April 30, 2019

CT Construction Digest Tuesday April 30, 2019

Shelton housing project receives $1.1M in federal tax credits
Jordan Grice
Development of the long-awaited River Breeze apartments in Shelton could be on the horizon, thanks to a needed boost from the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority.
The Shelton-based project at 223 Canal St. was one of seven housing development projects across the state to receive part of $10.3 million from the 9 percent low-income housing tax credit program on Thursday. River Breeze was approved for more than $1 million in tax credits.The federal program is meant provide an incentive to private investment in affordable housing by awarding tax credits to developers. The developers can sell their credits to investors to obtain equity financing for their developments. This recent batch of projects is expected to generate almost $100 million in equity statewide.                     
Norwalk-based Washington Village was also among the list of projects to benefit from CHFA funding, receiving a $2,182,797 tax credit as part of the Norwalk Housing Authority’s Master Redevelopment Plan Project of the housing complex in south Norwalk. Phase 3 of the project includes building 108 rental units to replace 64 units in five buildings.
“We all know that more affordable housing is needed in Connecticut,” said Seila Mosquera-Brunoin ,CHFA Chairwoman and Commissioner of the Department of Housing, in a Thursday press release. “The tax credits awarded today will help to build new housing and renovate existing units to provide safe, sustainable housing for residents.”
River Breeze is expected to bring 68 units of mixed-income apartment units to the former Rolfite property fronting the Housatonic River in Shelton.
The development is part of the Shelton Riverfront Master Plan which called for construction of 650 units along Canal Street facing the river either by converting old industrial buildings or through new construction.
The project is part of the third phase of development in the master plan, across from the Avalon apartments.The Shelton-based project has been in the works since 2013, when John Guedes of Bridgeport-based Primrose Co. first proposed it. New Haven-based Mutual Housing Association of South-Central Connecticut took over the project roughly six months ago with intent to complete the apartments.
Primrose Co. Inc. still serves as general contractors for the project.
“This has been on the books for some time waiting for the grants and the federal financing from CHFA,” Guedes said.
Nearly 400 units have been built already.
“Up until now, there has been no affordable housing within the mix,” Guedes said. “I always intended to at some point introduce some affordable housing into the development.”River Breeze will include the construction of 23 one-bedroom and 45 two-bedroom units ranging from 796 to 1,081 square feet.
Seventeen units will be restricted to residents earning 25 percent of area median income, which is around $89,250, according to census data. Fourteen units will be designated as supportive housing units while another 14 will be market rate.
The remaining affordable units will be designated to people at 50 and 60 percent of AMI.
Since it was initially proposed, Guedes said River Breeze has been going through a series of approval processes with state departments to get its needed financing.
The $15 million project will be the result of CHFA loans, tax credits and federal and state grants.
With brownfield clean up completed and the approvals in, Guedes said the project is shovel ready. He’s hopeful that construction will begin by the end of the summer, kickstarting an 18-month build.

Still not recovered from Great Recession, CT’s construction industry fears another slowdown
Shawn R. Beals
Connecticut's construction industry, still recovering from the Great Recession, is preparing for another uneasy period while state budget debates and spending plans from both parties promise sharp decreases in public spending.
The industry, which has only regained 88 percent of the nearly 21,000 jobs lost from March 2008 to Feb. 2010, is off to a bumpy start in 2019, having shed 1,400 jobs since January, although employment levels are higher than a year ago this time, according to state data.
A likely decrease in legislative spending and Gov. Ned Lamont's "debt diet" are giving the state's commercial construction firms little reason to be optimistic about an influx of new work over the coming years, said Don Shubert, president of the Connecticut Construction Industries Association.
"We haven't recovered completely since the recession. We're still down 7 percent from the peak, and the outlook is still shaky," Shubert said. "It's shakier than it's been in a long time. There's a lot of uncertainty right now in Connecticut as far as public construction."
Construction jobs peaked in Connecticut at 69,100 in June 2007 before bottoming out at 47,900 in March 2010, at the end of the recession, according to state Department of Labor statistics. As of March 31, there were 60,700 construction jobs in the state.
The data show the decline in construction jobs was swift starting in early 2008 and the recovery was slow. After steady gains into 2016, the number of construction jobs in the state leveled off but began to climb again late in 2018 before the recent dip.
"Connecticut made pretty good strides in the last year and we'd hate to lose that," Shubert said. "We're still hanging on by our fingernails."
The construction industry was immediately affected by the economic slowdown 10 years ago as the state and towns cut back on spending. Transportation projects, schools, public-safety buildings and other infrastructure work creates much of the business for firms in Connecticut, said Joseph Desautel, CEO of Downes Construction Co. in New Britain.
"There will be a tighter market for the next couple of years until the state gets its budget straightened out," Desautel said. "The state pumps a lot of money into the construction industry."
Downes is celebrating its 85th anniversary this year, and was one of the few fortunate firms in Connecticut no to have seen much of a slowdown during the recession. The projects that got the company through 2010 had already been booked before the recession hit, said company President John Downes.
"We were certainly concerned about what was going to happen to the market during the recession," he said. "The way we managed it was we were very aggressive with our marketing and business development to increase our market share."
Lately, the good news in the state has been in Fairfield County, where it's cheaper to build than in New York City, and in Hartford where companies like Stanley Black & Decker have committed resources to the region and a wave of residential developments downtown are still underway.
"That's a very positive development and it means a lot of money coming in to revitalize Hartford, not just the commercial areas but also the residential areas," said Nancy Greenwald, executive director of the Construction Institute at the University of Hartford. "The Connecticut recovery in general was slow, slower than the rest of the country, but construction is getting stronger in Connecticut. The question is where are things happening?"
Looking elsewhere
Greenwald agreed that budgetary shuffling will likely delay some projects, but said other trends in the industry might help companies bridge slower years more comfortably than they have in the past.
"Construction is one of the least digitized industries in the country, right behind agriculture," Greenwald said. "There's been a tremendous surge in the industry in the last year, the investment in technology is just exploding."
Better cost controls, project-management methods and business-development standards will lead to less waste and fewer delays, she said.
"Any efficiency you can capture with new technologies, whether it's with software or 3D printing or robotics, any productivity you can recapture, it's real money," Greenwald said.
She said the slow economic recovery seems to have caused many of Connecticut's constructions firms to look elsewhere in the Northeast for work more frequently than they had in the past.
"A lot of them are looking to Rhode Island, New York and Massachusetts and expanding their reach to diversify geographically," Greenwald said. "But we have great construction companies that are local to Connecticut or are local arms of national companies. The people I interact with take very seriously their role in supporting economic growth in the state."
Kurt Montagno, president of Montagno Construction in Waterbury, said his company is still down about five of the 25 staff positions it had before the recession. He said the funding challenges in Connecticut give plenty of reason to look to neighboring states for more work.
"We haven't hit our stride, the work in the state has been somewhat spotty," Montagno said. "The economic climate in the state has really put a damper on development work. There is a worry on our part about what's coming down the pike, because we're not seeing a lot of private construction either. It's worrisome, it really is."
Montagno said his company built a lot of skilled-nursing facilities in the 2000s, but they weren't being funded during the recession.
"In 2011, when the recovery began, we saw a mix of public and private work that looked like it had been pent up during the recession," he said. "It was the toughest period I've ever gone through. We had to cut staff, we had to cut salary, we went through every line item in our overhead and had to cut to the extreme, and we did come out of the recession."

Yale-New Haven plans $838 million neuroscience center

New Haven — Yale-New Haven Hospital Monday unveiled plans to build up its St. Raphael campus with a 505,000-square foot, $838 million neuroscience center for research and treatment of diseases like Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, epilepsy, multiple sclerosis, and strokes.
The announcement took place at a press conference held inside a tent on a parking lot at 659 George St., where the hospital system plans to build the new center.
The project will develop a neuroscience focus for the St. Raphael campus while Yale’s cancer hospital takes the lead at its original York Street campus. Yale School of Medicine researchers will play an active research role at the new center. (Yale-New Haven took over the former Hospital of St. Raphael in 2012 as it faced the prospect of closing.)
At the announcement, Yale-New Haven Health CEO Marna Borgstrom said the new project tackles three goals:
• Easing the shortage of beds at the hospital, especially at its 1950s-era York Street campus East Pavilion, so that patients need not have roommates. “Our beds have been full nearly every single day,” she said.
• Seizing opportunities for investment in research into neuroscientific diseases.
• “Moving closer to the eradication of insidious disease” through “innovative therapies and new treatments.”
“The project will be built within the existing footprint of the hospital campus, bordered by Sherman Avenue and George Street. It will shift the main entrance of the hospital from Chapel Street to George Street. An existing parking garage on Orchard Street will be extended to George Street to accommodate patients and a new 200-space underground garage will support the facility,” a hospital release stated..
The new center will provide an important “link to our research,” Yale School of Medicine Dean Robert Alpern said at the event. “Where Yale stands out in the nation is in the neurosciences,” capturing the most National Institute of Health research funding. Its current research includes new ways to reduce strokes and Parkinson’s and pain-reduction alternatives to opioids. Yake is part of an NIH network for clinical trials and a northeast ALS clinical trial consortium. The “number-one priority” for the space his school just took over at the Alexion 100 College St. tower will involve neuroscience research, he said.
“New Haven is a central hub” for the life sciences,” Gov. Lamont said at the event. He spoke of improving transportation and housing so more scientists can live and work here.
The city’s counting on $8 million in building fees form the project over three years.
There’s no understating the significance” of the new center for “long-term prosperity,” health care, and jobs, Mayor Toni Harp said at the event. She echoed Lamont’s call to improve the state’s transportation infrastructure to support economic initiatives like this one.
She and Board of Alders President Tyisha Walker spoke of how “three brilliant women” who worked on the deal — they and Borgstrom “got it done.”
“We’re going to get some jobs out of this” as well, Walker noted.
Earlier, during her most recent appearance on WNHH FM’s “Mayor Monday” program, Harp called the deal a big boost for the city. She said the new center will benefit public health in addition to creating jobs and spinning off millions of dollars in related economic impact. She predicted that the new center will advance neuroscientific research and care in ways “the medical establishment has had trouble addressing.”
One listener asked Harp if she believes “people will receive fair care as YNHH will ultimately have a monopoly in New Haven County.” She responded that the hospital system’s teaching role and its widespread free care will prove a plus on balance. She also predicted a shift in the balance of power between hospitals and insurance companies given consolidation in the health care industry, which she suggested could enable a “stronger medical role” in decided what kind of care gets coverage.

