June 10, 2019

CT Construction Digest Monday June 10, 2019

Stamford Route 1 bridge project finishes early
Julia Perkins
STAMFORD — The $15 million project to replace a 1958 bridge near Route 1 has been completed early.
The area near Exit 9 on I-95 was expected to be closed for the project from Friday night until early Monday morning last weekend and this weekend, but the highway reopened on Sunday mornings both weekends.
Officials had feared the detours would lead to a traffic nightmare through Stamford, but residents and police said congestion was not too bad in the city last weekendGov. Ned Lamont praised the “flawless efforts” of crews to prevent significant traffic delays in the normally heavily congested area.
“We really must give applause to the DOT staff, construction crews and state and local law enforcement who were involved in this complex and innovative project,” he said in a press release.
Crews demolished two bridge spans that carry Route 1 over I-95 and installed new ones using what Lamont called an “innovative” construction method called accelerated bridge construction.
With traditional construction methods, a project of this scale would have taken two years to complete, leading to daily traffic delays, Lamont said.
The new method caused construction to be completed “in what felt like the blink of an eye,” Lamont said.
“A project of this magnitude could have resulted in a nightmare on the highway, but everyone involved did an excellent job of communicating to drivers that they should avoid the area, and they were able to complete their work expeditiously,” he said in his statement.
Joe Giulietti, commissioner of the state Department of Transportation, said he appreciated all those involved in the project.“I must thank the men and women of the Connecticut DOT who worked so hard behind the scenes to put all the pieces in place for this major bridge replacement project to come together in such a precision fashion, and ahead of schedule,” he said in a statement. “The construction crews and our law enforcement partners deserve equal recognition and high praise for being an integral part of the team that made this project such a success for everyone, but also most notably we must thank our customers - the traveling public.”
O&G Industries, a business based out of Torrington, completed the project.

Public deserves explanation for ConnDOT’s absurd construction costs: Op-Ed
Connor Harris
Gov. Ned Lamont has released a transportation plan that sets up the defining fight of his first year in Hartford. The plan authorizes tolls on state highways and dedicates the revenue, estimated at $800 million per year, to nine enumerated highway projects. It also directs the Connecticut Department of Transportation to start work on several other road and rail projects.
Most of the toll fund will likely be squandered. In March, ConnDOT gave the Yankee Institute, a think tank in Hartford, price estimates for projects in an earlier version of Lamont’s plan. Almost without exception, ConnDOT’s costs are massively inflated, sometimes 10 times or more those of similar projects elsewhere.
The most expensive project in the plan is a renovation of the Mixmaster interchange between Interstate 84 and Route 8 in Waterbury. Urban freeway interchange upgrades typically cost a few hundred million dollars. An in-progress reconfiguration of a major interchange in Houston, for example, is estimated at $300 million; the far more complex Dallas Horseshoe Project cost only $798 million and included 73 new lane-miles of freeway and 37 bridges. But ConnDOT wants $7 billion for the Mixmaster, or almost nine Horseshoe Projects — even though the Mixmaster handles much less traffic and has far simpler traffic patterns.
The Mixmaster is not the only overpriced road project on the state’s wish list. ConnDOT also plans to spend $4 billion to upgrade the interchange between I-84 and I-91 in Hartford, which is surrounded mostly by vacant lots and low-value industrial land, and $4.3 billion to $5.3 billion to replace a viaduct carrying I-84 through Hartford with a two-mile open trench. Meanwhile, for less than $4 billion, Sweden is building a 13-mile freeway bypass of Stockholm, including 11 miles of tunnel and three underground interchanges. And ConnDOT’s plans (though not Lamont’s proposal) include an upgrade of the Y interchange of I-95 and I-395 for $900 million. For about $260 million in today’s money, California widened the much busier Y interchange of I-5 and I-405 in suburban Orange County in the 1990s; the new freeway has 26 lanes at its widest point.
Even simple projects such as freeway widenings cost far too much. The Federal Highway Administration estimates that adding one lane to a rural freeway in flat terrain should cost $1.923 million per mile in 2012 dollars, or about $2.1 million today. ConnDOT, though, plans to spend $770 million to widen 11 miles of I-95 through rural New London County. If the widening adds one lane in each direction, it will cost $35 million per lane-mile, 16 times the typical cost. Another project to add one northbound lane to I-95 from Stamford to Fairfield would cost $1.257 billion, or $113 million per lane-mile, even though ConnDOT already owns the necessary land.
Rail projects in Connecticut also have exorbitant costs. The governor’s plans call for two new stations on the Hartford Line and a Metro-North station on Barnum Avenue in East Bridgeport. ConnDOT estimates that the Hartford Line stations will cost $340 million in total, or about $170 million each; the Barnum station is estimated at $300 million (the high cost stemming partially from accommodating long-distance trains, in case Amtrak wants two Bridgeport stops). Typical commuter rail stations in Berlin, Germany, meanwhile, cost about $11 million in the suburbs — about one-fifteenth the average cost of the Hartford Line stations — and $22 million in the city center. The cost of the Barnum station, in fact, could almost pay for three fully underground subway stations in Paris. ConnDOT also plans to replace three drawbridges on the New Haven Line, with a total length of half a mile, for $4 billion—the same cost as the three-mile Tappan Zee Bridge replacement, which was itself very expensive compared to bridges in Europe.
It is hard to imagine a good reason for ConnDOT’s profligacy. The agency’s prices suggest, at the very least, that it has not exercised proper oversight of its contractors. Connecticut taxpayers and motorists should not subsidize such dysfunction. State legislators should investigate ConnDOT’s construction practices, and they should not fund any transportation projects beyond the most urgent without reducing construction costs to acceptable levels.

