April 15, 2019

CT Construction Digest Monday April 15, 2019

Editorial: Scaled-down tolls plan on the right course
Gov. Ned Lamont’s plan to limit tolling sites on state highways to 50 is reasonable step that should assuage some concerns of many opponents to highway tolls.
A previous draft of a plan showed 82 potential toll gantries across Connecticut highways. The new plan, which would place tolls only on the main interstates and the Merritt Parkway, according to Mr. Lamont, is more sensible. It would target routes that out-of-state drivers predominantly use — not local highways like routes 2, 8 and 9 primarily used by commuters.
But we are early in the debate, and it’s time to get to the details of the state’s infrastructure needs.
First, it’s important to distinguish the “needs” from the “wants” and be reasonable about what investments the state should make. Toll opponents have called for more details about the revenue needs and spending plans, and those calls should be heeded. Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano of North Haven called the most recent plan “a cartoon sketch,” and while it’s understandable for an early draft to be short on details, he is correct that a lot of the picture is missing. How much federal funding should Connecticut expect in the future, for example? As former Republican Sen. Len Suzio pointed out in a recent op-ed, it’s critical that residents know what the state’s infrastructure needs really are. That’s the only way a reasonable debate can proceed.
Tolls are a sensible way to pay for our infrastructure needs. But details matter.

CT anti-toll rally organizers fear movement will get run over
Christine Stuart, CTNewsJunkie.com
HARTFORD — Gov. Ned Lamont’s proposal to reinstall tolls on four Connecticut highways will force the working class to spend more money to get to work, according to those who attended an anti-toll rally Saturday.
That’s why organizers of the rally were scratching their head wondering why there weren’t thousands of people at the rally to protest the reintroduction of tolls in Connecticut.
About 125 people, according to Capitol Police, gathered on the north steps to call upon Lamont and legislators to use the money they already have in order to pay for improvements to Connecticut’s roads, bridges, and rails.
Lamont, who only favored truck tolls on the campaign trail before changing his mind and proposing tolls on all vehicles shortly after taking office, argues that the state needs a new revenue stream to pay for all of its infrastructure needs. His proposal seeks to raise $800 million annually and he’s expressed confidence that the Democratic majority can get it done.
Lee Elci, a radio host with 94.9 FM in Ledyard, encouraged everyone to fight tolls, but admitted Lamont was likely going to win this one.
“We’re so outnumbered now,” Elci said. “We want to take the hill but we may not have the manpower to do it.”Elci said he wishes he was more optimistic and he can’t explain why anyone would support another tax.
“Can you imagine another $1,500 bucks for tolls every single year?” Elci said.
Lamont’s administration released preliminary details of the tolling amounts earlier this week and depending on how many miles someone drives on those four tolled highways they would likely have to pay somewhere between $600 to $1,000 more per year to the state. A 39-mile trip from Hartford to New Haven would be $1.36 at off-peak hours and $1.72 during peak hours. That would mean about $825 per year for the 39-mile commute. Lamont also wants to offer a discount for Connecticut residents, but it’s all still subject to negotiations between state lawmakers and then between the state and federal government.
“I don’t know how anybody is going to survive it and I don’t know why there aren’t 50,000 people here today to protest the insanity of what is going on,” WTIC radio host Todd Feinberg said.
Feinberg said Democrats must feel affirmed by the election results which saw them expand their majority and they want to reward the unions.“The tolls aren’t even for construction projects because they have all the money they need for construction project,” Feinberg told the crowd. “The whole thing is a lie.”
Mark Bibbins of Windsor attended the rally Saturday and said Connecticut already has plenty of money to pay for its transportation infrastructure.
“I do believe Connecticut has enough money to cover the expense if it stops squandering the Special Transportation Fund — and cuts spending,” Bibbins said.
The rally was sponsored by the Libertarian Party of Connecticut. The No Tolls CT group, another anti-toll group was holding rallies Saturday in Windsor, Milford, and Old Saybrook. The No Tolls CT group headed by Patrick Sasser is holding its state Capitol rally on May 18. It’s unclear why the two groups were unable to work together.
Almost everyone who attended Saturday’s Capitol rally said they didn’t trust legislators to spend the money they might collect from tolls wisely.
Frank Farricker, a Democrat from Greenwich who chaired his town’s party, said he doesn’t believe taxing people on the way to work every day is a “Democratic value.”
“Democrats are not supposed to make things harder for the little guy,” Farricker said. “We’re supposed to make things better.”
He said there are problems with Connecticut’s infrastructure but those problems need to be fixed “with the consent of the governed.”