For whom the highway tolls
The issue of tolls on Connecticut’s highways is shaping up to be a defining one for Connecticut legislators, Gov. Ned Lamont and two competing plans to improve the state’s transportation network.
Republicans are advocating their “Prioritize Progress” plan that would borrow money for transportation improvements – work necessary promote economic growth — rather than raise it from highway tolls.  Lamont, for his part, is ramping up his lobbying effort and refining his tolling proposal in a drive to win its approval. He is getting support from a coalition of construction businesses and trade organizations.
The struggle will play out in the days ahead, likely generating as many headlines as the other big issue this session – balancing the state budget. The governor has not yet weighed in on a number of expensive budgetary items like the expiring tax on hospitals; and unlike Lamont, some of his fellow Democrats are advocating for an additional half-penny increase in the sales tax to benefit low-income communities. Still unresolved, as well, is the issue of raises for Connecticut nursing home employees, but contract talks have been productive enough to postpone a threatened strike.
State Sen. Jon Fonfara of Hartford, the originator of the half-penny sales tax idea, is not happy about Lamont’s so-called “debt diet” either, though his means of expressing his displeasure has been termed “absurd.”
The need for borrowing, meanwhile, might be ameliorated slightly by the relatively stable flow of state income tax receipts compared to the wildly fluctuating numbers of recent history. Borrowing, when necessary, has also become a little less painful as a collateral effect of the change in federal tax policy which is driving more money into tax-free government bonds. (In the negative column, Connecticut and dozens of its municipalities are in a tug of war in court with the Trump administration, which is withholding millions in policing grants from so-called “sanctuary cities” like New Haven and Hartford.)
Lamont, for his part, is pitching his drive to make Connecticut, in his words “one of the nation’s most cost-efficient, data-informed, results-driven states.”
He is in no hurry to replace Thomas Kruger, who resigned the University of Connecticut Board of Trustees after eight years of service – part of a move by the governor to change the institution’s leadership. Lamont did, however, nominate Superior Court Judge Robert Devlin to a post on the state Appellate Court.State legislators have been busy, too. In a display of bipartisanship, the House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly to authorize a referendum to allow early voting.  It also approved a list of non-controversial items such as regulations on e-scooters and a bill authorizing use of the Penfield Reef Lighthouse as a place to store cremated human remains.

April 29, 2019

CT Construction Digest Monday April 29, 2019

Bridgeport’s oversight of contractor in FBI probe raises questions
Bill Cummings
BRIDGEPORT — The city’s $3.5 million public facilities garage was beset by cost overruns and no bid work — and vulnerable to a potential conflict of interest, city records show.
The records also raise questions about the city’s oversight of a multimillion project, the largest undertaken by Mayor Joe Ganim’s administration.Former Deputy Public Facilities Director Joe Tiago, fired in February following a city scrap metal scandal now under investigation by the FBI, played an ongoing role in the job awarded to Vaz Quality Works of Bridgeport despite having a financial relationship with the owner of Vaz.
As the garage was developed and built, Tiago received price quotes directly from Vaz, including paving prices a month after the work was authorized, according to records obtained by Hearst Connecticut Media through a freedom of information request. This while Tiago held a $670,000 mortgage for Luis Vaz for property he sold in 2014, just two years before the garage project began.
The additional work by Vaz added a half million dollars to the price tag for paving the lot.
 Although the final cost of the project has not yet been calculated by the city, records indicate it could reach as high as $3.5 million of taxpayer’s money — a 14 percent overrun.
Vaz was low bidder for the overall project with an original offer of $2.9 million to do the job.City officials defended the cost overruns and the process used to the build the garage, saying nothing was done improperly. They said unexpected issues came up that drove up costs and required change orders — a construction term for revised plans.
"Most change orders are of a substantive nature such that they are not anticipated, which is why there are ‘change orders,’" Rowena White, a spokesperson for Mayor Joe Ganim.
"This amount of change orders — 24 were submitted — is typical for this size project," White said.She said five of those orders were rejected and three are on hold for further discussion.
"All change orders, whether approved, revised, rejected, increasing or crediting the project, are accounted for in municipal construction projects," she said.
But the cost overruns and number of change orders seem unusual for the size of the project, said Chris Fryxell, president of the Connecticut chapter of Associated Builders and Contractors Inc., a national group that represents tradesmen.
“It does seem high to me,” Fryxell said. “The question is, should they have known, and what pre-planning did they do? Should these issues have been foreseen or did they cut corners?”
Officials previously said the garage project was reduced from a $5 million, and that cost increases were mostly caused by paving additional portions of the lot, including an area prone to flooding, and moving a vehicle washing station to an outside location.
A federal Grand Jury and the FBI in February subpoenaed documents involving $4.4 million in city work awarded to Vaz since 2015, the year Ganim took office. That total includes other work performed for the city by Vaz.
Tom Carson, a spokesman for U.S. Attorney John Durham, declined comment on whether the office is looking into possible illegality regarding the garage project.
No-bid paving
Paving the garage parking lot represented the largest cost overrun; the unexpected increase of nearly $500,000.
The paving work was first outlined through a bid from Vaz in 2016 for $185,822 — and swelled to $678,899 by 2018, records show.
A plan to expand the paving work was included in a Sept 12, 2018, letter from Public Facilities Director John Ricci to the city purchasing department.
In that letter, Ricci sought permission for a "qualified purchase" — a city term for a no-bid contract.The new work was estimated to cost $269,277 more than originally budgeted for paving.
Ricci said that selecting Vaz would "provide a lower cost than would result from competitive bidding since they are already on site and mobilized."
Ricci’s request for a no-bid contract prompted questions from the purchasing department.
Sharon Roberston, a purchasing department employee, noted in an email to the public facilities department that the "project overran bid amount before paving was ever started?"In response, Robertson was told her assessment was correct, and advised that the "the paving is for the existing contract for the municipal garage."
White said the city followed proper procedures in seeking a no-bid contract for the paving work.
"A qualified purchase was requested and approved by the city’s purchasing agent per ordinance due to timing, review of bid paving line items from the original project, VAZ’s agreement to hold their unit pricing from the 2016 bid package and Vaz being already familiar with the existing drainage on site," White said in a written statement"The priority paving work to create alternative employee parking areas due to site demolition was required to be performed prior to the approaching winter close of the paving season," she said.The day before Ricci’s request for a no-bid contract, Vaz submitted price quotes to Tiago for the $269,000 in work, city records show.That new work included paving an additional 39,450 square feet of lot.
Delayed quotes
The cost of paving the lot continued to rise as the scope of work expanded.
On Sept. 21, 2018, the city’s purchasing department issued a purchase order for paving that included a new charge of $223,800, bringing the cost of changes in the paving job to $493,077.
The new work involved paving three additional yards of lot, removing existing pavement, laying new sub material and other activity.But city records show Vaz submitted the new price quote to Tiago on October 23, 2018 — more than a month after the city cut the September purchase order that essentially authorized the work.
When asked how a purchase order could be issued before price quotes were received, White said the new costs were added to the September purchase order after they were received in October.
“The date on the original order stays the same,” White said.
 Ganim has said Tiago’s financial interest in Vaz Quality Works was not disclosed to the city when the garage was being built.
The mayor also said he was told Tiago recused himself from the public facilities garage project, the largest building venture undertaken by his administration.
Tiago and his criminal lawyer, John Gulash, have declined repeated requests for comment about his role in the garage project.
Change orders
As work progressed, the process of building the garage continued to undergo changes and alterationsThe garage was first put out to bid in the summer of 2016. In September, the city received five offers, ranging from a high of $3.7 million from G. Pic & Sons Construction to the low bid of $2.9 million from Vaz.The second lowest bid was $3.34 million from OWI Contractors in Stratford.
Fryxell, of the trade group, said change orders can be issued for a variety of reasons and acknowledged they are often used during large construction projects.
Reasons for the project’s change orders varied, including different HVAC systems, revisions to a main sanitary line and employee cost increases due to higher prevailing wages.
“But this seems high as an overall percentage of the project,” Fryxell said. “The concern is always over being a good steward of the taxpayer’s money.White, as of last week, said the final cost of the project — $3,077,569 — reflected change orders approved so far.
That $3.1 million figure comes from a 2017 purchase order and does not reflect additional costs due to the garage.
When those costs are included, the price of the overall project rises to $3,570,546, city records show.
White stressed the final price is still to be determined, pending the result of further change order reviews and accounting.

Ann Street closure in Norwalk to begin Monday
Tara O'Neill
NORWALK — Starting Monday, Ann Street will be closed to traffic for several days as the state Department of Transportation works on an ongoing project.
The DOT said the closure runs from Monday, April 29 through Saturday, May 4. The closure is part of an “ongoing superstructure replacement of the Ann Street Railroad Bridge as part of the Walk Bridge Program’s Danbury Branch Dockyard Project,” the DOT said.During the work, access to the Corset Factory’s rear parking lot from Ann Street will be closed. Tenants will be able to get to the lot from Pine Street. Access to the front lot will remain open throughout the work.Drivers and pedestrians are asked to take Washington Street or North Water Street instead of Ann Street while the work is going on.

