February 13, 2018

CT Construction Digest Tuesday February 13, 2018

Blumenthal/Murphy say Trump infrastructure plan headed for dead end Channel 8

Video: President Trump unveils infrastructure plan Channel 3

White House Plan Calls for Streamlining Project Delivery and Giving States Flexibility to Toll Interstate Highways

International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (IBTTA) Executive Director and CEO, Patrick D. Jones, issued the following statement in response to the official release of President Trump's infrastructure plan, “Legislative Outline for Rebuilding Infrastructure in America."
“We commend the administration for focusing on the need to reinvest in America's infrastructure. We also applaud the administration's proposal to give states flexibility to toll interstate highways to help rebuild them. While tolling is not appropriate in every circumstance, it is a proven tool that speeds project delivery and provides a steady stream of funding for future road maintenance and improvements. We look forward to working closely with the administration and Congress on a robust plan to improve America's vital transportation infrastructure.”
There are 129 distinct toll entities in the U.S. operating 327 separate toll road, bridge and tunnel facilities in 35 states that account for nearly 6,200 mi. of roadway and 5.7 billion trips per year. Some of the highest capacity, Interstate quality highways in America would never have been built without tolling.
To speak with Patrick Jones or any of IBTTA's members working daily in states and localities throughout the country to keep Americans moving forward, please contact Bill Cramer at bcramer@ibtta.org or 202-210-2962 (mobile) or visit www.IBTTA.org.
Building a Stronger America: President Trump's American Infrastructure Initiative
Pages 20 to 21 of that document states the following:
Provide States Tolling Flexibility
Provide States flexibility to toll on Interstates and reinvest toll revenues in infrastructure. Currently, Federal law allows tolling Interstates in limited circumstances. Tolling restrictions foreclose what might otherwise serve as a major source of revenue for infrastructure investment. Providing states flexibility to toll existing Interstates would generate additional revenues for states to invest in surface transportation infrastructure. Current requirements that states must reinvest toll revenues in infrastructure would continue to apply.
Reconcile the grandfathered restrictions on use of highway toll revenues with current law. Toll facilities that received Federal approval under the Surface Transportation and Uniform Relocation Assistance Act of 1987 (STURRA) may use toll revenues only for the construction, reconstruction, operation and debt service of the toll facility itself. Current law, however, allows other toll facilities to use toll revenues (in addition to the costs noted above) on other title 23 projects. The tighter restrictions, specific to the STURRA toll facilities, prevent some States from devoting existing toll revenues to other critical highway projects. Adjusting the STURRA “use of revenues” provisions to align with current toll authorities would free these resources and allow other critical highway projects to go forward.

Amazon breaks ground where Pratt and Whitney once operated

NORTH HAVEN — Construction crews have broken ground on the future home of Amazon’s warehouse on Washington Avenue, a $255 million project that will be fully up and running around May or June 2019. It’s anticipated the operation will create 1,800 jobs initially, which could stretch into 3,000, First Selectman Michael Freda said.
“We’re staying very close to this to make sure there’s no disruptions or hurdles in the building process,” he said. The building will yield 1.2 million square feet, which is about the same size as the Pratt & Whitney facility that used to stand on the property, Freda said. Amazon will be the largest company to enter the area since Pratt and Whitney left in 2001. The old Pratt & Whitney plant boasted a million square feet of machine shop alone and everything in the offices was pea green, said Bob Bishop, who worked at the plant for decades. Five-hundred draftsmen and engineers worked on jet engine designs and manufacturing at the plane where the company made engine blades, fuel vessels, fuel tube linings, motors and more.
The plant operated 24 hours a day with around 8,100 employees in 1969, Bishop said, and an employee had everything he or she needed right on site. The plant maintained two cafeterias, police and fire departments, a bank, credit union, a doctor and around the clock nurses. The plant became such a large operation that the company had to add space to the plant and buy neighboring houses to build additional parking. “We had so many people that if you were second shift and didn’t get there by 3:10 p.m., you couldn’t find a parking spot,” Bishop said. “You would have to wait for first shift to leave and then you would clock in late.” Off the long ramp from the plant to Washington Avenue, hundreds of cars would be backed up with employees leaving work and, traveling on Washington Avenue, a driver would have to wait six or seven minutes for the light to change, he said.
During the heyday of Pratt & Whitney’s operation in North Haven, the plant was like a little town, Bishop said. “We had the good years,” he said. “Money was plentiful until everything started going tough for the economy. Everything I have I owe to Pratt and Whitney.” He had worked 36 years with the company when he walked out the door in 1993 on March 11, the same date he started.
Bishop began his career at Pratt & Whitney as a mail boy in 1957. He was 20 years old, but, back in those days, an employee could work their way up without a college degree, he said. He moved on to become assistant to the paymaster and then got promoted to take over the pay office in East Hartford. When he came back to North Haven in 1988 he was the staff assistant to the plant manager.
“There was a time I knew everyone in that plant,” he said. “If I didn’t know their name, I knew where they worked.” Bishop was also a member of the board of directors for the employees club, which sponsored company sports leagues and the annual Christmas party. Bishop said the event entertained 3,200 kids and every single child got a present. The 168-acre property of the former plant also had baseball and football fields, and old pictures show barbecues and games taking place outside on the property. “It was the largest place in the whole area,” former Pratt & Whitney employee Bill Richards said. He spent about 30 of his 42 years with the company working in the North Haven plant in materials organization before he retired. He said the Pratt & Whitney plant uplifted the whole town. CLICK TITLE TO CONTINUE

