February 12, 2018

CT Construction Digest Monday February 12, 2018

BLUMENTHAL, MURPHY will laud a $20 billion federal infrastructure infusion as part of the federal budget agreement at 11:30 a.m. at the parking lot overlooking the MDC Tunnel Construction Site, 231 Brainard Road, Hartford.

Lawmakers consider revving up tolls for much needed state revenue

A one-way trip from New Haven to the New York border could cost just over $6 during rush hour.
The same trip along the scenic Merritt Parkway would run $5 — a slight savings but not much. That could be the cost of driving on state highways if the General Assembly authorizes electronic tolls endorsed by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the legislature’s majority Democratic leaders.
A study previously commissioned by the state offers a detailed look at tolling on I-95, the Merritt Parkway and I-84. The 297 pages suggest potential toll prices, gantry locations and various scenarios to scan license plates and charge drivers for miles they travel. A gantry is a bridge-like structure over the highway that would use electronic technology to scan license plates and charge vehicles driving under it.
The prices are only projections, but they give a sense of what tolling could cost commuters and the average driver “The time has come for the state to implement tolling,” said Jim Gildea, president of the Connecticut Commuter Rail Council. "Connecticut’s transportation system is in sore need of critical investment, in terms of both structural requirements and service needs, and finding funding sources to meet these demands is an absolute must," Gildea noted.
With revenue estimates around $800 million a year, tolls are an attractive option for lawmakers looking for big money — $100 billion over the next 30 years — to improve the state’s infrastructure and reduce congestion, especially in Fairfield County, where many believe traffic is costing jobs and economic development.
While the likelihood of highway tolls grew with Malloy’s backing and the endorsement of Democratic leaders, most Republican lawmakers remain opposed. The GOP, with the help of a few Democrats, has shown it can block bills pushed by the majority.
J.R. Romano, the state Republican party chairman, said state residents already pay the third highest gas tax in the nation and don’t need the additional burden of tolls.
He noted Malloy also wants to increase the gas tax by 7 cents over the next four years.
"Look at families who are struggling just to break even," Romano said. "When coupled with the gas tax, that’s the fundamental problem. They would pay $2,200 more a year in gas taxes and now a toll on top of that."
Tolls everywhere
The 2016 study by CDM Smith paints a picture of a state highway system dominated by electronic gantries to scan plates and charge tolls.
Under one scenario outlined in the CDM Smith report, 12 gantries would be placed on I-95, beginning in West Haven and ending at the New York State line in Greenwich. Every time a vehicle passed under a gantry, a fee would be charged.
Motorists on the Merritt Parkway would pass under a gauntlet of 10 gantries, beginning at New Haven and ending at the state line, the CDM Smith study shows. Every gantry would mean another charge.
The study did not detail specific plans for I-84, but noted tolls are likely from the New York border to Hartford.
CDM Smith projected prices at 50 cents per gantry during peak times and 35 cents during off peak times.
Another scenario set the peak price at 80 cents and off peak at 56 cents per gantry. Under that pricing, a peak time one-way trip from New Haven to the New York border would cost $9.60 cents.
The consultant estimated it would cost $35 million to install a series of gantries along I-95 and $50 million if they are installed on the Merritt Parkway. Those estimates don’t include operating and other costs.
Romano estimated that at 50 cents per gantry, a commuter traveling from New Haven to Fairfield five days a week during rush hour would pay $1,300 a year.
"That’s not good," Romano noted. "This is already an expensive state to live in."
The study offers a variety of options, ranging from constant tolling to congestion pricing, which means only charging tolls during peak rush hour times or raising prices during those periods.
Alternatives offered by the study include installing tolls and widening I-95 between Greenwich to Bridgeport and widening and tolling parts of the Merritt Parkway from Greenwich to New Haven.
Some scenarios change pricing and alter the frequency of tolling, exempt state residents from tolls or charge them a lesser fee. Other options toll state roads, such as Rt. 8 from Bridgeport to Waterbury.
The Governor’s Transportation Finance Panel several years ago estimated that out-of-state drivers would provide 30 percent of the state’s toll revenue.
Yes or no
Opposition to tolling will be difficult to overcome if there is a serious push for highway fees. Democrats hold a slim advantage in the House and they are tied with the GOP in the Senate, although Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman can break a deadlock.
The GOP showed its muscle last year when, with the help of a handful of Democrats, the party adopted its state budget and blocked Malloy’s spending proposal
"This is a mileage tax," State Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said during a Facebook broadcast last week.
"If you go out of your town you are going to hit a toll,” Fasano said. “This would be hoops every mile or every five miles. It’s a really bad idea. It’s only a couple of bucks but by the end of the year it adds up to significant dollars."
Instead of authorizing tolls this year, Fasano said the state should conduct a detailed study of the idea.
"We should see the plan and all of us decide if it’s a good idea," Fasano said. "Let’s do a plan, study it and then make an intelligent decision."
While another study might be attractive to lawmakers facing re-election this fall, the state paid for toll and congestion studies in 2015 and 2016, and the Governor’s Transportation Finance Panel recommended tolls as one of numerous ways to fund infrastructure improvements.
Patrick Sasser, a partner in a Stamford trucking company, said the last thing the state needs is tolls.
"We need the governor and elected state officials to know that we are being taxed to death and that is not the solution to our financial troubles," Sasser said.
"We are asking them to find different ways to save money and cut spending,” Sasser added. “These tolls and increased gas taxes will fall on the backs of the already struggling working class in Connecticut, and we simply can’t afford that."
Sasser is organizing a rally on Feb. 17 from 11 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. in front of the Stamford Government Center at 888 Washington Boulevard to demonstrate how proposed gas tax hikes and tolls would hurt small businesses CLICK TITLE TO CONTINUE
Trump to unveil $1.5 trillion infrastructure plan