The Walk Bridge Replacement Project is part of the overall Walk Bridge Program, made up of more than a half-dozen road, rail and utility infrastructure projects intended to enhance safety, reliability and service flexibility throughout the city of Norwalk.
The replacement project was sparked by operational failures of the existing 123-year-old bridge, which the DOT said impacted “thousands of passengers on the New Haven Line” of Metro-North Railroad.The new bridge is expected to increase rail capacity and efficiency on the line, while improving navigational capacity and depending for marine traffic on the Norwalk River.
The Danbury Branch Dockyard Project started construction in October 2017. It includes a series of rail improvements on the Danbury Branch of Metro-North.
Improvements include new track installation and the electrifications of the southern portion from Washington Street to Jennings Place, allowing trains ending routes at the South Norwalk station to change direction for the return trip to Grand Central Terminal.

Work recommences on Center Street bridge in Wallingford
Lauren Takores
WALLINGFORD — Work on the Center Street bridge replacement project restarted last week.
“This is the typical start-up timeframe for most projects that (were) on hold over the winter season,” said Kevin Nursick, state Department of Transportation spokesman, via email.
State officials announced in March that they pushed the expected completion date to 2022. Construction began in 2016.
“We’re pleased that the project is continuing,” Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said. “It’s an important highway for travel east and west. It’s in the best interest of everyone that it’s finished sooner rather than later.”
Center Street is part of state Route 150.
“We’re pleased that the project is continuing,” Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr. said. “It’s an important highway for travel east and west. It’s in the best interest of everyone that it’s finished sooner rather than later.”
Center Street is part of state Route 150.
Construction had stopped for more than a year as DOT engineers assessed the stability of the bridge and modified the existing plan.
The DOT, which is responsible for maintenance because Route 150 is a state road, previously rated the century-old bridge over Wharton Brook structurally deficient and recommended replacement.
The bridge replacement is being done in two phases to maintain traffic flow. Cars were pushed to the south side of the bridge, and the north side was demolished.
Construction delays began when the contractor, New Haven-based C.J. Fucci, raised concerns that demolition work on the abutments could destabilize the support structure.
DOT found the bridge was stable but the plan needed to be redesigned. Nursick has said the changes will add about $2 million over the original cost estimate of $3.9 million.
After the announcement of the 2022 completion date last month, Vinny Ianuzzi, owner of Vinny’s Deli, ran a free sandwich promotion for customers who allowed employees to film them singing “Bridge Over Troubled Water.”
Ianuzzi, whose business is located next to the bridge, planned to post the videos online, part of a campaign to grab the attention of legislators.
“It’s ridiculous,” Ianuzzi said last month. “The Q Bridge was done in nine years, and this is going to take seven years?”

Tolls would take toll on tourism industry, some say
Brian Hallenbeck     
Out-of-state drivers would fork over as much as 40 percent of the money Gov. Ned Lamont’s toll plan would generate, according to estimates.
How’s that likely to sit with tourists?
“I think tolls would throw a complete wet blanket on tourism in southeastern Connecticut,” said state Rep. Doug Dubitsky, a Chaplin Republican whose district includes a piece of Norwich. “We have some of the best attractions in the state and in New England. We’ve got the casinos, the New London area is trying to grow and Norwich is starting to come back with restaurants, cafes and breweries, all of which bring people in ..."
“If it’s going to cost people an extra $10 or $15 to get to the (Mystic) Seaport, the aquarium, the casinos, they’re just going to go elsewhere,” he said.
Tourism, Dubitsky said, generates far more revenue from people living outside the state than the state spends trying to attract their dollars — all the more reason it makes no sense to put off would-be visitors.
Nevertheless, the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut supports an electronic tolling system as the best way for the state to raise the money it needs to maintain its transportation system. The argument for tolls “can be boiled down to two words: commerce and tourism,” Tony Sheridan, the chamber’s president and chief executive officer, wrote last week in a published opinion piece.
State Sen. Heather Somers, a Groton Republican, said she was surprised by the chamber’s position.
“I’m curious whether he’s talked to members,” she said, referring to Sheridan. “They’re not saying at all what he’s saying.”
Somers said the toll plan backed by Lamont and most Democrats, which now calls for no more than 50 toll gantries on Interstates 84, 91 and 95 and Route 15, amounts to a toll every six miles, “not a welcoming prospect for anyone coming to Connecticut.”
Most Republican lawmakers, including Dubitsky, Somers and more than a half dozen others representing multitown districts in southeastern Connecticut, favor the GOP’s plan to fund transportation improvements through a prioritized approach to bonding rather than tolls.
The problem with tolls, said Stephen Tagliatela, chairman of the Connecticut Tourism Coalition, is that they amount to another tax on the tourism industry. Already, he said, the industry is grappling with the highest-in-the-nation hotel room occupancy tax, which the governor’s budget has proposed hiking from 15 to 17 percent. A portion of the revenue generated by the tax is diverted to a state tourism fund.
“If you want to kill a business, you tax it,” said Tagliatela, co-owner of the Saybrook Point Inn, Marina & Spa in Old Saybrook.
While opposed to statewide tolling, Tagliatela suggested the state consider tolling at a specific site to raise revenue for improvements at that site, such as at a particular bridge. He pointed to the so-called "Q Bridge" project in New Haven, a massive undertaking that has succeeded in relieving congestion and helping spur tourism and economic growth in that city.
There might have been a way to fund the project with tolls at or near the bridge, Tagliatela said, “but facing a gantlet every six miles makes no sense at all.”
Sheri Cote, who became president of the Shoreline Chamber of Commerce last year after more than 15 years with the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut, agreed that tolls would harm tourism in the state. She said her organization, which represents Branford, Guilford and North Branford, has not officially adopted a position on the issue.
“(Last) Monday morning," she said, "I got an email from a man in western Massachusetts who’s been coming here on vacations for years to the hot spots: Mystic Aquarium, Mystic Seaport, the Steam Train (in Essex). He said, ‘If you put in tolls, that comes to a screeching halt.’ ... He’s not the only one.”
Cote said she understands that the states surrounding Connecticut have tolls, “but they’re spending more money on tourism.”
“If we do tolls, we need to up the ante,” she said.    