He said a toll isn’t a user fee and it might not even be a tax, but “it’s just a convenient way to raise revenue.” Farricker said that if Lamont had a 30-year plan to improve Connecticut’s roads and bridges, then he would be the first one to support him.
Farricker, who likely disagreed with those at the rally on a number of other issues, said he doesn’t want his party to lose the majority they’ve held for more than 40 years and he fears voting for tolls just might cause that to happen. He was more cautious than Elci about believing tolls was a done deal.“You have way more fans on the Democratic side than you know,” Farricker told the crowd.
Steve Noxon, a radio host with WATR, said this isn’t just about “buying the votes of the public sector unions. This is about giving a huge windfall to his rich friends.”
If Lamont gets his way the state will borrow against the revenue it anticipates collecting from tolls to get the gantries up and running within three years.
“They’re going to go to Wall Street to sell this never-ending stream of revenue to Wall Street and they’re going to get filthy rich,” Noxon said.
He said it has nothing to do with transportation or infrastructure, he said, “this is about enriching his friends and paying back the unions.”
Republican lawmakers have been pitching their proposal to reprioritize bonding as a solution to Connecticut’s infrastructure problems without tolls. Only two Republican lawmakers attended Saturday’s rally.A statewide poll by Sacred Heart University in Fairfield in March showed 59 percent against tolls and 34.7 percent in favor.
Lamont has said he will continue to expend his political capital on the issue.
“The people who attended today’s rally aren’t saying no to tolls,” Rob Blanchard, a spokesman for Lamont said Saturday.“They’re saying yes to taking out a $30 billion loan, as proposed by the Republicans, recklessly adding to the state’s deficit and requiring Connecticut taxpayers to foot 100 percent of the bill-plus interest. In contrast, the governor’s plan ensures 40 percent of the bill will be paid by out-of-state drivers. That’s why the Governor’s proposal is supported by a broad coalition of local, business, labor and legislative leaders and provides a reliable, sustainable path forward for Connecticut.”

Long-awaited Newington Town Hall project finally underway
Erica Drzewiecki
NEWINGTON - As the long-anticipated Town Hall and Community Center renovation began this week, town employees and residents adjusted to changes posed by construction.
The $31.2 million project will culminate with a 42,000 square foot building in about 22 months time. The new facility - about half the size of the current one - will be built in what is now the upper Town Hall parking lot. Mazzoccoli Way was closed to traffic on Monday and this lot also was closed.
Over the next two years, visitors and employees of Newington Town Hall, the Lucy Robbins Welles Library, the Mortensen Community Center and the Newington Police Department must adhere to temporary parking regulations. A newly paved parking lot adjacent to the library is now open. People with Town Hall business are encouraged to park there or near the police station, in spaces marked as one-hour parking. Additionally, visitors can park on the south side of Garfield Street while being aware of construction activities. Overflow parking is also available in Mill Pond Park, near the tennis courts. Town and library employees have been directed to park in the lot closest to Garfield Street or the police station lot.
The southeast wing of the existing building will be the first to go, as students in the Newington Transition Academy have already moved into a temporary space elsewhere. Once the new building is complete, staff will move in and the old building will be completely demolished. In its footprint, new parking areas will be constructed.
The Town Council and Board of Education joined members of the building committee that planned the project in a recent groundbreaking ceremony.
“The citizens of Newington have patiently waited for this day to come,” Mayor Roy Zartarian said during the event. “I want to commend those that have worked so diligently over the past many years to get us to this milestone point.”
The new layout is designed to be more efficient and easier to navigate with energy-saving components. The adjoining community center will be 50 percent larger than the current Newington Parks and Recreation wing and gymnasium.
Town Manager Tanya Lane said the disruption would be well worth it once Newington has the new facilities.
“I am confident the public will remain supportive, despite the temporary inconveniences that construction will likely create,” Lane explained. “It will be a terrific facility when it is complete.”
Newington Freemasons even played a role in preparations. Members of the Sequin-Level Lodge #140 on Walsh Ave. gathered in the Town Hall lobby last week to remove a 1,500-pound decorative totem pole that has stood there since 1993. It was crafted by hand from a 22-foot tree trunk by resident woodcarver Walter Wartshow, who died in 2004. Masons carefully dismantled the pole and wrapped it for safe removal and transportation.
The main entrance will be closed during construction. People can enter through the lower level near the police station.
Library staff are relieving some of the hassle for their patrons by establishing curbside service.
“Lucy To Go” will be available Monday to Thursday from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. and Friday and Saturday from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m.