Crumbling buildings are left uncounted
Waterbury — There’s no telling how many empty industrial buildings are rotting away on polluted properties in Connecticut.The brownfield inventory maintained by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection lists 516 sites. But state officials admit that’s not comprehensive. Sites only land on the list after state involvement in cleanup efforts. Given the state’s long industrial history, DEEP estimates there are “probably tens of thousands” of polluted sites.
Connecticut’s inventory lists properties enrolled in a state brownfield program.
“We know there are thousands across the state,” said Maria Chrysochoou, director of the Connecticut Brownfields Initiative at the University of Connecticut. “Hartford, Bridgeport and New Haven all have hundreds. There really is no good way to know exactly if we are talking 1,000, 2,000 or 10,000.”
Advised by a team of industry and municipal experts, the university program provides students training in grant writing, site investigation, legal issues and cleanups. It’s an attempt to create a crop of experts able to tackle the problem. UConn students are working with Torrington to inventory that city’s polluted sites, including the Smurfit-Stone Container factory site.
Historically, municipalities have been squeamish about taking on abandoned sites that might mean millions of dollars in cleanup costs, Chrysochoou said. Some site owners also don’t want to know what’s in the ground. It’s easier to simply keep paying taxes and let them sit idle, she said.
“It’s really up to towns to have discussions with owners like that and find ways to move them forward,” Chrysochoou said. “If an owner is there, they are afraid of getting into the process of investigation because then they will be on the hook for the cost of cleaning up.”
Connecticut officials can’t say how many jobs are created or local tax revenue generated by the hundreds of millions of dollars spent on brownfields.
They have estimates of job creation based on a formula extrapolated from dollars spent. But the state doesn’t do any sort of post cleanup research on jobs or new taxes created.
State officials also can’t say how many acres have been cleaned up. The state’s accounting mingles acres where the extent of pollution was studied with sites where cleanup has actually gone ahead.
Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development Deputy Director David Kooris said he noticed the lack of follow-up data when he joined the agency nine months ago. He hopes to do something about it, perhaps working with the UConn program.
“We need to put staff on it, work with our partners at UConn and do more of a post-state participation review,” Kooris said. “We don’t typically trail it after our involvement. We are ending up with a somewhat incomplete picture that is underrepresenting the magnitude of the impact.”
So far, the state’s only real metric for success has been how much money from “other sources” is spent on brownfield projects.
The state has spent approximately $206 million over the past decade, leveraging another $3.2 billion in other cleanup and development funds, according to DECD spokesman James Watson. That’s means about $15.50 is invested for every $1 spent through the brownfield programs, Watson said.
University of Connecticut economist Fred Carstensen said he’s disappointed, if not surprised, by the state’s metrics for success.
“That’s classic Connecticut,” Carstensen said. “How can you function like that? You need a systematic way of evaluating sites.”
Even the state’s spending ratio is suspect. It’s based on reporting from cities and towns and other applicants. Not all have reported in the same way. Municipal and private spending on brownfields in Waterbury, for instance, is dramatically underreported.
There are no shortages of examples of success.
In Waterbury, the biggest has been the transformation of 90 acres of rundown manufacturing buildings into Brass Mill Center mall, which opened in 1997, along with the neighboring Brass Mill Commons retail complex.
State and federal sources contributed $36 million for demolition and cleanup at the former Scovill Manufacturing site. The mall, along with its associated retail plaza, paid $4.8 million to Waterbury in 2016, according to the most recent tax records available. It’s the city’s third-largest taxpayer, behind Yankee Gas and Connecticut Light & Power.
About one mile east of the mall, the shuttered Mattatuck Manufacturing factory was torn down and replaced with a Waterbury senior center, a hospital annex and a funeral home. The cleanup lasted a decade and cost roughly $6 million.
DECD is unable to say how much state money went into that cleanup. The Republican-American reported that at least $2.4 million in state grants went to the project.
Annual property taxes paid to Waterbury on the former Mattatuck site increased from about $40,000 in 2003 to $281,455 this year, according to city tax records.
For decades, Mattatuck Manufacturing had been a big employer. The neighborhood could hear machinery thrumming at all hours as the plant turned out handcuffs, cash registers, toy trucks, thumbtacks and more.
Mattatuck Manufacturing closed in 1992. Property owner Gilbert Boutin partnered with the city on a cleanup effort that began a decade later. The senior center opened in 2013.
There were many hiccups along the way. Costs grew and the city clashed with Boutin. But fresh infusions of state cash saw the project completed.
John “Jack” Alseph, president of the East End Community Club, has lived in his grandfather’s Dutch-colonial on White Oak Lane near Mattatuck Manufacturing almost all of his 64 years.
Alseph recalled the neighborhood used to keep time by the whistles of shift change. He had worked in the plant as a maintenance supervisor. Alseph also watched the redevelopment.
“It’s vitally important because there’s only so much land,” Alseph said. “They aren’t making any more. You either start using what you have or you run out of everything.”
The Cities Project, a collaboration between CT MirrorConnecticut Public RadioHearst Connecticut MediaHartford CourantRepublican-American of Waterbury, Hartford Business Journal, and Purple States, will publish periodic articles exploring challenges and solutions related to revitalizing Connecticut’s cities.