which assumes those projects would remain on hold and other spending cuts.
The House chairman of the legislature’s transportation committee, Rep. Tony Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill, said the new revenue estimates don’t change his opinion that the status quo isn’t enough.
“Nothing would get done,” Guerrera said. “Once you start adding projects costing billions of dollars, there’s no way the transportation fund can sustain that.”
Guerrera and other House Democrats this week launched a new pro-toll offensive, warning that the state’s roads and bridges will continue to deteriorate without a big injection of new funding. A recent AAA poll found that 47 percent of Connecticut residents favor tolls.
Fasano agreed that transportation funding “does have serious issues.” But he argues there are ways to fix the system without raising taxes. “You don’t need to do a gas tax [hike]…,” he said. “You don’t need tolls.”
This is a legislative election year and lawmakers are typically reluctant to approve politically unpopular measures like tax increases or tolls when they’re about to run for re-election.
Malloy said in December that the transportation fund crisis has been caused partly by a drop in state taxes on gasoline and the gross receipts of oil companies that are the primary funding sources for the transportation system. He also cited a trend toward electric cars and high-mileage vehicles as reasons for declining revenue.
New figures compiled by state treasury analysts and Malloy’s fiscal experts show revenue from the transportation tax on oil companies is projected to increase from $238.4 million in the 2016-17 fiscal year to $359.2 million by 2022 — a 50.6 percent jump. The increase in state sales taxes being directed to the transportation fund is even more dramatic: from $188.4 million in the last fiscal year to $498.8 million in 2022, a rise of more than $310 million. A big part of that rise is related to a new tax on automobile sales scheduled to take effect in 2021. CLICK TITLE TO CONTINUE

Other Northeastern States Bring In Big Toll Revenues

One reason Connecticut lawmakers are again considering electronic highway tolls here is the knowledge that neighboring states are raising billions of dollars in toll revenue every year.
The General Assembly’s Office of Legislative Research did a survey in September 2017 of how much seven other northeastern states are collecting in tolls. Here are the results:
New Jersey: $1.57 billion (calendar year 2016.)
Port Authority of New York and New Jersey: $1.865 billion (calendar year 2016.)
New York: $708 million (calendar year 2016.)
Pennsylvania: $1.03 billion (fiscal year ending May 31, 2016.)Massachusetts: $395 million (fiscal year 2016.)
New Hampshire: $130.7 million (fiscal year 2016.)
Maine: $133.8 million (calendar year 2016.) Rhode Island: $20.4 million (fiscal year 2016.)

Analysis Shows Over 54,000 American Bridges Structurally Deficient

The nearly 48,000-mi. interstate highway system literally moves the U.S. economy, carrying 75 percent of the nation's heavy truck traffic.
A new report finds there is the equivalent of one “structurally deficient”-rated bridge, on average, for every 27 miles of our major highway network. The 1,800 structurally deficient Interstate bridges are crossed 60 million times daily.
When it comes to bridges needing attention, however, that's just the tip of the iceberg.
According to an analysis of the U.S. Department of Transportation's just released 2017 National Bridge Inventory database, 54,259 of the nation's bridges are rated structurally deficient.  If placed end-to-end, they would stretch 1,216 miles, or nearly the distance between Miami and New York City.
Cars, trucks and school buses cross these 54,259 compromised structures 175 million times every day, the data show.
The pace of improving the nation's inventory of structurally deficient bridges slowed this past year.  It's down only two-tenths of a percent from the number reported in the government's 2016 data.  At current pace of repair or replacement, it would take 37 years to remedy all of them, said Alison Premo Black, chief economist of the American Road & Transportation Builders Association (ARTBA), who conducted the analysis.
Noting President Trump is expected to address the nation's infrastructure challenges in his Jan. 30 “State of the Union” address, Black said, “An infrastructure package aimed at modernizing the Interstate System would have both short- and long-term positive effects on the U.S. economy.”
Traffic bottlenecks, she said, costs the trucking industry alone more than $60 billion per year in lost productivity and fuel, which “increases the cost of everything we make, buy or export.”
To help ensure public safety, bridge decks and support structures are regularly inspected for deterioration and remedial action. They are rated on a scale of zero to nine — with nine meaning the bridge is in “excellent” condition.  A bridge is classified as structurally deficient and in need of repair if the rating on a key structural element is four or below.
While these bridges may not be imminently unsafe, they are in need of attention.
Other key findings in the ARTBA analysis: 
Iowa (5,067), Pennsylvania (4,173), Oklahoma (3,234), Missouri (3,086), Illinois (2,303), Nebraska (2,258), Kansas (2,115), Mississippi (2,008), North Carolina (1,854) and New York (1,834) have the most structurally deficient bridges. The District of Columbia (8), Nevada (31), Delaware (39), Hawaii (66) and Utah (87) have the least.
 At least 15 percent of the bridges in six states — Rhode Island (23 percent), Iowa (21 percent), West Virginia (19 percent), South Dakota (19 percent), Pennsylvania (18 percent) and Nebraska (15 percent) — fall in the structurally deficient category.State — and congressional district — specific information from the analysis — including rankings and the locations of the 250 most heavily travelled structurally deficient bridges in the nation and top 25 most heavily traveled in each state — is available at www.artbabridgereport.org.

