February 7, 2019

CT Construction Digest Thursday February 7, 2019

DOT to replace ‘functionally obsolete’ salt shed in Stratford
Jim Shay
STRATFORD - The Department of Transportation's salt shed is “ functionally obsolete” and the state wants to replace it.
The department’s Office of Engineering is developing plans for improving the Department’s existing winter storm operations site on Ryders Lane adjacent to Route 15 in Stratford.
The project involves constructing a new salt storage building similar in appearance to the recently completed Fairfield and New Canaan sheds off the Merritt Parkway.
Site work will include a paved loading/operations area, a personnel shelter, magnesium chloride tank, landscaping, site illumination, and associated improvements. The department’s schedule to complete the final plans is September 2019. The project will be 100 percent state funded.
“This project is necessary because the current salt storage shed is functionally obsolete and does not comply environmentally with the department’s standing agreement with the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection,” DOT said in a release. “Additionally, the site is critical in winter storm operations in Stratford and this area of the state. The maintenance operations and traffic at the site will remained unchanged.”
If there is adequate interest, an informational meeting will be conducted. At this time, it is not anticipated that a formal public hearing will be necessary.

Infrastructure bill faces many potholes in months ahead
Kevin Freking, Associated Press
WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump pronounced himself eager to work with Congress on a plan to rebuild America's crumbling roads and bridges, but offered no specifics during his State of the Union speech on what kind of deal he would back. The question now is whether lawmakers and the president are finally ready to move beyond complaining about the nation's infrastructure problem and actually do something about it.
History says no.
Lawmakers from both parties are expressing hope about reaching an agreement, but the key will be whether they and the president can figure out how to pay for it. Trump's initial proposal made little progress in the last Congress as Republicans were content to rely on their tax cuts and the strong economy to make their case to voters in the midterm elections. Democratic lawmakers, for their part, considered Trump's plan inadequate and unrealistic.
Now, high-powered interest groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce are trying to jumpstart momentum on the issue, and congressional committees in both chambers are scheduling hearings.
Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Texas, said Trump's leadership will be critical because only he can win over enough Republicans to get a deal done. He added that wherever the money for infrastructure is to come from, it will take Trump's "full and unqualified commitment to give Republicans enough cover to vote for it," Doggett said.
Trump struck a bipartisan tone during his State of the Union address with pleas for action on infrastructure, prescription drug pricing and ending the spread of HIV that seemed aimed at centrist voters.
For now, it looks like lawmakers will have to come up with many of the details.
"The president wants Congress to come together and craft a bipartisan infrastructure package that rebuilds crumbling infrastructure, invests in the projects and industries of tomorrow, and promotes permitting efficiency," said White House spokesman Judd Deere.
Rep. Peter DeFazio, the Democratic chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, said he'll work to build a bipartisan deal, and he's not concerned about giving Trump a legislative victory before next year's elections.
"He can't claim all the credit since they had total control for two years and did nothing," DeFazio said of Republicans.
The administration's proposal last year centered on using $200 billion in federal money over 10 years to stimulate $1.5 trillion in total infrastructure spending. The plan was heavily dependent on state and local dollars. But an analysis from the Penn Wharton Budget Model cast doubt on the idea that the proposed federal grants would come anywhere close to generating the extra state and local investments predicted by the administration.
Trump himself didn't sell the plan aggressively and described it initially as a lesser priority than boosting military spending and cutting taxes and regulation. He did not lay out any specific infrastructure proposal Tuesday, but noted the bipartisan appeal of the subject and stressed that he was eager to work with lawmakers. "Both parties should be able to unite for a great rebuilding of America's crumbling infrastructure," he said to applause.
On the same day, Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue laid out what the influential business group could support — and would oppose. Donohue said that paying for infrastructure by rescinding the tax cuts Trump and Republicans passed in 2016 "is a nonstarter for the business community and for many in Congress."
"Pulling back from tax reform to fund infrastructure is one step forward and two steps back. We're not going to do that," he said.
Donohue made a pitch for a "modest increase" in the federal gas tax. He said the tax hasn't increased since 1993 and that raising the gas tax by 25 cents would generate $394 billion over the next decade. The federal tax on gasoline now stands as 18.3 cents per gallon and at 24.3 cents per gallon for diesel fuel.
Donohue said dozens of states have passed higher gas taxes over the years to make infrastructure improvements and that people are willing to pay more for safer roads, lighter traffic and less wear and tear on their vehicles.
"We believe this is the simplest, most commonsense solution out there," Donohue said.
Congress has been reluctant to go that route. Instead, lawmakers have transferred money from the U.S. Treasury's general fund to supplement the Highway Trust Fund, which finances most federal spending for highways and mass transit. The last highway bill provided $70 billion in transfers through Oct. 1, 2020.
Indeed, GOP leaders have been so opposed to increasing the gas tax that they have even sought to undercut state efforts to do so. Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., and former Speaker Paul Ryan financially backed an election initiative California last November that would have repealed an increase in fuel taxes and vehicle fees designed to fund $5 billion in transportation projects a year.
While McCarthy and Ryan lost that effort, it's a reminder that lawmakers and political strategists see higher fuel taxes as a potentially valuable weapon during election season.
DeFazio acknowledged that reality Tuesday.
"They are afraid. They're scared. 'My God, if we raise the federal gas tax I might lose my election,'"DeFazio said of many lawmakers' mindset.