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Monday will unveil his long-awaited infrastructure plan, a $1.5 trillion proposal that fulfills a number of campaign goals, but relies heavily on state and local governments to produce much of the funding.
The administration's plan is centered on using $200 billion in federal money to leverage local and state tax dollars to fix America's infrastructure, such as roads, highways, ports and airports.
"Every federal dollar should be leveraged by partnering with state and local governments and — where appropriate — tapping into private sector investment to permanently fix the infrastructure deficit," Trump said at last month's State of the Union address.
Trump has repeatedly blamed the "crumbling" state of the nation's roads and highways for preventing the American economy from reaching its full potential. Many in Washington believe that Trump should have begun his term a year ago with an infrastructure push, one that could have garnered bipartisan support or, at minimum, placed Democrats in a bind for opposing a popular political measure.
But the administration chose to begin with health care and relations with Democrats have only grown more strained during a turbulent, contentious year. The White House, now grappling with the fallout from the departure of a senior aide after spousal abuse allegations, may not have an easy time navigating a massive infrastructure plan through a polarized Congress. It just grappled with two federal government shutdowns and will soon turns its attention to immigration. Administration officials previewing the plan said it would feature two key components: an injection of funding for new investments and help speed up repairs of crumbling roads and airports, as well as a streamlined permitting process that would truncate the wait time to get projects underway. Officials said the $200 billion in federal support would come from cuts to existing programs.
Half the money would go to grants for transportation, water, flood control, cleanup at some of the country's most polluted sites and other projects.
States, local governments and other project sponsors could use the grants — which administration officials view as incentives — for no more than 20 percent of the cost. Transit agencies generally count on the federal government for half the cost of major construction projects, and federal dollars can make up as much as 80 percent of some highway projects.
About $50 billion, would go toward rural projects — transportation, broadband, water, waste, power, flood management and ports. That is intended to address criticism from some Republican senators that the administration's initial emphasis on public-private partnerships would do little to help rural, GOP-leaning states
Early reaction to the proposal was divided.
Jay Timmons, president of the National Association of Manufacturers, saluted Trump "for providing the leadership we have desperately needed to reclaim our rightful place as global leader on true 21st-century infrastructure." "When ports are clogged, trucks are delayed, power is down, water is shut off, or the internet has a lapse, modern manufacturers' ability to compete is threatened and jobs are put at risk," said Timmons. "There is no excuse for inaction, and manufacturers are committed to ensuring that America seizes this opportunity."
But a number of Democrats and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce have pushed the administration to commit far more federal dollars, funded by tax increases, or by closing tax loopholes. And environmental groups expressed worry about its impact.
"President Trump's infrastructure proposal is a disaster," said Shelley Poticha, of the Natural Resources Defense Council. "It fails to offer the investment needed to bring our country into the 21st century. Even worse, his plan includes an unacceptable corporate giveaway by truncating environmental reviews."