Eversource proposing fee to raise customers’ bills by about $6

New London — State regulators are accepting comments from Eversource Energy customers on a proposed distribution fee hike that could see average residents' monthly bills rise by about $6 beginning in May.
In late November, Eversource asked the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority to approve a distribution fee increase that would have added $13.69 to average customers' bills. But the proposed bump has been cut almost in half, with Eversource recently reaching a settlement with the Office of Consumer Counsel, an independent state agency that advocates for utility consumers.
Customers can offer comments on the proposal at a PURA-hosted hearing at New London City Hall on Tuesday, Feb. 6, at 6 p.m.
Eversource spokesman Mitch Gross said the proposed increase would help the company reduce the frequency and duration of outages, covering investments in stronger utility poles and overhead lines, upgraded system and substation equipment, continued tree trimming and technology protecting the grid from cybersecurity threats.
"It's all of the things that give us the ability to continue to make these strategic investments in the system," Gross said.
Norman Stitham, a retired South Lyme resident, said he recently received a flyer in his bill notifying him of the previously proposed $13-plus increase. He was not appeased by news that he now faced a smaller increase.
"They've got more charges and doohickeys that you wouldn't believe," Stitham said, running down the list of charges in the delivery category. "Nobody ever reads their bill. They just pay it."
The proposal to bump distribution rates follows a general rate increase earlier this month of about 1 cent per kilowatt hour. That general rate adjustment, which happens twice annually, on Jan. 1 and July 1, doesn't result in profits; Gross noted it represents the supply side of customers' bills, enabling Eversource to pay generators for the electricity it distributes.
"The delivery side is what enables us to carry on our business and do the upgrades and investments we need in technology, equipment and manpower," Gross said. "We're talking about reliable power. It's important to the economy ... and in many communities we're the top taxpayer and that's vital revenue for towns. But we certainly understand our customers' concerns."
Gross noted Eversource made a host of concessions in the settlement, including reduced return for shareholders and reduced requests for reimbursements of employee benefits.
The settlement reduced the proposed fee increase from $336.9 million to $154.5 million over the next three years.
Part of PURA's review includes an Eversource proposal to reduce a separate distribution "customer service charge" that currently stands at $19.25 monthly, to $11.88. CLICK TITLE TO CONTINUE

January 29, 2018

CT Construction Digest Monday Jnuary 29, 2018

North Stonington residents to vote on halting schools project just before groundbreaking

North Stonington — Residents here will vote this week on something that may never have happened before in southeastern Connecticut: canceling a school building project after spending more than $1 million, signing one large contract and getting ready to break ground in just a few weeks.
On Thursday at 7 p.m., residents will vote at a town meeting in the gymatoruim on whether or not to proceed with a contentious school building project. Passed at a referendum nearly two years ago, the $38 million project — of which taxpayers will be responsible for about $21 million after state reimbursement — is intended to address serious maintenance concerns in the school district’s aging buildings, and constructing additions.
The town found itself in the uncharted territory of scheduling a revote on the project after two petitions were submitted asking for the Board of Selectman to call a town meeting and vote to reconsider the project. Despite the timing and challenges posed by revoting on a project the town has already spent a large amount of money on, the Board of Selectman was left with little option but to comply with the petitioners’ request.
As an unchartered town, North Stonington is required by state law to hold the town meeting, and there wasn’t a strong legal basis to suggest otherwise, according to Town Attorney Robert Avena. Given the timing of the request, there was also concern that any attempt to avoid the meeting had the potential to threaten the project’s short-term financing and the ability to start construction.
“If this was three, five, six years ago and we're looking at different options, that's fine, said First Selectman Mike Urgo. "I respect that people are interested ... but you’ve got people, really smart people, that have put a lot of time and energy into this, people that really looked at things from so many different angles."
“This project is the right decision for the town,” he said.
Meanwhile, petitioners and those opposed to the project have raised concerns about the impact it would have on the town's tax rate and the ability of the town to handle the increase. There's also been concern about the language of the originally approved resolution.
This means that residents — not selectmen — will vote Thursday on whether the school building project will happen at all. And given how contentious the project has been over the past several years, its original approval by just three votes and the information and misinformation being circulated, the outcome of Thursday's vote is anyone's guess.
A history of rejecting school projects
Renovating the town’s aging school facilities has been discussed for more than a decade, but in 2014 residents were first presented with two versions of a school renovation project.
Both proposals, the first for a $47 million project and the second for $40 million, were rejected at referendums by more than a 150-vote margin. Opponents at the time said they simply couldn’t stomach the cost.
Addressing the school problems was shelved until 2016, when voters were presented with a new $38.5 million project. This project proposed to renovate the elementary school, demolish the existing middle school, build a new combined middle and high school wing attached to the gymatorium, and end the use of the tunnel under Norwich-Westerly Road. CLICK TITLE TO CONTINUE