Council expected to OK contractor for Beehive Bridge tonight

NEW BRITAIN - With only a couple of months until construction season begins, the Common Council is expected to approve a contract with a Bristol company to work on the Beehive Bridge project.
On Jan. 9, the city opened bids for the two-year, $7-million-plus project, which will revamp the section of Main Street that runs over Route 72.
With bids from six competitors, Public Works Director Mark Moriarty picked low bidder Martin Laviero Contractor Inc., which offered $7,495,628. About $2.37 million will come from city bonding, more than $2.7 million from state grants and $1.6 million from the Federal Transit Administration. The remaining money will come from miscellaneous grants.
The project, the fifth phase of the city’s Complete Streets master plan, is tentatively scheduled to begin in April.
The Common Council, which meets tonight at 7 p.m. in City Hall’s Council Chambers, is also expected to accept a few state grants related to after-school programs.
The Parks, Recreation and Community Services Department is requesting approval of two after-school grants from the state Department of Education and a Housing and Urban Development grant totaling $348,920. This is year one of the two-year After School Grant.
Students in grades 3 through 5 will be attending the program from 3:35 to 5:45 p.m.
The grants will fund the program’s major components and themes: academic support, enrichment, recreation and wellness and family engagement.
The parks department provides after-school programs at seven elementary schools: Chamberlain, Gaffney, Jefferson, Lincoln, Northend, Smith and Smalley.

Hartford Leaders Extend Deadline For Would-Be Downtown North Developers

Developers hoping to build on the long-vacant lots that surround Hartford’s new ballpark will have an extra two weeks to submit their proposals.
City leaders have extended the deadline to hand in bids for development in Hartford’s downtown north neighborhood, citing substantial interest in the project. Originally set for Thursday, the deadline has been postponed until March 1.
The city in November issued a call seeking firms for the project, which covers 32 properties across four parcels near the corner of Main and Trumbull streets. Hartford development officials said they expect it to feature a blend of retail and housing. Multiple developers may be chosen.
A pre-bid conference was held at Dunkin’ Donuts Park, the home of Hartford’s minor league baseball team, in December. More than a dozen companies turned up to hear about the project — including Whiting-Turner, Shelbourne Global Solutions, Freeman Cos. and JCJ Architecture — and representatives from some said they would submit a proposal.
Development of the downtown north neighborhood was previously awarded to Centerplan Construction Co. and DoNo Hartford, which had planned to build housing, office space and retail at the site, along with the ballpark. The firms were fired from the stadium project in 2016 after they missed two key deadlines to complete the facility. They were also fired last year from the wider development.
The companies have sued the city, claiming wrongful termination.
Despite the legal overhang, Hartford leaders said they wanted to move ahead with new plans for the area. When the ballpark was first pitched in 2014, development around the stadium was considered a crucial part of the project, to generate needed tax revenue.
“It is attractive, strategically located land. There is now a successful ballpark next door, and the downtown is becoming increasingly active and vital,” Mayor Luke Bronin told The Courant in November. “We are eager to see what responses come back from developers.”