Members can call the library at 860-665-8700 to request up to five specific titles, giving staff their library card number and the make and model of their vehicle at least an hour before expected pickup. Before leaving home or upon arrival they can call 860-665-8713 to have their order brought out to them curbside.
Library accounts must be in good standing to use this new service, according to Head of Circulation and Collections Management Jeanette Francini. Fines must be paid inside the library or online.
“We will also be adding a curbside book drop for easier returns right from your car,” Francini said, adding, “We will continue to add and refine services to minimize the impact of the Town Hall construction, because, well, our patrons are what make our library what it is.”

Osten advocates for tolls to fund critical roadwork; Norwich mayor opposed
Claire Bessette 
Norwich — State Sen. Cathy Osten, D-Sprague, used three Norwich bridges Friday to make the argument for tolls to provide a stable, steady funding source for hundreds of bridges in poor condition across the state, while Mayor Peter Nystrom hopes Norwich joins other cities and towns in opposing tolls.
Osten visited three bridges Friday: She stepped over guardrails to view substructures beneath an Interstate 395 bridge on Route 97 in Occum; stopped at the decaying Sherman Street bridge over the Yantic River; and saw the recently completed $2 million rehabilitation of the Pleasant Street bridge, also over the Yantic River. The I-395 bridge is scheduled for an $8.8 million upgrade to beams and bearings.
Osten said 332 bridges in Connecticut are rated as “deficient or worse,” with 279 of those rated in poor condition with “advanced section loss and major deterioration.”
The Sherman Street bridge superstructure was rated “critical” with “advanced deterioration” of its primary steel and concrete structural elements, Osten said. The bridge, actually two bridges — one over the Yantic and one over the adjacent former canal — is slated for a $10 million total replacement project that would shift the intersection with Asylum Street slightly.
But City Engineer and acting Public Works Director Patrick McLaughlin, who attended Osten’s tour, said the city is awaiting approval from the state Department of Transportation to proceed with the design phase of the project. A tentative schedule to go out to bid for the construction in 2020 likely will be delayed, McLaughlin said.
Funding is part of the issue, he said. Initially, the project was expected to cost $4 million to $5 million when repairs were proposed several years ago, but now it has been determined that a total replacement is needed. The project would be 80 percent federally funded, 10 percent state funded and 10 percent city funded.
Osten argued during her bridge visits that the only viable plan to address the state's infrastructure deficiencies is with “a steady funding stream” provided by electronic tolls. She said 40 percent of the tolls would be paid by out-of-state drivers, just as Connecticut drivers pay tolls that fund bridge and roadwork in neighboring states. She said out-of-state drivers have been “getting a free ride” on roads in Connecticut for decades.
Osten argued that the alternative plan proposed by legislative Republicans to use priority transportation bonding to fund road improvements would devastate funding for other bonded municipal projects, including school construction and renovations and even the Town Aid Road Grants fund for local roadwork.
Norwich Mayor Nystrom, a former Republican state representative, however, argued that tolls would be “another money grab” from Hartford that would hurt Norwich businesses and could clog city streets with drivers trying to avoid tolls placed on Route 2 or I-395.
Nystrom sponsored a resolution on Monday’s council agenda stating that the City Council “hereby declares its opposition to the current proposal for the implementation of tolls on Connecticut highways within the geographic confines of the City of Norwich.”
According to an Associated Press story, Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont is working with Democratic legislative leaders on a final toll bill that would have no more than 50 overhead electronic toll readers and only on interstates 95, 91 and 84 and Route 15 — none near Norwich.
Nystrom said the resolution was based on an early proposal for tolls that included I-395 and Route 2. He also doesn’t trust that Lamont’s latest proposed tolls would end with the four proposed highways, especially if the state creates a quasi-public transit authority that would have control over where tolls are placed in the future.
“They would go for the biggest proposal they could get,” Nystrom said.

At Capitol rally, tolls fuel talk shows    
Talk radio came to the north steps of the State Capitol on Saturday, offering a modestly attended anti-tolls rally a darker and occasionally profaner version of the standard radio chatter since Gov. Ned Lamont reversed himself in February and proposed a comprehensive system of highway tolls, not the limited levy on trucks he favored during the 2018 campaign.
Todd Feinburg of the 50,000-watt WTIC-AM tilted his head toward the Capitol and pronounced state government a “criminal enterprise” and its elected officials “assholes.” Steve Noxon of the smaller WATR-AM in Waterbury said tolls were less about improving transportation than enriching Lamont’s friends on Wall Street.
“I don’t know why there aren’t 50,000 people here today to protest the insanity of what’s going on,” Feinburg said, looking out at an audience that barely covered the wide sidewalk below the north steps. 