Goodwin College Plans Include Housing, Hotel, Marina And Shops

Goodwin College rose on an industrial graveyard, a riverfront rebirth that is to continue over the next several years with developments designed to serve more students and boost the local and regional economy.
Since 2009, when the current campus was built on the site of an abandoned oil storage yard, the private, nonprofit college has been buying houses and land between Main Street and Riverside Drive. Goodwin now owns the majority of the Connecticut River neighborhood south of Willow Street and north of a 60-acre wetland that was once a Pratt & Whitney testing site.
Over the next two or three years, plans are to build a marina, a riverfront hotel and other mixed-use buildings along with a 150-unit residential/retail building that will serve students and renters seeking river-bank apartments. The college also is working with the state to expand a manufacturing education center at a magnet high school on campus.
Town council Chairman Rich Kehoe said the wide-ranging plans promise “an awful lot of common benefit.”
“It’s clearly a win-win for both the town and Goodwin College,” Kehoe said. “The college has provided significant investment in that area and the town has always hoped that we would see some economic development arise as a result of the college’s growth over the past 10 years.
“I’m very excited and pleased to see that these plans are moving forward,” he said.
Now serving about 3,400 students, the college grew from the storefront Data Institute Business School of East Hartford. Goodwin President Mark Scheinberg bought Data Institute for about $30,000 in 1981, when it was located above a pizza shop in Hartford and served just six students. Two years later, Scheinberg moved the school to East Hartford, and in 1999, the state Board of Governors for Higher Education granted college-level status.
Goodwin spent about $100 million to build the riverside campus, which serves a student population that is about 80 percent female and 50 percent minority. Now one of the state’s largest nursing schools, the college also offers degrees in business management, manufacturing, early childhood education, environmental studies and criminal justice/public safety.
“We’ve been building a college from scratch in the past few decades, but we know we will continue to grow,” Todd Andrews, vice president for economic and strategic development, said.
Andrews and Scheinberg said the planned development is meant to benefit students and East Hartford residents and to attract visitors. The plans proceed from a community-based outlook, they said.
“We need to be considerate of the surrounding community and to affect it in a positive way,” Andrews said.
Plans call for:
— A residential/retail building that would include student apartments. The campus neighborhood now includes nothing larger than four-unit housing. Almost all Goodwin students are commuters and Connecticut residents, but officials say on-campus housing would attract students from farther away. The building also is to include market-rate and above-market-rate apartments.
Retail shops will be on the ground floor and the design will mesh with the neighborhood, Andrews said. The college has hired an architect and will present plans to the town this year, he said. A site has not been finalized, but the project likely will require demolition of several houses, Andrews said. The college, he said, “is very sensitive to not displacing residents.”
— A 60-slip marina, able to moor anything from a kayak to an 80-foot vessel. The marina will be open to the public for rentals and to boaters sailing up from Long Island Sound who seek only short-term stays. The idea, Andrews said, is to make the area a destination for river travelers and stir economic activity in restaurants, retail shops and entertainment venues. The college has received federal and state permits for the marina and only local permits remain to be secured, officials said.
— A riverfront hotel with one or two restaurants. The hotel is to be built on the site of a vacant restaurant at 125 Riverside Drive. College leaders say they are in discussions with hotel and restaurant developers, and construction could start as early as next year. A second phase would add more commercial and possibly residential development along the riverside. CLICK TITLE TO CONTINUE