Trump Infrastructure Plan Triggers Doubts In Connecticut And Congress

President Donald Trump’s plan for generating $1.5 trillion in infrastructure investments is creating uncertainty about how Connecticut might benefit, criticism inside and outside Congress, and disagreements about how to pay for such a plan.
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal labeled Trump’s proposal “magical thinking” and warned Monday it would involve “selling off and selling out America’s [infrastructure] assets” through privatization and new highway tolls.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy warned that Trump’s plan for an additional $200 billion in federal infrastructure funding “could actually make our problems worse.” Malloy has said that Connecticut’s transportation system is already in a funding crisis and is calling for a return to state tolls on highways as a partial solution. U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, D-5th District, said Trump wants to shift existing federal funding for programs like mass transit to help pay for his plan, a move she said would be very damaging “especially for states like Connecticut.” “I am disappointed that the [Trump] administration is doing nothing in this proposal to lean in on fixing the fundamentals,” Esty said, arguing that the biggest issue is the long-standing failure by Congress to increase funding for the federal trust fund that pays for most U.S. highway, rail and transit projects.
“The underlying issue is under-investment,” said Esty, who is a member of the U.S. House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, agreed. “President Trump has proposed what amounts to a drop in the bucket in critically needed federal funding,” DeLauro said.
Some members of Congress, including Blumenthal’s and Malloy’s fellow Connecticut Democrat U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, have called for increasing federal gasoline taxes to help pay for a major increase in federal infrastructure funding.
But Blumenthal said Monday he is opposed to both gasoline tax hikes and tolls, a stance that would appear to put him at odds with Murphy and Malloy. Connecticut’s governor has called for state gas tax hikes as well as state tolls.
“States like Connecticut shouldn’t be burdened with tolls or gas taxes,” said Blumenthal, who serves on the U.S. Senate’s Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee. When pressed, Blumenthal said he would consider increases in gas taxes only as “a last resort” to help pay for a federal infrastructure program. CLICK TITLE TO CONTINUE

Connecticut lawmakers seek investigation of casino lobbying

Connecticut’s U.S. senators and two of its congressmen asked Monday that the inspector general of the Department of the Interior investigate the department’s role in blocking the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes from jointly developing a commercial casino in East Windsor to compete with an MGM gaming resort under construction in Springfield.
The state’s authorization of the East Windsor casino is contingent on Interior’s accepting amendments to the tribes’ gaming agreements with Connecticut affirming that the commercial project would not violate an existing deal under which the tribes’ pay 25 percent of the slots revenue from their tribal casinos, Foxwoods and Mohegan Sun.
But the Interior Department, after lobbying by MGM Resorts International, declined to act on the amendments, which the Connecticut senators and congressmen say in a letter is a violation of the department’s “longstanding legal trust responsibilities regarding Native American Tribes.” MGM should have no standing at Interior, they wrote.
“The Department of the Interior’s mission is to foster the government-to-government relationship between the federal government and the federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native Tribes — irrespective of economic considerations presented by parties with no immediate connection to Federal Government’s trust responsibilities,” they wrote.
The letter was signed by Sens. Richard Blumenthal and Chris Murphy and Reps. John B. Larson of the 1st District and Joe Courtney of the 2nd District, all Democrats. East Windsor is in the 1st District of Greater Hartford, and both tribal casinos are in the 2nd District of eastern Connecticut.
The letter quoted a Politico story posted Feb. 1 about MGM’s lobbying in Washington. On Jan. 29, a spokeswoman for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, told CT Mirror, which also was reporting a story about MGM’s lobbying in Hartford and Washington, that the department would answer no questions about whether the White House had influenced Zinke on the tribes’ project.
Zinke and James E. Cason, the Interior Department’s point man on off-reservation casinos, had a scheduled meeting at the White House with Rick Dearborn, the deputy chief of staff, on Sept. 14, the day before Interior informed the tribes and Connecticut it would take no action on the gaming amendments.
“I have nothing to add to your story,” said Heather Swift, a spokeswoman for Zinke.
In an interview the same day, Murphy told CT Mirror he took that  as a confirmation of the White House’s involvement. “It’s pretty remarkable they are not denying it,” Murphy said.The tribes applaud the action Monday.
“We want to thank Senators Blumenthal and Murphy and Representatives Courtney and Larson for taking this step today,” said Andrew Doba, a spokesman for the tribes’ joint venture, MMCT. “Their letter raises serious questions about how the Department of Interior handled our request and their subsequent refusal to follow the law.” CLICK TITLE TO CONTINUE