Lockheed pledges $1 million to Coast Guard Museum project
Julia Bergman
New London — Lockheed Martin, which owns Stratford-based Sikorsky, has pledged $1 million to the National Coast Guard Museum, the largest donation to date from the defense industry.
The company will have a wing of the museum named after it called the Lockheed Martin Saving Lives by Air Gallery. Sikorsky developed the HH-60 Jayhawk, which is used by the Coast Guard to carry out missions such as search and rescue.
"Lockheed Martin is humbled to join in recognizing the unsung service of Coast Guard men and women. Our deep investment in helping the U.S. Coast Guard to remain the best in the world is illustrated in this commitment to help bring the National Coast Guard Museum to fruition," Dale Bennett, executive vice president of rotary and mission systems for Lockheed, said in a statement.
Last year was the most successful private fundraising year for the National Coast Guard Museum Association, which is raising money to build the estimated $100 million museum on the waterfront in downtown New London. The museum association raised $6.8 million in private money in 2018. Total fundraising is about $42 million, including the $1 million gift from Lockheed, as well as state and federal monies. 
Both the state and the federal government have contributed to the project. The state gave $20 million for the construction of a pedestrian bridge to provide access to the museum. So far, the federal government has contributed $5 million. The museum association is hoping to secure $30 million in total from the feds.
Members of Connecticut's congressional delegation pushed to change a law to allow the Coast Guard to help pay for interior aspects of the museum, such as displays and exhibits. There's also been a push in Congress to allow the Coast Guard to pay for design and engineering work to ready the museum for construction, but that has yet to go through. If it did pass, the Coast Guard still would be prohibited from spending money on actual construction.
The museum is being designed for pre-K through adult audiences, and will feature five main themes highlighting the Coast Guard's work: Defenders of the Nation, Enforcers on the Seas, Lifesavers around the Globe, Protectors of the Environment, and Champions of Commerce.   

Connecticut Democrats want to create a state transit authority; Republicans say it’s just a backdoor pathway to tolls

Democratic legislators called for creating a special transportation panel Wednesday, but Republicans immediately blasted the idea as a front for electronic highway tolls.
Senate Democrats said that the new Connecticut Transportation Authority would have the ability to make priorities for transportation projects in a state that has been criticized for years for its crumbling infrastructure. The final wording of the bill has not been completed, but Republicans immediately said it would allow for a backdoor pathway to tolls.
Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney of New Haven, the highest-ranking senator, said the authority could be “more efficiently empowered” by concentrating solely on the issue of transportation, while legislators are often distracted by a wide variety of issues.
“The scope of its powers would have to be defined,” Looney said of the authority. “The General Assembly might be required to make a decision on enacting tolls, but the implementation of it could be left to the authority in terms of deciding what the rates were and what the spacing and distancing would be [between the tolls] and the number of gantries that would have to be set up. There’s a whole lot of ways to structure it.”
But Senate Republican leader Len Fasano of North Haven said the authority could be granted too much power and become like the Metropolitan Transportation Authority in New York City, a powerful entity that has collected billions of dollars through the years by operating tolls on multiple bridges and tunnels.
“I think it is a ruse for tolls,” Fasano said of the authority. "It is dodging the hard questions and allowing legislators to blame someone else for tolls. You can’t create an authority to do your dirty work.''Proponents say momentum has been building in favor of tolls this year because the Democrats have increased their majorities in both chambers of the legislature and the new governor, Ned Lamont, supports the concept. Lamont, though, has limited his support so far to a trucks-only proposal, following the current practice in Rhode Island that does not permit tolls on passenger vehicles.
Despite the optimism of proponents, Fasano predicted Wednesday that tolls will fail again this year as they have repeatedly in the past.
“I don’t see the toll issue moving this year,” he said.
As an alternative to tolls, Fasano is still pushing a broad Republican plan for $65 billion in bonding over 30 years that is known as “Prioritize Progress.” Republicans say that the state’s crumbling infrastructure can be fixed without tolls. Fasano rejected the Democratic criticism that the Republican bonding plan would crowd out future funding for UConn and reconstruction and expansion of public schools across the state.
“I would oppose an authority that’s giving them a blank check and the ability to make a decision on tolls on their own,” he said. “If this is an attempt for Democrats to backdoor decisions and they could claim they’re not responsible for it, then that’s just plain wrong.”
On the Democratic side, Looney said final details of the authority are still pending, adding that the entity could be similar to the turnpike authority in Massachusetts that ran the Mass Pike for years before being succeeded by the state transportation department.
“I know there’s strong support in the House,” Looney said. “It would, in some cases, allow the authority to potentially make decisions that are now made by the General Assembly. The scope of that would have to be worked out.”
“I’m sure it’s only about tolls — to remove accountability, which is poor government,” Sculley said. “I think it’s clear that most of the public is opposed to tolls, so it’s tough [for legislators] to take a vote.”
Sculley agreed with Fasano that Connecticut should avoid a New York City-style agency to handle billions of dollars in tolls.
"Why would we want to be like the MTA?'' he asked. "It’s a cautionary tale for us. We shouldn’t go there.''
But House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said other states have had success in collecting tolls through an authority.
“It’s a concept that should be explored, and has worked well for neighboring states such as New York and New Jersey,'' he said. “Everyone agrees our aging transportation infrastructure needs fixing and this is a top priority of our business community, so we should be talking about new ways to get the job done.”