Keith M. Phaneuf, CTMirror.org
HARTFORD — Gov. Ned Lamont threatened Wednesday to clamp down on state borrowing if legislators can’t agree in special session this summer on a plan to toll Connecticut’s major highways.
The governor, who made his comments during and after the State Bond Commission meeting, also said he’d consider shifting more borrowing capacity away from non-transportation initiatives to support Connecticut’s highways, bridges and rail lines.
“If that’s the case, we’re going to have to be very selective about what we do going forward,” Lamont said during the meeting.
“We cannot afford to do a lot of these other items if we put all that money into transportation,” he added afterward.
Lawmakers declined to adopt any long-term financing plan for transportation work during the regular session, which adjourned on June 5. But they must return to the Capitol later this summer to adopt the annual bond package. And Lamont has asked them to reconsider tolls, saying the status quo can’t continue.
Connecticut will borrow $850 million this coming fiscal year — $75 million more than it averaged over the last two years — for transportation repairs. This borrowing, which is repaid with gas taxes and other revenues from the budget’s Special Transportation Fund, is paired with about $700 million per year in federal transportation grants.
But state and federal funding totaling roughly $1.5 billion per year “is not enough to keep us in a state of good repair,” Lamont said.
Department of Transportation Commissioner Joseph Giulietti has testified Connecticut needs to spend between $2 billion and $2.5 billion per year if it wants to improve the condition of its infrastructure and make key strategic upgrades like replacing the elevated section of Interstate 84 in Hartford of widening I-95 in Fairfield County.
Lawmakers debated two options this spring to increase capital spending this year, but settled on neither.
Electronic tolling on I-84, I-91, I-95 and the Merritt Parkway is projected to raise $600 million to $800 million per year. Lamont backs this option, estimating out-of-state motorists would contribute as much as 40 percent of the revenue, because it would enable the state to avoid more borrowing.
Republicans countered with “Prioritize Progress,” which avoids tolls and instead shifts $700 million-to-$750 million per year in borrowing from school construction, economic development and other non-transportation programs and makes it available for highway, bridge and rail work.
Some questioned Wednesday whether Lamont — who chairs the bond commission — retaliated politically against the GOP for their anti-toll stand.
The commission approved a total of $1.9 million in financing for upgrades to fire training schools in Democratic legislators’ districts in Torrington and Windham.
But a similar request for help for the Valley Fire School in Beacon Falls — which trains firefighters in the Naugatuck Valley — was left off the agenda.
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, a staunch opponent of tolls who pushed for aid for the Valley Fire School, said Lamont and his running mate, Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz, pledged last fall during a visit to her district to support upgrades to the school.
“They were very passionate and it was very heartfelt,” Klarides said, adding that the Democratic team pledged their support for the school repeatedly. “Now he’s trying to threaten people and say ‘If you don’t do tolls that I want, schools like this aren’t going to get funded.’ People are sick and tired of politicians saying one thing during their elections and then conveniently forgetting what they said.”
When Rep. Chris Davis of Ellington, one of just two Republicans on the 10-member bond commission, asked whether the Naugatuck Valley school would be funded in the future, Lamont’s deputy commissioner of the Department of Administrative Services, Noel Petra, said ‘We’re evaluating our options at this point.”
Lamont said afterward there was no political retribution. But his answer to Davis during the meeting was: “I’ll get back to you, I think, by the end of the special session to tell you what appetite and what capacity we have to do projects like that.”
The governor added afterward that even if legislators don’t support tolls, he isn’t ready to support the GOP’s Prioritize Progress plan and shift $750 million in borrowing away from school construction, economic development and other non-transportation programs to support highway, bridge and rail projects.
But he said he would be willing to compromise and support a smaller shift if was part of a deal that also included approval of electronic tolling.
(Put their money where their mouths are.)
Because, really, how can we in good conscience go ga ga over UConn’s decision to declare itself a basketball school and leave the XL Center in its current condition?
That’s right, Connecticut. It’s time. No more procrastination. The XL Center, in need of an extreme makeover for quite some time, just got its bounce of the ball from the universe. The Grande Dame of 1 Civic Center Plaza has its avenue into the 21st century.
“It’s hard to quantify, but, yes, the move to the Big East is a good thing,” Mike Freimuth, the straight shooting executive director of the Capital Region Development Authority, said Wednesday. “Apathy with the team leads to apathy for the building. But the inverse is also true.”
Indeed. UConn women’s coach Geno Auriemma even said the other day that the move to the Big East “better put 16,000 in the XL Center every night.” And yet if Auriemma’s wish comes true, better attendance also means greater demands on a building that has all the figurative foundation of a card table with Haystacks Calhoun standing on top of it.
And so now with State U awash in a sporting renaissance — perceived or real — approval of the $100-125 million to upgrade the building becomes a necessity, lest every politician in favor of this conference switcheroo risk the ridicule that comes with utter fraudulence.
“The building’s fate has always been tied to UConn’s fate,” Freimuth said.
The new building, if constructed properly, would instantly become the Big East’s jewel. Freimuth said he envisions “optimizing” 11,000-12,000 seats. And yet with a rather ingenious mechanical wall, the new XL Center could still accommodate 16,000 for big events.