Lawmakers must be transparent on tolls

Greg Bordonaro Editor
Typically I shy away from writing about the same topic two weeks in a row, but the debate over tolls is so important to Connecticut's future that it's worth the extra ink.
Last week, I argued toll locations will be key to the debate over whether or not Connecticut should once again start charging motorists for using the state's roads and highways. I still stand by that notion, but after another full week of debate on the issue, there's a larger point to be made.
It's that transparency in general — on toll locations, costs, type and frequency — will be key to the debate.
That means lawmakers have an obligation to propose a bill filled with specifics rather than generalities. Residents and businesses have a right to know exactly how many tolls policymakers are considering, where they will be located and how much they will cost.
The fear is that Democratic lawmakers could try to jam through legislation that gives state government tolling authority with few or no constraints. Under that scenario, Connecticut residents will likely pay dearly years from now.
The fact that border tolls most likely are not legally feasible and that past studies have recommended putting tolls throughout state highways and roads, means policymakers who favor tolls have ambitions to roll them out in a big way. No legislation should pass the House or Senate without a full articulation of those plans.
Here's the bottom line: Most likely tolls won't pass in a heated election year in which the governor's seat and all House and Senate seats are up for grabs.
Frankly, that's a good thing because the next administration should make the call on this issue. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy had nearly two terms to throw his full support behind tolls, but he lacked the political courage to do so. Allowing him to do it as a lame-duck governor, while also tying the hands of his successor, is the wrong move.
Also, Malloy, like many governors in their final years in office, is in a legacy-building mode and he'd love to find a funding source for his ambitious 30-year, $100-billion transportation investment program. Again, his successor should make the call on whether the state needs to invest that much money on roads, highways, bridges and public transportation.
Connecticut, however, does have a transportation funding issue that must be addressed. It's a situation that will likely be exacerbated in the future as drivers use fewer gas-powered vehicles (the gas tax is the primary funder of the state's Special Transportation Fund).
And the business community has said that transportation is a critical issue. Companies would like to see less congestion on our highways, particularly in New Haven and Fairfield counties, so that their employees and goods can be moved more efficiently. In fact, it wouldn't be surprising if the Commission on Fiscal Stability and Economic Growth — which was empanelled last year and is made up of top CEOs and business executives — recommends the adoption of tolls and an increase in the gas tax.
But let's remember, tolls are essentially a tax on lower- and middle-class residents, some of whom have the least ability to pay. While Connecticut is a high-cost state for businesses and wealthy individuals, it is even more financially challenging for average earning individuals and families.
Most importantly, before lawmakers are essentially allowed to adopt another major tax hike, they must first be held accountable on state spending. Yes, Malloy deserves credit for reducing the size of the state workforce and constraining state spending increases, but he hasn't gone far enough in tackling the true cost drivers of state government: union pay and benefits and long-term pension and debt obligations.
Once those tough issues are addressed in a more comprehensive way, the toll debate will be more palatable to the electorate.

Letters Protect Transportation Funds

The state legislature is getting way ahead of itself in considering a toll system.
Before such a system is approved, a strong protection for the funds generated needs to be implemented. When the lottery was established, it was promised that the funds would be dedicated to education. The casino slot revenue was also targeted for education. Both of those promises are no longer in effect.
Now we are being promised that the funds from a proposed toll system would be dedicated to infrastructure improvements. As it is, the transportation fund has been emptied because much of the money has been used for expenditures other than infrastructure improvement.
There needs to be a constitutional amendment put in place that defines what the transportation fund can be used for. Any revenue that are targeted for infrastructure improvements needs to be untouchable for any use other than infrastructure.
Once the money goes into the transportation fund, the money should not be accessible to the legislature or governor's office in any way except for infrastructure.
The citizens of this state need to be protected from any more of the inappropriate decisions that come out of the legislature and the governor's office.
Alan Seilhammer, Lebanon