Esty introduces transparency bill for power plants

New York approved a 1,100-megawatt natural gas power plant near the Connecticut state line in 2012, but it wasn’t until construction started last summer that residents and local officials just across the border heard about the project. The outcry in Sherman and neighboring towns spurred U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty to introduce a bill this week that would require residents and officials within 30 miles of a proposed power plant to be notified of the project, regardless of the jurisdictional lines. The Cricket Valley Energy Center is being built on a 193-acre property in Dover, N.Y., just 8 miles from Sherman, 10 miles from New Milford and 6 miles from Kent. It is expected to open in 2020.
Plant proponents said the plant will generate much-needed energy and provide jobs to the Dover area. New York officials have said emissions would meet federal standards for air pollution.
Still, the project drew criticism from nearby New York residents during the approval process, and fresh criticism from those on the Connecticut side of the border. During public meetings and in letters to the editor, Sherman residents argued that emissions would be carried downwind, threatening human health and the environment “The air and water that folks in Dover breathe and drink is the same as the air and water that the people in Sherman breathe and drink,” Esty said.
Esty was contacted by residents, elected officials and environmental activists this fall who read about the project in newspapers and were shocked and distressed that they weren’t notified or given the chance to comment earlier. She said the current requirement to notify nearby towns in the same state isn’t adequate and could be easily fixed with legislation. “It’s a very common-sense idea,” she said of her bill, the Notify Officials, Towns, Individuals, and Cities of Electric Generating Facilities, or NOTICE, Act. “It’s an idea that should have broad appeal.”
She’s already gotten some support from her Republican counterparts, including U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance of New Jersey. Connecticut Republicans also support it.“State lines should not be a reason developers can cite for not informing residents who would be impacted by a project,” said state Sen. Michael McLachlan, R- Danbury. “If the residents of New Fairfield and Sherman had known about Cricket Valley sooner, they certainly would have provided input. This legislation will ensure that all residents affected by a project of this type will receive the information they need in a timely fashion.” CLICK TITLE TO CONTINUE