Everything you need to know about tolls — and a plan against them — in Connecticut
Lindsay Boyle   Discussing tolls in New London on Thursday, Gov. Ned Lamont said he couldn't "think of a more important priority to get this state going again."
Indeed, tolls have been a hot topic since a state-commissioned study called for 82 electronic toll gantries across 13 Connecticut highways last fall.
While those numbers have been refined — Lamont's latest plan would have 50 gantries spanning four highways — most neighboring states have tolls on just one highway, not several.
But other transportation funding proposals are on the table, including a House bill, a Senate bill and the Republicans' Prioritize Progress plan, which doesn't include tolls.
Read on for an analysis of each option and excerpts from the more than 50 readers who responded to our CuriousCT poll — on www.theday.com, by email, on social media and even by snail mail.
 Of the toll plans, most widely discussed so far is the one Gov. Ned Lamont outlined in his proposed budget, which House Bill No. 7202 suggests should be implemented.
The malleable plan calls for no more than 50 electronic toll gantries — or the structures equipped with cameras that read drivers' plates — to be spread across Interstates 84, 91 and 95 and the Merritt Parkway.
Construction on the tolls would begin no earlier than 2022 and would cost $213 million. Once operational, Lamont estimated the tolls would generate about $800 million annually to help the Department of Transportation address Connecticut's crumbling infrastructure.
Per Lamont's budget, 47 percent of state-maintained roadways are in less-than-good condition, while 334 bridges are in poor condition.
"It would be negligent for Connecticut to wait for a major bridge to fail before acting," the budget reads.
Where the gantries will be placed isn't yet clear, though some politicians, including state Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, seem certain they'll end up on key bridges such as the Gold Star Memorial.
Drivers without Connecticut E-ZPasses would spend about 7.9 cents per mile during peak travel times and see a 6.3-cent rate when it's less busy.
Connecticut E-ZPass users would get at least a 30 percent discount, while medium-sized trucks, buses and tractor-trailers would pay higher rates. Discounts for frequent users and/or low-income drivers still are on the table.
Need to commute from New London to New Haven? That could cost anywhere from $3.78 to $7.39 per round-trip, depending on who you are, when you travel and which exits you use.
A commute from Old Lyme to Stonington could cost anywhere from $1.58 to $3.92 per round trip.
"Republicans and Democrats agree transportation is a mess in this state, that it's a quality-of-life and economic issue," said Colleen Johnson, senior adviser for the Lamont administration. "The issue is, how do we pay to fix it?"
Johnson said a major benefit of Lamont's plan is that about 40 percent of the revenue would come from out-of-state drivers.
"We would love to have Republicans at the table, but they have said tolls are a no-go," she said. "They're saying, 'Our preference is for Connecticut residents to pick up 100 percent of the costs of wear and tear on our highways.'"
Under the Republican plan (see Chapter 2), the state would use part of its annual $2 billion bonding cap to fulfill DOT's needs in each of the next 30 years.
Tim Sperry, a 63-year-old Guilford resident who commutes daily to Storrs, said Connecticut should have introduced tolls a long time ago.
Sperry, an organic and specialty food consultant, used to commute from the Boston area to Connecticut. Paying tolls in Massachusetts but driving "scot-free" here always struck him as odd, he said.
Sperry had some caveats — he said the state should improve public transportation, offer a discount for low-income residents and stagger fees so they're higher near cities — but called tolls a reasonable solution to waning gas tax revenue.
"Let's wake up and face the realities that our roads and bridges need repairs and we're not going to get (the funding) from the gas tax," he said.
Michael Dreimiller, a digital media specialist at Connecticut College, said he supports the idea of tolls because those who use the highways generate the funds to repair them.
Dreimiller, who commutes daily from Gales Ferry, said he wouldn't adjust his commute to avoid the Gold Star bridge, should a gantry be placed there.
"I think any new tax is going to have opposition — and from both sides," the 59-year-old said. "But I think at some point you have to look at the level of services you want your state to be providing, and there's a point where you just can't cut it anymore."
Asked whether he has concerns about politicians diverting the funds for other uses, Dreimiller, a near lifelong resident of Connecticut, said, "Of course I do."
"They've taken money out of the fund in the past," he said. "I understand why they did it, but that just shifted the problem from one point to another. If we really do have an infrastructure problem, we can't afford to do that anymore."
Somers, the Groton senator, said she has been against tolls "from the beginning."
Once gantries are installed, she said, it'll be easy for the state to raise the rates and hard for residents to get the gantries removed.
She also said most residents, because they can't change the hours they drive, will be stuck traveling during "peak" hours and paying the highest rates.
About 250 people came to a forum she hosted in Groton on April 8, she said, demonstrating how "concerned and upset" residents are by the prospect of tolls.
Residents also protested in Groton and New London during an April 6 event arranged by No Tolls CT, a grassroots group that has been hosting rallies and forums statewide since February.
Somers said Connecticut can and should fix its infrastructure without new revenue, as outlined in the Republicans' Prioritize Progress plan.
Each year, the state is allowed to bond, or borrow, up to $2 billion for various projects. Prioritize Progress allots a set amount for transportation each year, starting with $703.7 million in 2020.
Naysayers, including Lamont, have said the plan would divert bonding money from school construction and affordable housing, but Somers said the plan funds "core services" including school construction, clean water and town aid.
"That was important to us," she said.
"I think some people also are under the misconception that if we add tolls, we won't bond" the full $2 billion, Somers said. "But if they think politicians in this state are not going to use all of the money, they're not thinking straight."
Politicians and residents discussed the Republican plan during a public hearing of the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee on Friday. Almost 100 people submitted testimony, with some pleading for the state to reject tolls but others calling bonding an expensive, burdensome option.
Sitting at a table in Muddy Waters last week, Michael Hugyo, 70, said tolls might force those who are on a fixed income to leave.
Hugyo, a Waterford resident who often visits his daughter in Rhode Island, said he's fortunate to have a good pension on top of the Social Security he collects. But he already left Fairfield County to cut costs about 18 years ago and he's not sure where else he can save.
Hugyo said businesses small and large likely will pass the cost of tolls and other proposed new taxes on to consumers.
"And the people on fixed income are consumers, so there again they get hit," he said.
Hugyo, a lifelong Connecticut resident, said he believes the installation of tolls is "a foregone conclusion." He plans to leave within "a year or two" because of the tolls.
Scott Matson, 50, said he has become "increasingly dissatisfied" with the way Connecticut outspends its earnings and breaks promises to residents.
"If I lost my job tomorrow — my wife and I both work — we could live, but we're going to have to start cutting some stuff out," said Matson, a physician who lives and works in Glastonbury.
Matson isn't sure if tolls are a good idea, but he doesn't think they'll "transform Connecticut into a place that can afford itself" and he doesn't believe politicians will use the money for infrastructure alone.
Matson said Connecticut should stop adding revenue streams and evaluate its spending instead.
"I'd like to see us tighten our belt and position ourselves between New York- and New Jersey-type taxes," he said. "I think we could maintain a high level of services and spending ... and yet attract people rather than have them leave."
In addition to the bill that backs Lamont's plan, the Transportation Committee also endorsed two other toll proposals: Senate Bill No. 423 and House Bill No. 7280.
Prepared by Democrats, each proposal also limits tolling to the Merritt Parkway and interstates 84, 91 and 95.
Neither outlines the number of gantries or the proposed cost per mile.
The House bill calls for a transportation authority to oversee the tolls and requires public hearings on the final plan.
The Senate bill leaves legislators responsible for setting toll prices, bars price increases for 10 years and, in addition to hearings, requires a second vote from the full General Assembly on the final plan.
Legislators still are finalizing the version they'll put forward later this session.
Our readers are nurses, retired correction officers, small-business owners, social workers and research scientists.
Some live where they work. Some travel from Groton to New London, or Norwich to East Lyme. Others go as far as Middletown, East Hartford, Worcester, Mass., or Kingston, R.I.
Many have thought-provoking reasons as to why they accept or reject the idea of tolls in Connecticut.
 Take Sandy Cross, a 60-year-old nurse who has worked at the ACES Center for Autism Spectrum and Developmental Disorders in Northford for four years.
"I love where I work," said Cross, who commutes daily from Pawcatuck. "The people there are like family to me."
She said Lamont's plan would cost her at least $1,200 a year and force her to find a job closer to home.
"I'm not going to get that in a raise," she said. "I'm already paying gas and dealing with wear on my car. This would just tip that scale, I think."
Through CuriousCT — a project intended to make it easier for readers to direct some of our news coverage — more than 40 readers reacted to Lamont’s toll plan.
Of the respondents, almost seven in 10 were against the plan. Some said they drive throughout the state daily. Others reported minimal commutes. Many — even those in favor of tolls — said they don’t trust politicians to use the money for infrastructure. One vowed to use only back roads should tolls be installed.
Several people said secondary roads could suffer as drivers avoid the tolls. They questioned whether the state would provide aid in response.
Cathy Weaver, a Lyme resident and radiologic technologist, said she likes the idea of tolls if senior citizens and students drive free, residents receive “greatly” reduced rates and the money is used only for infrastructure improvements.
Bob Coggeshall, who “disagrees with Ned Lamont on almost every other issue,” said as long as the money is used as promised, he can’t “understand why local people are against this proposal.”
Coggeshall, an operating engineer who commutes from Uncasville to New London at least four times a week, said tolls could make the state’s major highways less crowded and be a boon for businesses on secondary roads.
Recalling when Connecticut had tolls in 1985 and earlier, Groton resident Stephanie Belser said the cost per mile figure is less important than where the state installs gantries.
“Assuming that the state is evil enough to put a gantry across the Gold Star Bridge,” she wrote, “everyone passing over the bridge will be charged that, regardless of where they got on or off the highway in New London and Groton.”
Belser also wondered if the state could begin issuing speeding tickets based on the elapsed time between gantries.
Anne McCloskey, an 83-year-old Niantic resident who sent a letter by mail, said her family began driving to Niantic from Washington, D.C., in the 1930s — a 13-hour trip at the time.
“I remember my parents being so excited to arrive at the wonderful new Merritt Parkway,” she wrote. “Then, as the years went on, we saw the building of the Delaware Memorial Bridge, the New Jersey Turnpike, I-95 in Maryland and Delaware, the Tappan Zee Bridge, the Connecticut Turnpike — all to be used for a small toll fee. It cut the drive to about seven hours, then less when electronic tolls came along — a real blessing!”
McCloskey said she uses I-95 frequently and is dismayed by how long it takes compared to other states’ highways.
“Connecticut is a real laggard when it comes to road updates,” she wrote. “This may be the Land of Steady Habits, but maybe it is time to rattle some cages and change some habits!”

Grotonelementary schools referendum to be held May 6
Kimberly Drelich
Groton — With the town recently breaking ground on the new consolidated middle school, officials are now focusing on plans to build two new elementary schools on the sites of the existing middle schools as the final pieces of the Groton 2020 plan, the superintendent said.
Architects are continuing to work on design plans for the elementary schools, and the Board of Education recently approved initial site work projects, slated for this summer, to get the properties ready for later construction of the elementary school buildings, said Superintendent Michael Graner.
But the town still needs approval from voters to move forward with the project for two new elementary school buildings, he said.
A special referendum will be held on Monday, May 6 for voters to approve revising the Groton 2020 plan, approved by voters in 2016, so the town can build two new elementary schools on the existing middle school sites, rather than renovate the middle school buildings into "like new" elementary schools.
The referendum is a repeat of the vote held in December, where voters approved the change in a 1,092-239 vote, according to Election Day results. Another vote is needed since the legal notice for the December referendum was not published 30 days prior to the referendum as required under state law.
Groton 2020
In 2016, voters at a referendum supported the $184.5 million Groton 2020 plan, with $100 million expected in state reimbursement, to build a consolidated middle school adjacent to Robert E. Fitch Senior High School. The plan then would have converted the current middle schools into elementary schools and close Pleasant Valley, S.B. Butler and Claude Chester schools, three of the older, more costly elementary schools, Graner said. Pleasant Valley Elementary School has already closed in 2017 amid budgetary issues.
The state Board of Education accepted the plan as Groton's response to ensuring there will be racially balanced, diversified schools throughout the community, Graner said.
But during the planning process, school officials and architects realized that for the same price as converting the existing middle school buildings into elementary buildings they could construct two new elementary buildings that would be better, more cost-efficient structures, Graner said. Converting middle schools to elementary schools requires expensive alterations. New buildings also would be more cost-efficient and have a life expectancy of 40 to 50 years, rather than the 20 years expected with renovated buildings, Graner said.
The state agreed and approved the plan to build new structures, Graner said. But, to proceed, the town also needed voters to approve the change to the project to construct new buildings.
The May 6 referendum is the same day as the election in the City of Groton for mayor and City Council, which will result in some cost savings, Town Manager John Burt has said.
Burt said he is eager to move on with the elementary school projects.
The construction manager anticipates initial site work would be done this summer, Graner said. At its meeting last Monday, the Board of Education approved removing a fuel tank from the West Side site and relocating the sewer line at the Cutler site, projects that are part of the site preparation, Graner said. The real construction work will begin once the new consolidated middle school is completed in 2020.
The plan is for the two new elementary schools to open in the fall of 2021, he said.