Issues abound around proposed sewer district hookup

For 20 years, the stately conference room with cherry-wood finishing at Torrington Water Co. has been where its board members voted on purchasing new land, approving new capital projects and adopting new policies at the privately owned company. But in recent months, growing discord inside that room has emerged over a proposed sewer line from Woodridge Lake Sewer District in Goshen to the city treatment plant.
The proposed 6.2-mile sewer line would cut through the water company’s Allen Dam Reservoir watershed.
Longtime water company board member Charles W. Roraback, who owns five 1-acre vacant parcels along the shore of Woodridge Lake, and his daughter, Margaret, also a board member, voted against a resolution that the city of Torrington not enter into any agreement with WLSD that involves sending sewage through the watershed, said Richard Calhoun, fellow board member and former water company president.
Charles W. Roraback’s son, Charles E. Roraback, owns a home on Woodridge Lake and three undeveloped lots, all within the sewer district. The family also owns a home on a small island that is surrounded by Woodridge Lake.
“I wanted to create a historical record of what’s happening in the community and the intention was to create an accurate record for posterity,” Calhoun said of his decision to propose the resolution at the board’s last quarterly meeting. He added that he wanted the resolution to encourage the city not to get into an agreement.
The Rorabacks were the two dissenting votes on the resolution, which passed 6-2, Calhoun said.
Charles W. Roraback declined to confirm the board vote or discuss it, saying it would be inappropriate to comment on board actions.
The 145-year-old Torrington Water Co. has spent $200,000 on attorneys and engineering firms to oppose the route through the watershed. Torrington Water Co. President Susan M. Suhanovsky has said she is not against the pipeline connecting to Torrington’s sewer plant on Bogue Road, but she wants an alternative route that doesn’t compromise the watershed if there was ever a break in the line. Suhanovsky said she plans to speak out against the proposed route during a hearing that will allow public comment on Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at Torrington City Hall.
THE PROPOSED ROUTE from the sewer district’s facility on Brush Hill Road in Goshen to the treatment facility at the intersection of Route 4 and Lovers Lane in Torrington cuts through nearly a mile of the watershed. CLICK TITLE TO CONTINUE

Once Again, Gambling Expansion About To Become Hot Button Legislative Issue

It’s the odds-on favorite: There again will be a big push in the General Assembly this year to expand legalized gambling in Connecticut.
And expect casinos and sports betting to be on table after lawmakers return to the Capitol on Feb. 7.
“No doubt,” Rep. Joe Verrengia, D-West Hartford, said. “Gaming will be one of those hot-button issues in the upcoming session.”
Already, a bill is percolating among members of the Bridgeport delegation that would open up bidding for a casino in the state’s largest city. MGM already has a splashy, $675 million proposal for the Bridgeport waterfront.
Rep. Ezequiel Santiago, D-Bridgeport, said the bill “will attempt to do what we started last year, attempt to start a process for competitive bidding.”
In the last session of the General Assembly, state lawmakers opened up casino expansion after a heated debate, allowing the operators of Foxwoods Resort Casino and Mohegan Sun to establish a “satellite” casino in East Windsor. The venue is part of a defensive strategy responding to MGM’s casino and entertainment complex under construction in Springfield that is set to open in September.
Santiago said he does not oppose the East Windsor plans — he voted for them — but he sees Bridgeport as primed to capitalize on an untapped gaming market in Long Island and the New York City metro area.
Construction has yet to begin in East Windsor, and the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes still face hurdles in obtaining a key approval from federal regulators. The tribes have said demolition of an old movie theater on the site will begin in the first three months of this year.
Santiago also said the tribal operators of Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun expressed interest in Bridgeport, following the MGM proposal. Only the tribes are allowed to operate slot machines in the state now, under an agreement that gives the state a 25 percent cut of those revenues each month.
Authorizing another casino operator would cancel the agreement. MGM has argued that the state could do better with a Bridgeport gambling venue, given the decline in slot revenue amid intensifying competition in neighboring states.
“Adopting a modernized gaming policy that would allow contenders to put their strongest offer on the table for the state to consider, consistent with industry best practices, would bring the best result for its state and its taxpayers,” Uri Clinton, senior vice president and legal counsel for MGM Resorts, said. “And we continue to believe that Bridgeport is the best location — in terms of jobs and economic development — for a commercial casino in Connecticut.”
The legislature’s public safety and security committee will gear up early with an informational hearing. The hearing, in late February or early March, will include a panel of national experts to talk about emerging trends in gaming.
“Given the landscape around us has changed, and it has become more competitive, it’s important that we get a national perspective on gaming — casinos, sports betting, even fantasy sports,” Verrengia, co-chairman of the public safety committee, said.
In addition to casino expansion, state lawmakers in 2017 added off-track betting sites and approved setting up a regulatory framework for future, but not yet legal, state-regulated sports betting.
Both initiatives were aimed at laying the foundation for legalized sports betting.
Sportech Venues Inc., the state’s only OTB operator, was given permission to expand to 24 locations. Sportech has consistently said it sees sports betting as the next logical step for its location as the popularity of OTB wanes. CLICK TITLE TO CONTINUE