Capitol police estimated attendance at 125.
The Capitol rally had competition from No Tolls CT, which scheduled protests in Windsor, Milford and Old Saybrook. The Hartford rally was sponsored by the Libertarian Party with organizational help from Joe Visconti, a Quixotic figure in Republican politics, and promoted by radio hosts on several stations, including WITC, WATR, WRDC and WJJF-FM.
“The radio hosts have our back,” Visconti said.
Visconti, who endorsed limited tolls during a campaign as a petitioning candidate for governor in 2014 and again as he briefly campaigned in 2018, acknowledged differing views among the protest movement. He said he was objecting to Lamont’s reneging on a promise to impose tolls only on truck traffic.
Republicans have adopted the no-tolls movement as a wedge issue for 2020, but elected officials played no significant role Saturday.
Frank Farricker, the former Democratic chair of Greenwich, told the audience that many Democrats oppose the tolls plan, especially in Fairfield County, where the numerous entrances and exits make I-95 as much a local road as an interstate.
“You have way more fans on the Democratic side than you know,” said Farricker, a former CT Lottery chairman under Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
The Lamont administration has articulated only a broad outline for tolls on Route 15 and Interstates 84, 91 and 95, not a blueprint. The Federal Highway Administration will allow tolls on interstates here as an anti-congestion initiative. Lamont suggested last week his view of congestion pricing was modest— estimated at just a 40-cent surcharge for a rush-hour commute between Stamford and New Haven.
If the General Assembly authorizes tolls, the administration then would have to negotiate terms with federal highway authorities.
Rob Blanchard of Lamont’s press staff stopped by to watch.
“The people who attended today’s rally aren’t saying no to tolls. They’re saying yes to taking out a $30 billion loan, as proposed by the Republicans, recklessly adding to the state’s deficits and requiring Connecticut taxpayers to foot 100 percent of the bill, plus interest,” Blanchard said.
Blanchard was referring to a GOP alternative that calls for using the state’s current ability to borrow to finance transportation projects that are soon to be unaffordable, if only financed by the state’s fuel taxes and motor-vehicle fees. Lamont says tolls could raise $800 million annually, with 40 percent coming from out-of-state drivers. The state still would borrow for major projects, the debt service paid by tolls.
But Saturday was not a day for debating the pros and cons of various plans to finance a transportation infrastructure that the governor’s GOP critics acknowledge is badly in need of maintenance and improvement. The talk-radio hosts say the issue is a fraud, a means by corrupt officials to ensure government can feed public-sector unions.
“They have all the money they need for construction projects. The whole thing is a lie,” Feinburg said. “The purpose of that money is to pay the bill for all the other shenanigans that they do here, especially for the unions.”
Feinburg cast state government, especially the Democrats who have controlled the governor’s office for eight years and both chambers of the General Assembly for all but two of the past 32 years, as focused on providing services and programs that buy votes.
“They used to talk about good government. That was one of their little slogans for themselves. Well, they gave that up,” Feinburg said. “Nobody was buying good government. but they’re buying pay to play.”
In his view, the voters are as transactional as the politicians.
“They’re buying the idea of ‘I vote for you, you give me something.’ And that’s working really well for the Democrats,” Feinburg said. He quickly riffed on proposals to raise the minimum wage to $15 and create a paid family medical leave program as the latest forms of pay to play.
While Feinburg saw the Democrats as beholden to unions, Noxon of WATR portrayed Lamont as a tool of Wall Street, interested in transportation as a source of fees on bonding.
“This is also about giving a huge windfall to his rich friends. They are going to go with Wall Street. They are going to sell the projected, never-ending stream of revenue to Wall Street, and they are going to get filthy rich.”
Brad Davis of WDRC had a tamer message. A fixture on Connecticut radio for decades, Davis often has counted politicians among his friends, among them former Gov. John G. Rowland, whose sentencing he attended as a family friend.
“I know how much you love America,” said Davis, who now walks with a cane and was helped onto the stage. “Don’t ever give up on the greatest country in the world. We’re going to have our problems. We have some now, but in the end, we’re going to take the hill and we’re going to win the battle.”
Lee Elci, who has a show on WJJF-FM and writes a column for The Day of New London, said voters are too tolerant of politicians who say one thing during a campaign, then another in office.
“As a result, you get this, you get tolls. And you’re going to get them, I’m sorry,” Elci said. “I wish I was more optimistic.”
Elci said he feels outnumbered, that taking a metaphorical hill may be beyond reach.
“Every day, I fight the fight on the radio,” he said. “We fight the fight every day, but we’re getting outnumbered more and more, and I don’t know why.”