April 26, 2019

CT Construction Digest Friday April 26, 2019

Time: 10:30am
Location: Room 2E of the Legislative Office Building
300 Capitol Ave., Hartford

Time: 10:30am
Location: Room 2E of the Legislative Office Building
300 Capitol Ave., Hartford

Friday   APRIL 26, 2019 Time:    10:30am Location:  Room 2E of the Legislative Office Building 300 Capitol Ave., Hartford The Finance Revenue and Bonding Committee is holding a public hearing on Bill No. 1121 An Act Concerning Prioritize Progress Strong industry support is needed!

Trio of Killingly bridges to be rebuilt next year 
John Penney
KILLINGLY — With state grant money and bonding funding in hand, the town is preparing next year to demolish and rebuild three Killingly bridges, work that will require some residents to take detours for several months.
The state Bonding Commission this month approved $635,963 in grants to help cover the cost of work on two bridges on Valley Road – over the Whetstone and Mashentuck brooks – and a span on Bear Hill Road. Residents in 2017 approved spending up to $1.8 million in bonding money to cover the remainder of the projects’ cost.
Town Engineer Dave Capacchione said the three bridges are all at least 80 years old and were high on the state Department of Transportation’s inspection list for needing attention.
“We’re seeing concrete spalling, where the material is flaking and crumbling off due to age and weather,” he said. “There’s been frost heaves that caused cracks in the deck and seams separating underneath.”
Project designs are nearly complete, though property easement discussions are still ongoing. Capacchione said work plans will be submitted to the state Department of Transportation before bids are solicited.
“We’re looking at starting work next construction season and anticipate it’ll take six months for each bridge job,” he said. “But the Bear Hill bridge can be done at the same time as one of the Valley Road jobs, as long as we have two crews working. What we’re not going to do is start work on both Valley Road bridges at the same time. That would make the planned detours much longer.”
Valley Road is considered a “connector road,” or one that feeds into a busier traffic path. Capacchione said shutting down one Valley Road bridge will require some nearby residents to detour through Pratt or Cook Hill Road. People affected by the Bear Hill Road work will likely loop into Rhode Island briefly before coming back into town.
On Wednesday, just a few feet away from the Whetstone Brook bridge, Valley Road resident Inocencio Perez was breaking up soil in his garden, readying the plot for pepper and tomato seeds.
“The detours won’t bother me; I’ve already worked out where I need to go,” he said. “The bridge looks pretty strong, though. But I guess they need to do the work.”   

Lamont’s campaign for tolls begins a critical phase         
Gov. Ned Lamont’s push for highway tolls has entered a new and critical phase: The administration rebooted its lobbying team two weeks ago, and they are talking to legislators about a series of tweaks intended to increase the consumer and political appeal of the governor’s top priority and biggest challenge.
With less than six weeks until the legislature’s constitutional adjournment deadline, the administration and lawmakers are trying to settle on a legislative draft specific enough to assure them of what they are buying, but flexible enough to enable Lamont to negotiate a final tolls plan with the Federal Highway Administration.
A small reduction in the gasoline tax, cheaper inner-city bus fares, ways to provide discounts for drivers who lack the credit or checking accounts necessary for an EZ pass, a list of specific transportation improvements, and limits on pricing and the number of tolling gantries are among the items sources say are under discussion.
“This opportunity to truly transform the transportation system and therefore Connecticut’s economy for decades to come doesn’t come along every year, and we don’t intend to waste that opportunity,” said Colleen Flanagan Johnson, the governor’s senior adviser who is now overseeing a staff of a half-dozen aides working on the tolls campaign.
House and Senate Democratic legislative leaders say they welcome a new lobbying effort that includes two administration officials: Marc Bradley, who ran the governor’s winning campaign in 2018 and now oversees external and constituent services; and former state Sen. Jonathan Harris, an undersecretary at the Office of Policy and Management.
“I think they’re bringing in people who have a good relationship with the legislature,” said Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven. “Jonathan, having served in the Senate, is very well regarded in this chamber, and Marc Bradley is someone enormously well-respected for the role he played in the campaign.”
Legislators generally panned the administration’s roll out of the tolls proposal in February, complaining it lacked details about how it would work or a strategy for passage. The administration’s pitch has been the state needs tolling revenue to maintain and modernize infrastructure, while offering few specific ideas that would spark the imagination about faster commutes worth the price of tolls.
Looney and House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, were among a small group of Democratic lawmakers to meet Wednesday with Lamont and his transportation commissioner, Joseph J.Giulietti, about the still-evolving tolling legislation and what it could mean for Connecticut commuters.  
“As long as we’re having this open dialogue, I think we can get there,” Aresimowicz said of getting tolls to a vote. “I can’t say if it’s going to be three weeks from now or if it’s going to be on the last night. But I’m feeling more confident we can get to a deal that allows us to fund our infrastructure.”
Two weeks ago, Lamont and the Democratic co-chairs of the legislature’s Transportation Committee tried to reframe the issue in terms of specific rush-hour commutes, assuming 4.4 cents a mile with discounts for state drivers: from New Haven to Hartford on 91, $1.72; from Stamford to New Haven on 95, $1.80; from Danbury to Waterbury on 84, $1.28.
Lamont said last week he saw no need for more details about his plan: He already had spelled out there would be no more than 50 tolling gantries on the state’s four most-congested highways, Route 15 and Interstates 84, 91 and 95. But his staff already was at work with lawmakers to add details to a tolls bill.
Flanagan Johnson declined to confirm whether a gas-tax reduction would be an element of a tolls deal, but she acknowledged an emphasis on trying to mitigate the impact of tolls on lower-income commuters. The administration was looking at discounts for those who most need them, as well as the mechanics of how to provide EZ passes to drivers without credit or bank accounts.
“The discounts are a major issue for my caucus,” Aresimowicz said.
An issue that has proven harder to resolve are the limits a bill would place on pricing. How much flexibility would the legislature entrust the state Department of Transportation?
 Connecticut is being permitted to devise a tolling system without losing federal highway revenue under a specific program that calls for peak and off-peak prices to discourage driving at peak times. A challenge for state officials is the lack of guidance from the Federal Highway Administration on the pricing differential desired for peak and off-peak trips.
“There is no hard and fast number,” said Thomas J. Maziarz, the state DOT’s chief of policy and planning.

The state will try to make the case that data shows even a modest difference in pricing will result in less traffic, and that revenue from the tolls will permit projects that could make significant improvements, especially on the often gridlocked stretch of I-95 in Fairfield County. One potential project would be expanding the exit lanes from I-95 onto Route 8 in Bridgeport, a major bottleneck in the afternoon commute north from Stamford, he said.
The administration is working on a vote count, a task complicated by the lack of a finished piece of legislation.
Sen. Gary Winfield, D-New Haven, said he is a strong supporter of tolls in concept, but needs more details.
“What are you asking us to do?” said Rep. Jeffrey A. Currey, D-East Hartford.
Flanagan Johnson said her staff knows the questions, and the bill must provide answers.
“What do the rates look like? What kind of certainty can we give, not only to residents but to legislators who are taking this vote? There will be some more structure around that. What we want to make sure we do is provide information to legislators who are taking the vote to help them fully understand the opportunity they have to make a true difference in Connecticut’s economy.”
The give-and-take with legislators is constructive, she said, with lawmakers learning more about the process and the administration seeing the issues that must be resolved before commitments are made. That process takes time.
“People want to know what the bill is before they say hard yes, hard no. And that’s more than fair,” Flanagan Johnson said. “So we’re working through that. On the other end, we don’t want to rush it to simply get a bill. We want to get the right bill.”In separate interviews, Looney and Aresimowicz said the first vote by the House or Senate on tolls must come no later than June 3. The session ends two days later.
HARTFORD — Unsatisfied with the governor’s lack of a long-term transportation spending plan, Sen. John Fonfara, a veteran Hartford Democrat who chairs the legislature’s revenue committee, has proposed creating a state commission to write that plan and then recommend how to fund it.
That could mean tolls or taxes or bonding — or some combination thereof.think we should lead with a tax.”The legislation could be a third way on tolls, which Gov. Ned Lamont has made his top issue since taking office. The governor is pushing strongly for passage in 2019, but with all Republicans firmly against tolls, some Democrats opposing them and others on the fence, it’s no done deal.“The Governor and Legislative Leaders and Transportation Chairs are engaged in thoughtful dialogue about a number of issues related to the best way to invest in our transportation system and grow our economy, including concepts similar to Sen. Fonfara’s,” said Colleen Flanagan Johnson, senior advisor to the governor. “We look forward to discussing this further with him.” The bill will receive a public hearing on Monday.
Rep. Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford, supported his committee co-chair’s idea Thursday.
“An established plan would be helpful to better understanding our needs and it would also assist with providing taxpayers with a clearer picture of how their tax dollars would be invested which I believe would allow greater confidence in a tolling proposal,” Rojas said.
Lawmakers have already pushed three toll-related bills out of the Transportation Committee, after hours of transportation debates. Sen. Carlo Leone, D-Stamford, who chairs the committee, said he is “knee deep” with leadership creating one final toll proposal that can be voted on by the full House and Senate.
“It could potentially roll into ours or not. We are working on that as we speak,” said Leone, of Fonfara’s commission. “One of the ideas is to have a complete list of all of the outstanding transportation projects the state needs to deal with… I could easily come up with a 30-year spending plan from that.”
Fonfara’s “Strategic Transportation Planning Commission” would comprise nine transportation and economic experts, appointed by the governor, including the commissioners of the Department of Transportation and Economic and Community Development.
“The way they did it in Massachusetts was they have a commission,” said Fonfara. “It wasn’t my idea — I’m stealing the idea.... frankly you could charge DOT with doing it, but I feel that’s too inside baseball. I want it to be credible.”
The commission would assess the funding needed to bring Connecticut’s highways, bridges, rails and ports into a state of good repair and develop a 30-year spending plan to maintain and update the state’s transportation infrastructure in a proactive manner, the legislation states. It would also recommend the financing structure to pay for the plan, including taxes, user fees — like tolls — bonding and public-private partnerships.
The bill requires all of this information in a report by Jan. 17, 2020 and an accompanying piece of legislation that would implement the recommendations of the commission by that date. The legislature would then hold a public hearing and vote.
Lamont has promised his tolling plan would have no more than 50 gantries on I-95, 91, 84 and Route 15. He has promised discounts for Connecticut residents and commuters, estimating that the cost per mile for these drivers would be about 4.4 cents.
His office says this plan will bring in $800 million annually probably starting in 2023, after Federal Highway Administration approval is obtained and electronic gantries are installed. The big selling point for Lamont and many Democrats is about 40 percent of this toll revenue would come from out-of-state drivers, they say.
While the Department of Transportation has a $12.1 billion five-year capital spending plan that would cover fiscal years 2019 to 2023, it has not released a longer term plan. Reporters have repeatedly asked to see such a document. None has been provided, even as Lamont repeatedly makes the very public case that toll revenue is needed to fund transportation upkeep and improvements.
A 2018 Department of Transportation memo, written before Lamont took office, analyzing a Republican transportation spending plan states “In recent months there has been an almost unanimous support for maintaining or improving transportation in Connecticut. In order to achieve that goal and fully understand the associated long term funding requirements, a long term [Special Transportation Fund] financial plan is required.”
The first component of the financial plan should a be long-term capital plan of at least 5-10 years, the memo states.
Republicans have crafted a transportation spending and funding plan called “Prioritize Progress” — which Democrats, including Lamont, repeatedly refer to as “Prioritize Borrowing.”
Their proposal, which also creates a “Transportation Strategy and Advisory Board” and would spend $65 billion over 30 years, using borrowing and federal money, will receive a public hearing Friday, before the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, which Fonfara leads.
Sen. Alex Bergstein, D-Greenwich, a strong tolls supporter, said she continues to hope tolls will pass.
“There are a lot of moving pieces,” said Bergstein.“This is the fiscally responsible solution, and I hope we can coordinate our legislative efforts and embrace it.”