January 26, 2018

CT Construction Digest Friday January 26, 2018

United Rentals’ profits balloon with new tax law

STAMFORD — United Rentals, the world’s largest equipment rentals company, significantly increased revenues in the fourth quarter of last year and saw a huge boost to its bottom line from the new federal tax law, according to its latest earnings report released this week. Fourth-quarter profits rocketed to $897 million — nearly six times the comparable 2016 total — as a result of the tax reform passed last month by Congress. The company is receiving a one-time, non-cash tax benefit estimated at $746 million, which reflects the revaluation of United’s net deferred tax liability with the new corporate tax rate of 21 percent. “Like most companies, we’re working through the estimated impacts of the U.S. tax reform,” United CEO and President Michael Kneeland said Thursday in an earnings call. “We anticipate a meaningful benefit to free cash flow. Our board is considering the potential uses of the extra cash, but no decisions have been made yet.”
The company will also pay during the next eight years a one-time “transition” tax estimated at $57 million on unremitted foreign earnings and profits.
Revenues for the past three months hit $1.92 billion, a 26 percent jump from the same period in 2016. For the year, revenues reached $6.64 billion, a 15 percent gain over 2016.
Equipment rentals rose about 16 percent in 2017, amounting to about $5.7 billion. Those returns accounted for 86 percent of 2017 revenues. The balance of last year’s revenues came from sales of rental and new equipment and contractor supplies and services.
The past year marked one of the most eventful for a firm that perennially makes major deals. In October, the company completed the $1.3 billion acquisition of Miami-based Neff, one of the largest U.S. equipment-rental firms, with some 1,200 employees and a presence in 14 states.
In April, United closed on the acquisition of Chicago-based NES Rentals for about $965 million. United officials positioned that deal as one that would increase the company’s presence in regions including the East Coast, Midwest and along the Gulf of Mexico.
For the NES transaction, the company borrowed $500 million as add-ons to existing long-term bonds. The balance came from a “working capital asset-based revolver,” which is low-cost debt that functions like a proxy for reserves. Long-term bonding is fully funding the Neff deal.
Planning for more growth
United officials expect to see rising earnings again in 2018. The company predicts revenues between $7.3 billion and $7.6 billion during the next year.
“We delivered in 2017,” Kneeland said. “But, more to the point, we’re poised to build on that in 2018.”
Fueling the growth, construction spending in North America has been predicted to increase an average of 3 percent to 6 percent annually between 2017 and 2021, according to market-research firm IHS Markit.
United officials also said they plan to keep exploring more acquisitions, while growing existing operations.
“We’re guiding to $1.3 (billion) to $1.4 billion in free cash flow as the range for 2018,” Chief Financial Officer William Plummer said on the call. “M&A is always part of our thinking about uses for cash flow, and we certainly will be ready to do acquisitions that make sense. But they need to make sense.”
The prospect of Congress passing a bill to support new infrastructure investments represents another potential boost to business. Kneeland indicated the company would support such legislation but was already generating significant business from infrastructure projects. “Our infrastructure contracts run the gamut from airport renovations in New York and New Jersey, to roads and bridges in Texas, and pipeline work in the central region,” Kneeland said. “States and municipalities are finding the money to make critical infrastructure repairs. If Washington comes up with funding for public works, that money will benefit future years.”
United shares closed Thursday at $181.91, down 1.95 percent from their Wednesday closing total.