A mechanical wall would roll down from the ceiling to shroud roughly 4,000 seats that wouldn’t always be used, Freimuth said, a more modern version of the building’s current setup, in which a curtain drops in front of unused seats.
The multi-use wall would be available for video use during games, while also shutting off three sections of the upper bowl. Freimuth said such a setup would preclude the cost of building an upper concourse and save the project several million dollars.
Most events at the XL Center draw in the 11-12,000 range anyway, Freimuth said. The extra 4,000 seats are used for only five to 10 percent of the events.
“If we get Georgetown coming here as the No. 1 team in the country or Elton John in concert,” we’d absolutely have the ability to use those extra 4,000 seats,” Freimuth said. “By ‘optimizing’ 11-12,000, I mean that the support systems for the building (concessions, restrooms) would be geared to 11-12,000. On the nights we have 16,000, the lines would be longer, but given the financial issues, I don’t think we need to construct the building that way for what amounts to five to 10 events a year. It’s saves a lot of money.”
Freimuth said the optimal plan would be to “reprogram” the lower bowl seats with more amenities. Atrium expansion for the concourse, he said, would offer more concessions, restrooms and social gathering spaces.
Notez bien: This project began in the $250 million range. It’s half as much now, but still cleverly conceived.
Once again: There was no political arm twisting here, no frantic calls from on high to move UConn back to the Big East. It was nothing more than an idea before last weekend when news broke. The point is that now that our leadership unilaterally decided UConn’s course, it bears the responsibility tethered to the decision: fixing the XL Center, thus providing a downtown facility that honors such newfound excitement.
It’s time, Connecticut.
No more excuses.
You think you’re returning to big time basketball?
Then no more gauze and bandages for the Grande Dame. It’s time to pay up.
National Grid Seeks Permit to Build Transmission Line
Clear River Energy LLC and the Narragansett Electric Company, doing business as National Grid, are seeking a permit from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, New England District to conduct work in waters of the United States in conjunction with constructing a transmission line, an energy center and upgrading a substation in the vicinity of Burrillville, R.I.
This work is proposed in various waters and wetlands in which the mainstay of the project is located south of Wallum Lake Road (State Route 100) in Burrillville, R.I.
Clear River Energy LLC, a project company of Invenergy Thermal Development LLC and The Narragansett Electric Company d/b/a National Grid, have jointly submitted a permit application to the Corps of Engineers pursuant to Section 404 of the Clean Water Act. The proposed project would consist of two major components, the Clear River Energy Center and the Burrillville Interconnection Project. More specifically, the application proposes to construct an electric generating facility known as the Clear River Energy Center (CREC); construct a dedicated 345 kilovolt (kV) transmission line interconnection known as the Burrillville Interconnection Project (BIP); and upgrade an existing substation known as the Sherman Road Switching Station.
The project would begin at the CREC site and extend generally northeast to the Sherman Road Switching Station. Once constructed, the BIP would connect the CREC to the existing New England electrical grid system. Clear River Energy LLC would construct, own and operate the CREC, located adjacent to the existing Algonquin Compressor Station. The CREC is a proposed combined-cycle electric generating facility that would be located on a 67-acre site, south of Wallum Lake Road (state route in Burrillville). The 67-acre CREC site is a subset of a 730-acre site that is owned and operated by Algonquin Gas Transmission LLC.
During construction, the CREC would be accessed via a temporary access road that would be constructed off of Wallum Lake Road. Once operational, permanent access to the CREC would be via an improved Algonquin Lane, which also is located off of Wallum Lake Road.
The basic project purpose is to supply and deliver energy to market. The overall project purpose is to supply and deliver energy to market to meet long-term electric supply demands within the Rhode Island and New England region. The CREC would address the need for new electric capacity that has been and will be created by retirements of existing generators, including oil and coal fired generators, and the additional potential retirements of other generators in the New England market. The CREC would improve the overall flexibility of the electric generation fleet, due to its fast start and high ramp rate capabilities, and would help support and complement the addition of more renewable generation into the region. The BIP would be necessary to interconnect the CREC to the New England electric system so that the electrical energy produced at the CREC can be delivered to the end user market.
The proposed project has been designed to avoid and minimize impacts to aquatic resources while bolstering the existing electrical infrastructure in the Rhode Island and New England region. To compensate for unavoidable impacts to aquatic resources, the applicant is currently proposing mitigation, which includes land acquisition and preservation of 1) an approximate 148-acre parcel of land known as the Sweet Hill Farm located off of Route 107 in Burrillville, RI, and 2) two parcels (Alles) totaling approximately 150-acres of land located west of Round Top Road in Burrillville, R.I.
The current mitigation plan reiterates the applicants' commitment to restoration and stabilization of temporarily disturbed wetlands, construction staging areas and transmission line rights-of-way. The plan includes a description of project impacts, objectives, mitigation site selection procedures, site protection information, and monitoring standards in addition to all required graphics and information.
The application for the federal permit was filed with the Corps in compliance with Section 404 of the Clean Water Act, which regulates the discharge or fill of material in U.S. waters, including wetlands. The public notice, with more specifics on the work proposed by Clear River Energy, LLC, and the Narragansett Electric Company doing business as National Grid, can be viewed on the Corps website at https://www.nae.usace.army.mil/Missions/PublicNotices/.