April 25, 2019

CT Construction Digest Thursday April 25, 2019

Construction Trades Launch Ad Campaign In Favor of Tolls

HARTFORD, CT — A coalition of organizations invested in the future of Connecticut’s roads has launched a paid media campaign, including a television ad that supports adding tolls to Connecticut’s highways.
The Connecticut Construction Industries Association, the New England Regional Council of Carpenters, the CT Laborers’ District Council, and the CT Ready-Mixed Concrete Association are all members of Move CT Forward, the entity that purchased the ads.
The TV ad pits Lamont’s proposal to add tolls to four Connecticut highways against the Republican proposal to prioritize general obligation bonding in a way that favors transportation infrastructure, when the head of the Connecticut Construction Industries believes it will need to be a combination of both to get the state through the next five years.
The narrator in the ad says Connecticut can “Borrow and tax our way out of this crisis … putting taxpayers on the hook to fund repairs and repay billions in debt and interest. Or put tolls on major highways to provide the funding we need.”
The narrator goes onto say: “With tolls, trucks and out-of-state drivers will pay more, we will pay less. And taxpayers will get a break. Connecticut needs to fix our roads now, our families’ safety depends on it.”
Last year, the same coalition purchased ads that did not openly advocate for tolls, but called upon lawmakers to come up with a solution to the Special Transportation Fund crisis. The fund was on the verge of insolvency and didn’t have enough money to support a bond sale.
Don Shubert, president of the Connecticut Construction Industries Association, said things have changed since last year.
The election is over, voters approved the lockbox for the Special Transportation Fund, and “the governor is showing some real leadership on the issue this year,” Shubert said Tuesday.
However, Shubert says the bipartisan deal to use $250 million in general obligation bonds on transportation, in addition to the transfer of the new car sales tax, needs to stay in place this year or the state risks falling behind on the current “state of good repairs.”
Gov. Ned Lamont’s administration, however, is still not convinced it’s good policy to use $250 million in general obligation bonds and money from the new car sales tax.
Lamont wants to raise an additional $800 million a year through tolls on four highways to help pay for improvements to Connecticut infrastructure. At the same time, he wants to put about $500 million to $600 million less on Connecticut’s credit card each year.
Without the use of additional bond funds, Lamont’s plan to install tolls won’t help much in the short-term, according to Shubert.
Shubert pointed to the Feb. 7, 2019, memo from the Department of Transportation, which details what would happen if the $250 million in general obligation bonds disappears.
Shubert suggested that the state needs to embrace the Republican plan to prioritize bonding until it can get the gantries up and start collecting toll revenue.
That same DOT memo pointed out that the time to plan, obtain regulatory approvals, design, and construct a system of tolls has been estimated to take four years with partial revenue service in the fifth and sixth year. The full revenue would be achieved in year seven.
“Raising the state’s gas tax or borrowing to simply add hundreds of millions of dollars will only leave Connecticut taxpayers footing the bill for fixing our roads and bridges,” said David Jarvis, business representative and organizer for the New England Regional Council of Carpenters. “There are real, fair solutions out there that do not unfairly burden Connecticut residents.”
Fifty-seven percent of Connecticut’s roads are in poor condition, and over a third of Connecticut’s bridges are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete.
“Failure to make necessary repairs on our aging roads and bridges puts every single Connecticut resident at risk,” said Keith Brothers, Business Manager of the CT Laborers’ District Council. “This campaign is meant to ensure that people get the real facts on available options so they can decide what is the fairest, best way for Connecticut to fix its infrastructure crisis.”
Shubert maintained that they would like to avoid the politics of the discussion.
“We’re just trying to balance out some of the discussion,” he said.
He said they want to use the ads to offer an objective position.
Patrick Sasser, an organizer with No Tolls CT, said his organization doesn’t have the money for television ads and has opted for a more grassroots approach to their campaign.
They have raised about $6,800 with their GoFundMe account, which is linked on their website.
Sasser’s group has been successful in getting more than a dozen towns to pass anti-toll resolutions. The group also has posted an online petition that says more than 96,000 people have signed.

Veteran housing project in Meriden clears funding hurdle, construction to begin
Matthew Zabierek
MERIDEN — Construction of a new veterans housing project on Hanover Street is expected to begin next month
Work on the nine-unit development, named Hanover Place, is expected to last nine months, Robert Cappelletti, executive director of the Meriden Housing Authority, told the authority’s board of directors this week.
Cappelletti said the housing authority expects to close on the property on May 15. Construction is set to begin shortly after.
The parcel at 249 Hanover St. is between South First and South Second streets. It was formerly home to the Hanover House bar.
The $3.3 million project stalled for more than two years due to a delay in the release of state funding. The state Department of Housing announced funding for the project in 2016, but the housing authority only recently received the funds after Cappelletti lobbied local lawmakers for assistance.
The housing authority is using $2.1 million in DOH grant money, as well as a $454,731 tax credit contribution from the state’s Housing Tax Credit Contribution Program. The remaining costs will be financed with a $730,000 loan from Ion Bank.
The Board of Directors for the Maynard Road Corp., the development arm of MHA, voted to accept the DOH funding at a meeting this week.
The MHA purchased the half-acre lot on Hanover Street from Ennis Property Management for $120,000 in 2010.
The new housing development will have two buildings with “2.5 stories, a community room, laundry, and office space,” according to a project description on MHA’s website. The nine housing units will feature one, two, and three-bedroom apartments, Cappelletti said after the meeting.
Veterans will be housed at Hanover Place through the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, which will also provide onsite support services.
Cappelletti said the housing authority has been looking to address a large demand for veteran housing.
“There are a couple hundred (veteran housing assistance) vouchers that the VA has out there that they’re shopping for homes for,” he said. “We’re going to build new ones for them so that they can have safe, good-quality housing.”

Construction coalition launches pro-tolls ad campaign
Joe Cooper
A coalition of construction businesses and labor unions is making a case for implementing electronic highway tolls to pay for Connecticut's poorly rated roads and bridges.
Move CT Forward said it launched a six-figure TV advertising campaign on Tuesday in an attempt to inform the public on how the state has allowed its infrastructure to deteriorate. Ads claim that placing tolls on state highways is the top solution to generating enough revenues for major infrastructure improvements.
The coalition, which rolled out its first ad campaign last year, includes Wethersfield's Connecticut Construction Industries Association and CT Ready-Mixed Concrete Association; Hartford-based CT Laborers' District Council; and Boston-based New England Regional Council of Carpenters.
Billed as "Families," the advertising campaign shoots down calls to address the state's infrastructure issues by raising retail and gas taxes -- Connecticut already has the nation's seventh highest rate -- or increase borrowing at the expense of state taxpayers.
The coalition paints a dire picture facing Connecticut roadways, citing reports that say 57 percent of roads are in "poor condition" and a third of bridges rated as "structurally deficient" or "functionally obsolete."
The poor road and bridge conditions, the coalition says, is causing more congestion, as Connecticut residents lose an estimated 40 hours a year to traffic.
"Companies and jobs are fleeing Connecticut, citing our terrible transportation infrastructure," the coalition said in a statement. "Investing in repairing and improving our roads and bridges will reduce traffic congestion and help keep jobs and attract more companies to grow our economy."
Gov. Ned Lamont has proposed placing electronic tolls on Interstates 84, 95, 81 and Route 15, estimating the system could generate $800 million a year, with 40 percent of revenues coming from out-of-state drivers.
If implemented, Lamont's proposal says the 39-mile trip from New Haven to Hartford could cost in-state drivers $1.72 during peak hours and $1.36 during less busy periods.
Meantime, Republican lawmakers have proposed a "Prioritize Progress" plan, which would avoid tolls and pays for infrastructure repairs through state borrowing.