Bids now open for Route 17 recreation center in Portland, 11-year project

PORTLAND — The committee overseeing development of the Route 17 recreation complex has been given the go ahead to solicit bids for the $6 million project.
Members of the committee met Wednesday with the Board of Selectmen to give officials an update on the status of the project. The committee has held back some aspects of the project over concerns about the entrance to the complex (and an attendant flood management plan) that could cost upwards of $300,000.
For now at least, the Rec Barn, a playing field, basketball court, some portions of the underground drainage system, and plantings, benches and tables are being held in reserve, committee Chairman Brian McCarthy told the selectmen. They will be included in a list of “add alts,” or additional items of work, he said. “We’re analyzing lots of options and trade-offs.”
“We’re considering capital and life-cycle costs in addition to contingency and soft costs (engineering, permits and financing)” as part of an effort “to stay with the $6 million” residents approved in a 2016 bond issue, he added.
To help clarify the cost of the project, McCarthy pressed for allowing the committee to put it out to bid.
“Let us bid the project and get some certain costs,” he said. “That would allow us to make a more informed decision.”
The timing is crucial, Selectman Ralph Zampano said. The project has been under study or in development for going on 11 years, he said, and in that time, it has been exhaustively evaluated three times.
“If you miss this window (of opportunity), you may be looking at a third window of (cost) inflation,” Zampano cautioned.
 “It’s not a huge contract,” McCarthy said.
 Given the recent freeze on billions of dollars in state transportation projects announced by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, contractors will be looking for other projects to take the place of the frozen state projects, McCarthy suggested.
The selectmen needed little convicing and gave their unanimous agreement minus one to put the project out to bid. Selectman Michael A. Pelton was absent.
After the meeting adjourned, McCarthy said the committee could solicit bids in as little as “three to four weeks” and could award the bid in late March or early April During the meeting, McCarthy said he anticipated most of the park will be ready for use by summer 2019. However, the use of some of the fields may be delayed until 2020 to enable them to establish deeper roots.
The committee has still not decided upon the entrance to the complex. That, in turn, has involved the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. The agency is demanding the town prepare a flood management plan for the proposed entrance off Strickland Street. Project engineers Weston & Sampson estimate the study could cost more than $300,000 to prepare, so the firm is looking at less expensive options, McCarthy said. CLICK TITLE TO CONTINUE

PHOTOS: The construction of Interstate 91 and 691 in Meriden

Throughout the late 20th century, interstate highways were constructed across the country. Two highways, Interstate 91 and Interstate 691, were constructed in Meriden.
Take a look back at photos from the construction of both highways in the city.

Ohio mayor says Killingly can trust NTE and its power plant plans

The mayor of an Ohio city is giving his full-throated support of a soon-to-be active power plant facility under construction in his city by the same developer hoping to build a similar plant in Killingly.
Middletown, Ohio, Mayor Larry Mulligan earlier this month sent a letter to The Bulletin expressing his support of Florida-based NTE Energy’s plan to build a 500-megawatt power plant at the intersection of Cincinnati-Dayton and Oxford State roads.
In his letter, Mulligan said he was initially skeptical about the plan.
“When I was first approached by NTE Energy about their proposal to build a large natural gas power plant in our city over five years ago, my initial response was to be cautious and reserved,” he wrote. “It sounded too good to be true.”
But Mulligan said the company kept its word to hire 350 construction workers and funnel “millions of dollars” in payroll and tax revenue into the city’s coffers.
“I’ve seen them hire their local operating staff, which will bring an annual payroll of over $2 million to our city,” he wrote. “I watched closely as NTE honored their word to hire locally - with more than 60 percent of their new hires coming from our area.”
NTE is proposing to build a 550-megawatt plant off Lake Road in the Dayville section of Killingly. The Connecticut Siting Council, which has the final say on whether such projects get approved in the state, last year rejected permit applications for the project, though company officials said they plan to resubmit.
The Killingly Town Council this month approved a pair of agreements with NTE that would net the town more than $90 million in tax revenue over 20 years if the plant gets built. Mulligan had no information on whether any similar agreements were hammered out in his city.
According to news reports from the Middletown, Ohio area, the $645 million project there, which is expected to be finished this year, faced no significant opposition from residents or grassroots groups – a marked contrast from how residents from Killingly and surrounding towns reacted to the possibility of a new power plant being built here.
For months last year, Killingly Town Council meetings included comments from dozens of individuals calling for the rejection of the project. Local and state lawmakers attended rallies opposing the plan and many spoke out during public hearings on the issue.
The only groups to actively stump for the Killingly project came from unions expecting to gain construction jobs.
As part of his work in exploring the possible effects of a new power plant in town, Killingly Town Manager Sean Hendricks spent several days in 2016 in Middletown, Ohio.
“It’s a bigger city than Killingly, though still rural, and the plant’s on the edge of an industrial park, with homes a little further out from the facility than are planned for Killingly,” he said.
“I also cold-called on several businesses to get their take on the project,” he said. “And the response I got was that NTE had lived up to the promises they made.”
Hendricks surmised the vehemently different reactions expressed by Killingly and Middletown residents about the prospect of a power plant can be partially attributed to economic history. He said a coke-processing plant that supplies materials to a steel plant had been built in Middletown a few years back. CLICK TITLE TO CONTINUE