Proposed development generates traffic concerns in East Norwalk

Residents shuddered several years ago when the state and city released their respective conceptual plans to replace the Metro-North Railroad bridge and widen East Avenue, which in their opinion would open the roadway to even larger trucks.
Now, as those projects remain in planning, South Norwalk-based Spinnaker Real Estate Partners has submitted plans for a transit-oriented development at the train station.
Transit-oriented development puts housing, retail and other uses near public transportation to create walkable neighborhoods and reduce vehicular traffic.
Esty said the bill gives residents a voice and the ability to take part in the approval process. She said it’s easier to come to agreements before an approval than to fight retroactively, like those opposing the Cricket Valley proposal.
“It’s important for everyone’s health and well-being that agencies get the full picture of everyone affected,” she said. “That’s why we have a federal government.”
The Norwalk Zoning Commission has begun its review of Spinnaker’s proposal and has scheduled a public hearing for March 1. Traffic likely will be a major topic at the hearing.
East Norwalk resident Deb Goldstein said the city shouldn’t base East Norwalk transit-oriented development decisions on connectivity studies done for South Norwalk.
“Bike lane changes, new traffic signals and roadway lowering and widening of East Avenue are all on the drawing board, as is a restructuring of the railroad bridge and platform,” Goldstein wrote in a letter to the Norwalk Department of Planning and Zoning. “Every roadway around the train station is two lanes wide, with little opportunity for significant traffic management without major infrastructure changes.”
Diane Cece, another East Norwalk resident, said transit-oriented development must be “more than a minimum mix of uses on a single parcel that benefits only the developer and occupants.”
“It is a concept that looks holistically at the entire area, taking into account infrastructure, walkability, city services and connectivity,” Cece wrote in a letter to the department. “By designating this parcel TOD, and allowing a density and use mix that may not be appropriate, East Norwalk residents, taxpayers and stakeholders are robbed of being able to take part in the future of our own neighborhoods, and preservation of our property values.”
Spinnaker has proposed 195 apartments, 40,955 square feet of offices, 2,130 square feet of restaurant space and 1,500 square feet of retail space for 230 East Ave. and 3 Rowan St.
A five-story, 149-unit building would rise to the west of the old Factory Outlet, which would be revamped. A small, two-story building dedicated to commuter-oriented retail would be built at 230 East Ave. The Pooch Hotel building, although part of the parcel, would remain.
Clayton Fowler, Spinnaker chairman, maintains the TOD plan is the appropriate plan for the location and is intended to reduce vehicular traffic “It’s putting density where density should be, at a train station, hopefully eliminating some cars,” Fowler said after zoning commissioners continued their review of the plan earlier this month. On Feb. 1, Spinnaker’s traffic engineer summarized his findings to the commission. Michael Galante, principal of Frederick P. Clark Associates, said the development would lower traffic overall by shifting the property from a commercial to a residential use. He said the development would reduce traffic by 60 trips during the morning peak and add about 80 trips to the roadway system on Saturdays. In his written report to the city, Galante outlined the anticipated traffic patterns. CLICK TITLE TO CONTINUE

A look back at the Mills Memorial Apartments in Meriden

MERIDEN — Demolition of the Mills Memorial Apartments is still on track for this spring.
Economic Development Director Juliet Burdelski said the required environmental study is completed and demolition plans are being reviewed by the state.
The city received federal funds last year to demolish the three high-rise and two low-rise buildings located on Cedar, Pratt and Mill Streets, all built in the 1960s. The property nearest Cedar Street was returned to the Meriden Housing Authority for construction of Meriden Commons I, a $25 million mixed income housing and commercial development. The city has secured $2 million in funding to demolish the five buildings.
Meriden Commons I is expected to open this April and construction on Meriden Commons II will begin soon after, Burdelski said.
Demolition of the public housing project was first proposed in the 1970s.
Even before it was built, the housing complex was controversial. Its planning was drawn out for a decade because of the intense public resistance, but it eventually opened in 1962.
Former Mayor Joseph J. Marinan Jr., who served from 1993 to 2002, was a strong proponent of closing the Mills, which first opened when he was a teen. Marinan created a Mills Study Committee, which eventually decided on demolition, and the Housing Authority approved the plan.
In June 2017, Mayor Kevin Scarpati ceremonially broke ground on Meriden Commons I, right next door to the MIlls, and said the occasion marked "another milestone in Meriden's history."
"For over 20 years we talked about the problems we've seen at the Mills projects and fortunately today marks day one of the redevelopment of that site," Scarpati said at the event this past summer.
The Mills was initially considered successful, with a full tenant roster and new, clean living spaces when it first opened. The complex held 140 apartments, in five buildings.
However, over the next six years the city’s economy declined, including the loss of jobs when Pratt & Whitney, the International Silver Co., and the New Departure Division of General Motors all closed.
With some, the Mills developed a reputation for crime, drugs and neglect. Many Mills tenants felt the reputation was unfair.
On August 28, 1979, hundreds of “kids” gathered at the complex in response to a report of police brutality. Police responded in riot gear, using tear gas and smoke bombs, while people threw rocks and bottles at the police cars.
When the City Council voted to demolish the Mills following the incident, the Housing Authority vetoed it.
In the 1990s, the Mills were considered a haven for several gangs, including the Latin Kings and Los Solidos. In 1997, the city’s community police officers “vowed” to increase presence in the housing complex. CLICK TITLE TO CONTINUE