April 24, 2019

CT Construction Digest Wednesday April 24, 2019

Builders, trades, launch new ad to push for tolls on CT highways

A coalition of construction businesses and trades launched a new television and online advertising campaign Tuesday that makes a pitch for electronic tolling to refinance a critical rebuild of Connecticut’s highways, bridges and rail lines.
First established last spring to support tolls, the Move CT Forward coalition is renewing its efforts as legislators near a conclusion on this year’s transportation financing debate.
“With tolls, trucks and out of state drivers will pay more, we will pay less,” the narrator of the ad states. “And taxpayers will get a break. Connecticut needs to fix our roads now, our families’ safety depends on it.”
Gov. Ned Lamont has proposed establishing electronic tolls on Interstates 84, 91 and 95 and on the Merritt Parkway. Lamont estimates tolls could raise $800 million per year and as much as 40 percent of revenues could come from out-of-state motorists.
Republican legislators have offered a counter-proposal, Prioritize Progress, which would avoid tolls.
Most transportation capital projects are funded with a mix of state borrowing and matching federal grants. The GOP recommends redirecting some state borrowing currently used for school construction and other non-transportation programs to instead support highway, bridge and rail work.
Move CT Forward includes the Connecticut Construction Industries Association, the New England Regional Council of Carpenters, the Connecticut Laborers’ District Council, and the Connecticut Ready-Mixed Concrete Association. 
“Connecticut’s roads and bridges continue to worsen before our eyes,” said Don Shubert, president of the construction industries association. “We have to act now. If we keep doing nothing, we will watch as our roads and bridges continue to deteriorate, putting drivers’ safety at risk. Inaction simply does not represent the best interests of the people of Connecticut.”
The new campaign also opposes raising existing taxes that support transportation, such as the state’s retail and wholesale fuel levies, arguing this approach largely would spare out-of-state motorists.
“Raising the state’s gas tax or borrowing to simply add hundreds of millions of dollars will only leave Connecticut taxpayers footing the bill for fixing our roads and bridges,” said David Jarvis, Business Representative and Organizer for the New England Regional Council of Carpenters. “There are real, fair solutions out there that do not unfairly burden Connecticut residents.” 
“Failure to make necessary repairs on our aging roads and bridges puts every single Connecticut resident at risk,” said Keith Brothers, Business Manager of the Connecticut Laborers’ District Council. “This campaign is meant to ensure that people get the real facts on available options so they can decide what is the fairest, best way for Connecticut to fix its infrastructure crisis.” 

Dan Haar: Tolls letter from executives could sway some thinking
Dan Haar
Around the first of April, Gov. Ned Lamont stopped off in Stamford on the way home to Greenwich to talk tolls with a hastily assembled group of executives at the Fairfield County Business Council.The council had long since endorsed highway tolls as the best way to raise the tens of billions of dollars Connecticut needs for transportation, nowhere more than in Fairfield County. Lamont wanted more from this small gathering — CEOs and top-level folks at some of the region’s best known employers.
No, he didn’t need their money. He wanted their support for tolls as individual members and directors of the council.“He said, ‘This is really critical, I’m betting my governorship here’,” Joe McGee, the council’s vice president for policy, recounted Tuesday. “He said, ‘I need you guys, I need people to know that you as individuals see this issue as important.’”
McGee continued recounting: “I know some of you who are CEOs can’t speak for your companies, but I really need to know that you as individuals are supporting electronic tolls as a revenue source.”
By last week, 10 directors of the council, all well-known in local business and legal circles, and four other council members who happen to run prominent companies, signed a letter to legislative leaders, calling for tolls.
“Connecticut’s economy simply can’t endure more self-inflicted harm,” the letter, dated April 16, said.
Darrell Harvey, a Darien resident and co-CEO of The Ashforth Co., a multistate real estate development and management firm with 13 million square feet, 1 million in Stamford alone, was among the signers. He’s also a well-known Republican, former chairman of the David Stemerman campaign for governor.
I had spoken with Harvey in March, as the General Assembly’s transportation committee heard public comments on tolls. He’s no fan of higher taxes and fees, obviously. But the numbers for tolls make sense compared with the alternative.
If we need to raise $800 million, we could levy $900 million in tolls, of which 40 percent can come from out-of-state motorists and trucks. The total cost to Connecticut residents: $540 million.
Or we could borrow that same $800 million and pay maybe $1.2 billion for the same money, depending on rates and length of debt issues, with interest paid to Wall Street.

“Give me that deal any day,” Harvey said of the tolls option, compared with borrowing.
Yes, I know it might cost more to collect the tolls, that in-state drivers may pay 70 percent rather than 60 percent. At most it would cost $700 million to have that $800 million in-hand. It’s still not a close call.
It remains unclear whether this letter, not widely circulated in the crunch of tax deadlines and Lamont’s 100th day in office, will change any minds. But it’s part of a push by Lamont on the final turn before the home stretch.
Sometime very soon, Lamont will meet with Democratic leaders and the co-chairmen of the transportation committee to turn three bills into one, unified document.
At the moment, a vote on tolls — quickly becoming Lamont’s centerpiece economic and transportation policy — is too close to call, especially in the House, where all Republicans and some liberal Democrats oppose the idea. Place a bet at the window that Lamont will use hardball tactics to “gently persuade” some of those holdouts — ahem Danbury delegation, I’m thinking of you.
Details? It’s unclear whether Sen. Alex Bergstein’s transportation infrastructure bank, a vehicle for public-private partnerships in financing projects, will be part of the unified bill.
Lamont has already said the number of gantries will now be 50 at most, along Interstates 84, 91 and 95 and Route 15. They’d come up every six or seven miles and would electronically reach into our pockets for a quarter, maybe as much as 30 cents, at each overhead gate. That’s about 4.4 cents per mile for holders of a Connecticut E-ZPass or frequent drivers.Lamont needs to do much more. He needs to load specific tax cuts or credits into the package. I suggested $175 million in property tax credits against the income tax in March, and that needs to be combined with an equal or greater benefit for lower-income people who don’t pay property or income taxes.
That’s half the amount the state would receive from out-of-state motorists, a minimum dividend for Connecticut taxpayers. Cutting the gas tax a few cents a gallon may work as well, though if the idea is to create incentives for less driving, that’s a bad move.Lamont also needs to create a detailed spending plan for long-term improvements to highways, bridges and mass transit. It’s not enough to say we need $60 billion, or whatever. Show us the details item by item, not just a list, as the Senate bill does, and not in a document that comes out the day of the House vote.
The point is, if we can agree the state needs to spend the money over the next 30 years, and we can agree that tolls are more efficient than borrowing, then the argument is won. As McGee points out, it’s a matter of trust: Do residents believe the state can spend the money wisely and responsibly?Clearly, the anti-tolls movement, led by No Tolls CT, says no. Don’t take anything from the anemic turnout of 125 people at a recent Saturday anti-tolls rally. That was organized not by No Tolls CT, but by the discredited Joe Visconti, with a de facto boycott by many Republicans, on a rainy day.
The opposition is real, supported by Main Street businesses and populist Republicans along with a smattering of Democrats. Big business, represented by the executives at the council, is stepping up to the tolls plate.
“Connecticut’s transportation infrastructure needs a reliable revenue stream to assure regular maintenance, enable new construction, and regularly introduce system enhancements, the April 16 letter said. “The experience of states throughout the northeast demonstrates that electronic fare collection - modern tolls - are a reliable way to finance transportation operations and infrastructure investments.”
Signers included James Fitzgerald Jr., chairman of the council and an executive vice president at Wells Fargo Bank; Pamela K. Elkow, the board treasurer-secretary and a partner at Carmody Torrance Sendak Hennessey; and among CEOs, John Garrison of Terex Corp., Rey Giallongo of First County Bank, Margaret Keane of Synchrony Financial, Eric Schadt of Sema4, John Ciulla of Webster Financial. Others included managing partners at large law and accounting firms and the former CEO of Nestlé Waters North America.
The days are over when CEOs call the shots on public policy, but logic matters. “Failure to adopt toll legislation in this session would be an acceptance of drifting economically downward, continuing to suffer a loss of jobs and a drain of talent,” the executives wrote.

Construction near SoNo station steaming ahead
Kelly Kultys
NORWALK — “Full steam ahead.”
That’s how Michael DiScala described the status of the work taking place on his company’s project, SONO One.
The upscale, four-story, 40-unit apartment building, at 1 Bates Court near the South Norwalk train station, is now “right on schedule,” according to DiScala, the president of M. F DiScala & Co. The project broke ground in fall 2018 and will feature a mix of one and two bedroom units with amenities, parking and walking distance to the train station and downtown South Norwalk. Recently, rock chipping machinery could be seen taking down a rocky ridge on the property at the corner of Lowe Street and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Drive. “I think the whole area down there — it’s starting to turn around,” DiScala said on Tuesday. “I really see great future down there for new apartments, houses and the revitalization of that area.
This is DiScala’s latest project in the city, which also includes the Head of the Harbor South projects apartments off of Wall Street.
His projects were also highlighted by city officials during a tour of the South Norwalk area, with U.S Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., during an economic development tour last week.
The location of the site, which used to be the home of Penmar Industries, extremely close to the train station, was one of the key selling points both DiScala and city officials highlighted. The project was approved in late 2016.
On the other side of the train station, the Norwalk Zoning Commission approved another transit-oriented development project on Chestnut and Monroe Streets. Spinnaker Real Estate Partners’ plans for the site call for a six-story apartment building at the corner of Chestnut and Monroe, with retail spots. The project also plans to reshape the Leroy Shirt Building on Chestnut street into 16 additional studio and one-bedroom units and 11,000 square feet of retail and office space.
DiScala said that he believed the South Norwalk area was a “real sleeper” and would be taking off especially as development continues, particularly larger-scale projects, like the Sono Collection mall“The mall will be great for Norwalk, with Nordstrom and Bloomingdale,” he said. “That’s saying something about how Norwalk has progressed.
Officials in the city’s Planning and Zoning Department said that the Bates Court project had secured its zoning permits and work was expected to continue increase over the next 30 days.
DiScala said construction will continue on the site through the rest of this year, with a goal of having tenants by early 2020.