Caterpillar's sales grew for the first time in more than four years

A growing global economy is boosting demand for Caterpillar's heavy-duty equipment.
Caterpillar's sales grew last year for the first time since 2012. A construction slowdown in China and the collapse of oil prices several years ago had weighed on the company.
"After four challenging years, many key markets improved in 2017," CEO Jim Umpleby said in a statement Thursday.
Construction equipment sales in North America grew 46% last quarter thanks to selling and leasing more expensive machinery for home building, infrastructure and oil and gas industries.
Increased building and infrastructure spending in China also helped sales, the company said.
Oil's recent rebound helped Caterpillar's mining and oil and gas businesses. Oil prices have bounced back to $70 a barrel after record-low prices two years ago. Commodity prices and raw materials also have risen.
The company added 3,000 employees to its workforce to meet demand last year. 98,000 people worked for Caterpillar last year.
Overall, sales grew 18% from last year to $45.5 billion. Revenue rose in all three of the company's divisions: construction, mining resources and energy and transportation equipment.
Caterpillar took a $2.4 billion charge last quarter from the new tax law, which included a writedown of deferred tax benefits and a one-time repatration tax on profit stashed overseas.
Next year, however, Caterpillar expects to pay a 24% rate. It paid a tax rate of 28% last quarter. Caterpillar has not said how it plans to spend the savings windfall.
Caterpillar is the world's largest machinery company and is a bellwether of the economy's strength.
Caterpillar hinted its construction unit could benefit even more if President Trump and Congress pursue an infrastructure bill. The president pledged a $1 trillion infrastructure bill during the 2016 campaign.
In 2015, Caterpillar slashed 10,000 jobs as growth in China slowed down and commodity prices fell.
The global picture looks much different today. Caterpillar expects its strong close to 2017 to continue this year as economic trends point upward. Its "preparing its factories and suppliers to be ready for continued growth," Caterpillar said.
Caterpillar shares fell 2% after initially rising by as much as 4%. Caterpillar boomed 70% last year, making it the second-best performer on the Dow.

Glastonbury Town Manager Proposes $6.9 Million Capital Improvement Plan

Town Manager Richard J. Johnson has proposed $6.9 million in capital improvement projects, including funding for a second traffic roundabout, a new bridge and replacement roofs for historic tobacco sheds.
The budget is lower than last year when there were several “big ticket” items including the $1.7 million roundabout on at the intersection of Hebron Avenue and New London Turnpike and $1.25 million for Hebron Avenue resurfacing. This year’s net cost is $5.5 million with a second $550,000 roundabout at Hebron Avenue and House Street being paid for by a grant. The list also puts $350,000 toward the $1.8 million replacement of the Fisher Hill Road bridge over Roaring Brook. But $280,000 of that funding is covered by a grant.
Some of the infrastructure improvements on the list include $1.4 million for the town's road maintenance program and $200,000 to repave access drives and parking areas at town facilities. Also included is first-year funding of $365,000 to resurface parking and access drives at Glastonbury High School. The list includes $70,000 in funding for a new paving box that will help lay the asphalt.
School upgrades include $1 million for air conditioning in classrooms at five elementary school buildings and $850,000 for heating and cooling system upgrades at Gideon Welles School, the town’s sixth-grade building. There is also $250,000 to fund upgrades to the high school’s kitchen and $80,000 for improvements to the school’s field house. CIP improvements at town facilities include $40,000 for police department restrooms and lockers; $150,000 for continuing funding for renovations and improvements at the parks maintenance garage; $90,000 for exterior maintenance and $200,000 for space reconfiguration at the Welles-Turner Memorial Library.
Johnson is setting aside $200,000 for the town’s four fire stations and training facility which he said are aging and need maintenance, code compliance and general upgrades and repairs. Other projects include $80,000 for a new scale at the bulky waste facility; $150,000 to replace tobacco shed roofs along Old Maids Lane, $125,000 for a multiuse trail between Western Boulevard and House Street; and $40,000 for sidewalk construction. CLICK TITLE TO CONTINUE

Need Better Answer Than Tolls

If you tax people, you will raise money. That’s the gist of The Hartford Courant’s Jan. 12 editorial: “How To Pay For Roads? Tolls, Obviously” [courant.com]. The editorial doesn’t address the consequences of tolls: the double taxation of drivers who pay fuel taxes, the impact on Connecticut businesses and the economy, the amount of funds collected that never go to road repair or construction, and the likelihood of traffic diversion around the tolls and perhaps around Connecticut.
The question is not whether tolls will raise revenue, but whether tolls are the best option for raising needed transportation funds. The answer is a resounding “No!”
The Courant failed to mention: Tolls take money from commuters and truckers and use that money to prop up government bureaucracies. Traffic diversion hurts businesses like restaurants, gas stations and truck stops. Finally, tolls force hardworking commuters to decide if it’s worth adding several minutes to their commute rather than pay tolls — essentially creating a two-tiered transportation system between the rich and poor.
Tolls are not untapped dollars waiting to be found. Tolls are taxes forced upon commuters, businesses and families.
The Courant says tolls are an option because Connecticut is one of the only states on the Eastern Seaboard without them. We learn in grade school not to do a bad thing just because other kids are doing it.
Connecticut should reject tolling and come up with a sustainable transportation funding plan.
Axel CarriĆ³n, Hartford
The writer is director of state public affairs for United Parcel Service.

Request for school construction dollars is a record low

The administration of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy is seeking a record low amount of state funding to help cities and towns build or renovate public schools.
The $281 million the administration has requested from the legislature for the upcoming fiscal year is the result of fewer applications from towns seeking aid, said a spokesman for the governor’s budget and policy office.
Over the past decade, the average annual amount recommended by the executive branch has been about $500 million. Additional projects are typically added to the state budget based on legislative priorities.
There could be several reasons for the smaller list this year, including local unwillingness to pay for a community’s share of a project during a sluggish economy, declining enrollment, or a stricter application process the state’s Department of Administrative Services (DAS) has begun using.
Whatever the reason, the smaller project list comes at a time when Connecticut is close to its credit card limit to fund the renovation or building new schools, public colleges and state building and various other projects in legislators’ districts.
The two-year state budget that legislators approved last fall left a placeholder for $450 million for unspecified school construction projects in the 2018-19 fiscal year.
The amount of borrowing included in the adopted fiscal 2018-19 budget equates to 89.23 percent, according to the state treasurer’s most recent calculation in October. Since then, however, it remains unclear whether state revenue will continue to shrink, as it did over the previous fiscal year, which would probably draw the state closer to its debt ceiling.
Melody Currey, the commissioner of DAS, which oversees school construction projects, told state legislators this week she expects much smaller requests going forward.
“I would say it would be a trend and will continue because of the uncertainty of budgets throughout the state of Connecticut,” Currey told the legislature’s School Construction Project Priority List Review Committee before they unanimously approved and forwarded the list to the General Assembly for consideration. “Towns are unsure that they would be able to bond the amount they would want to do. So they are putting some of it off until they absolutely have to in many cases.”
But, she added, “I think some of it is the control that we have put in place helps them make that decision, an informed decision.” Those controls include an overhaul in the standards and guidelines applicants must follow when seeking state support.
Bob Rader, the executive director of the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education, said during an interview he thinks the economy and the shrinking school-aged population are probably driving the decline.
Also, Rader said, “There is this feeling in the state that the economy has gone down, and so it is much harder to ask taxpayers for new or renovated buildings that they may need,” said Rader.
The state reimburses districts between 10 and 80 percent of the cost of school projects, depending on the wealth of a community. The state funding being proposed will cover about half of project costs, indicating much of the aid is going to middle- and higher-income communities. (See the full list of projects here.)
It’s unclear what exactly this slowdown means for the condition of schools in Connecticut. The legislature changed state law two years ago so that a new survey on the condition of each school will not be released until 2021.
The most recent survey, from 2013, found that one of every 40 elementary schools needed asbestos remediation and there were no immediate plans to address the problem. One out of every 25 elementary or high schools and one out of every 29 middle schools had a roof problem and repairs had not been scheduled to fix the underlying issue. One in 13 schools had poor air conditioning and one in 70 had a poor heating system.
In the state’s most impoverished districts – Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven, New London, New Britain, Waterbury, Windham – a lower percentage of schools had areas of their buildings rated as being in fair or excellent condition, according to the survey. CLICK TITLE TO CONTINUE