L’Ambiance Plaza memorial honors 28 who died
Jordan Grice
Roughly 100 people joined city and state officials to remember the 28 workers killed in the L’Ambiance Plaza Collapse more than three decades ago.
It’s been 32 years since the tragedy and the annual memorial service continues to symbolize community support of the workers, said Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim.“I certainly want to remember what a terrible tragedy and loss it is, but I will say…looking back at how individuals really demonstrated the best in themselves and in each other by coming together,” he said.L’Ambiance Plaza was a $17.5 million, 16-story luxury apartment complex under construction on Washington Avenue in 1987.
Construction workers were laying concrete slabs for the floors using the lift-slab method, which involved pouring concrete into slabs stacked on the ground and then lifting them with hydraulic jacks to the upper floors. The slabs for the east tower had been placed in position and those for the west tower had just been lifted — when a slab slipped, setting off an enormous domino-like cascade, killing 28 people in the process.
The incident is regarded as one of the worst construction accidents in the U.S. in modern times and the worst in Connecticut’s history.
While April 23 marks the tragedy in the Park City, it also represented a call to action of area residents and business owners to support union workers, officials said.
It started back to 1987, when people delivered food, refreshments, clothing and blankets to workers during their 10 days of rescue and recovery efforts. It has since transformed into the annual memorial.
Some at the Tuesday’s event even likened it to recent support of thousands of Stop & Shop employees who spent the last 11 days striking for fair pay and benefits. This year’s event comes after picketing ended Sunday in a compromise that union representatives are touting as victory for workers.
“We can’t forget what we can achieve when we stand united,” said Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn. “Unions negotiated in good faith, and we got a good outcome, but what is not negotiable is the safety of our men and women.”
Impassioned by the recent strike and even this year’s federal shutdown, Connecticut AFL-CIO President Sal Luciano said to honor those who are lost “we renew our pledge to fight for the living.”
“We must fight back,” he said during his address. “We can take inspiration for the Stop & Shop workers who took on a giant corporation and didn’t back down.”
Since the L’Ambiance tragedy, Ganim said awareness and the enhancement of worker safety remains a priority in the city, which has seen several developments proposed and debuted in recent years.
Lift-slab construction was banned in Connecticut and an OSHA satellite office was established downtown. Additional safety rules for workers were put in place.
“The workmen safety rules that have gone into place make it safer,” he said. “Clearly workplaces are not incident free, but they are much safer.”

Meriden close to construction contract for phosphorous project
Matthew Zabierek
MERIDEN — The city is close to awarding a construction contract for a state-mandated $48 million project to lower the levels of phosphorus discharge at the city’s wastewater plant on Evansville Avenue.
The city put the project out to bid earlier this year after design work was completed by the engineering firm AECOM  The city plans to enter a contract with the lowest-bidding vendor and is awaiting approval from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection to award the contract, according to Frank Russo, manager of the city’s wastewater treatment plant.
Russo declined to name the possible vendor. Public Utilities Director Dennis Waz didn’t return requests for comment.
According to bid documents, the lowest bid for the project was submitted by C.H. Nickerson & Co., Inc., a Torrington-based contractor that has completed wastewater treatment plant upgrades for several Connecticut municipalities.
Construction is expected to start this summer, Russo said, and will last about 30 months.
“We’re thinking hopefully by July or August they’ll be on site,” he said.
Meriden is on track to enter into a contract by July 1, DEEP’s deadline set for municipalities to receive the maximum amount of state funding.
Meriden is expected to receive state funding for about 38 percent of the project’s costs, or just over $18 million, according to Russo. The city will receive a low-interest loan from DEEP for the remaining costs, which the city will pay back largely through water and sewer rate increases.
Meriden is one of several municipalities, including Wallingford, working to meet the new phosphorus limits. Phosphorus is considered an environmental hazard because it causes algae bloom, which depletes oxygen in water bodies and poses a threat to wildlife, according to DEEP.
Russo said DEEP implemented the stricter phosphorus limits because rivers and streams located downstream from municipal plants were getting “inundated” with algae. When the algae dies, it creates “a huge oxygen demand” for fish and other wildlife.
Russo said Meriden’s project will have two phases, the first of which will include all construction associated with the phosphorus upgrades. The city also plans to make upgrades to an aging pump stations located away from the wastewater plant.
There are different phosphorus filtration methods municipalities can use to lower discharge. Meriden plans to use an “upflow sand filter.” Untreated water will be injected with a coagulant, ferric chloride, which “binds to phosphorus in the water and makes it form larger particles which are easier” to catch as the water moves through the sand filter.
Russo said the plant currently discharges about 0.7 milligrams per liter of phosphorus, which will get lowered to under 0.1 milligram per liter with the new upgrades.

At groundbreaking, community celebrates Groton Middle School project years in the making
Kimberly Drelich
Groton — Groton Board of Education Chair Kim Shepardson Watson said she remembers as a fledgling on the board the discussions about the importance of bringing Groton together into one space, but never thought it could happen.
But on Tuesday afternoon she and other officials and community members gathered for a groundbreaking ceremony at the future site of the new Groton Middle School, where heavy machinery was already at work. She noted the efforts by many people over the years toward creating the Groton 2020 plan to bring equity into the school system.
The middle school, which will be located adjacent to Robert E. Fitch High School and will serve all of Groton's middle school students, is expected to be completed by June 2020.
Watson said that though she cares about what the building will look like, for her, it's what's going to happen on the inside of the structure that's really important.
"It's going to be the learning. It's going to be the teaching. It's going to be bringing groups of people together and making us as a community really proud," she said.
State Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, thanked everyone who made the project possible over the years.
"When we talked about having the groundbreaking ceremony today, I was thinking back and it's hard to believe that almost eight years ago in 2011, when I was the mayor, we set up the first school planning task force, and there's been so many people that have been involved in getting this to the point where it is right now, where we’re going to be pouring concrete, I just heard, in a few days," she said.
Somers said none of it could be possible without the dedication of so many individuals that "stayed the course" over those eight years. She praised those who came together and supported the project, including project leaders, teachers, parents, administrators, students, community members and elected officials.
Somers presented Watson, Superintendent Michael Graner, and Town Manager John Burt with a citation from the General Assembly — which she had introduced with Reps. Christine Conley and Joe de la Cruz, both D-Groton — congratulating Groton on the project.
She also encouraged everyone to vote during the May 6 referendum on revising the Groton 2020 plan so the town can build two new elementary schools, rather than convert the existing middle schools into elementary schools. Though voters already approved the revised plan in December, another referendum needs to be held because the December referendum didn't meet the 30-day legal requirement for notification.
Town Mayor Patrice Granatosky thanked all the people from all different parts of the process who came together to finally make it happen. She said Conley and de la Cruz couldn't make the ceremony because they are in session in Hartford, but have done amazing work along with Somers.
"This building is going to be amazing," Permanent School Building Committee Chairman Robert Austin-LaFrance said, as he stood by other members of the committee.
Graner said so many people gathered at the ceremony worked so hard for so many years to bring the Groton 2020 vision to life and then to get the referendum passed.
He said providing a high-quality, equitable education for all the middle schoolers in Groton is the driving force behind the project. The new consolidated school will feature magnet-themed pathways to provide socio-economic diversity within the classroom.
After the speeches, local officials and community members broke ground with shovels on the site and posed for photos on the sunny afternoon.
"This is the day we've been waiting eight years to celebrate, and the weather is just the exclamation point on a truly marvelous experience," Graner said.

Borough begins reconstruction of Cross Street
NAUGATUCK – After years of planning, the Cross Street reconstruction project is underway.
Crews started work on the project on April 1, Public Works Director James Stewart said.
The first part of the project is realigning the Cross Street and Cotton Hollow Road intersection. The two roads intersect at an angle now. According to the plans, the two roads will be realigned so they meet at a T-intersection.
The project will also include full-depth reconstruction of the 4,150 feet of Cross Street from Route 8 to New Haven Road, horizontal and vertical realignments, and widening the street to a uniform 30 feet, as well as a new storm drainage system, curbing, retaining walls, sidewalks and guiderails.
“The road is getting widened and improved,” Stewart said.
The state bought two residential properties at 16 Cotton Hollow Road and 10 Cotton Hollow Road, and demolished the houses to straighten the road and the intersection. The demolition work was completed earlier this year. The project also required the state to acquire small portions of a dozen properties along Cross Street.
Stewart said the work will continue this year as long as weather allows and resume in the spring of 2020. The project is expected to be completed by July 2020, he said.
The road is one lane with alternating traffic for now, Stewart said. Once the school year ends in June and buses and parents do not need to drive to Cross Street Intermediate School, traffic only be allowed to travel from New Haven Road to Route 8, Stewart said. Traffic coming off Route 8 and heading toward New Haven Road will be detoured onto Cotton Hollow Road to Beacon Valley Road, Stewart said. In preparation for the added traffic, the borough will be repaving the portion of Beacon Valley Road near New Haven Road, he added.
In January, the Board of Mayor and Burgesses awarded a $3.35 million contract for the project to Bloomfield-based Mather’s Construction. Federal funds will cover 80 percent of the cost of the project. The state will pay for 10 percent, leaving the borough to pick up the remaining 10 percent, or about $335,000.