August 15, 2019

CT Construction Digest Thursday August 15, 2019

State bonding gridlock stalls summer repaving funds
Keith M. Phaneuf
Gov. Ned Lamont and Democratic legislative leaders repeatedly trumpeted their adoption of a new state budget “on time” in June, noting it gave cities and towns certainty about the grants they could expect.
But for the second time in three years, Connecticut cities and towns haven’t received state funding crucial for scheduled summer road repaving work.
While most municipal aid was included in the new, two-year, $43.4 billion state budget enacted in June, Connecticut issues bonds and borrows the funds it distributes in three grants — one of which is the $60 million Town Aid Road [TAR] program.
And the legislature’s Democratic majority and Lamont still haven’t finished work on a new bonding package for this fiscal year and next.
Joe DeLong, executive director of the Connecticut Conference of Municipalities, said nearly all state officials profess to be worried about the state’s aging roads and bridges, regardless of whether they believe tolls are the best way to finance repairs and improvements. But local leaders “start to question how much they really about concerned about Connecticut’s transportation infrastructure when something as basic and vital as TAR grants aren’t getting out on time,” DeLong said.
Connecticut provides $60 million annually to communities through the TAR program, with $30 million installments delivered in early July — just after the fiscal year has begun, and in early January.
But legislators and the governor weren’t able to agree on a full package of bond authorizations before the regular General Assembly session closed on June 5. And they remain at odds now.
Unfortunately, municipal advocates say, road repaving work is time sensitive, done mostly during the summer and fall.
Betsy Gara, executive director of the Council of Small Towns, said if the bonding gridlock isn’t resolved by the winter, some communities will have issues with snow removal.
“The uncertainty regarding when funds will be released and in what amounts is very frustrating for town leaders, who are trying to manage local budgets, maintain roads and other infrastructure while minimizing the need for property tax increases,” she said.
Cities and towns faced a much longer delay in 2017 when then-Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the legislature could not resolve a new two-year budget.
The General Assembly also was split sharply along partisan lines. Democrats held a narrow edge in the House while the Senate was divided equally 18-18.
Lamont and legislators settled the budget on time this year. But they’ve had more difficulty resolving how much Connecticut can afford to borrow over this fiscal year and next.
Connecticut has one of the highest levels of bonded debt, per capita, of any state in the nation. And Lamont, who took office in January, insists state government must go on a “debt diet.”
The governor recommended in February that the legislature authorize slightly less than $1 billion per year in new general obligation bonding, two-thirds of what it issued, on average, between 2012 and 2019.
General obligation [G.O.] bonds are the principal means used to finance municipal school construction, college and university projects, state building upgrades, the TAR grant program — and smaller projects in legislators’ districts. G.O. bonds are repaid with income tax receipts and other revenues from the budget’s general fund.
Democratic legislative leaders have said there are many smaller projects in lawmakers’ home districts that are priorities for the rank-and-file.
Rep. Jason Rojas, D-East Hartford, co-chairman of the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, said neither side has stopped trying to reach a deal. “We continue to exchange proposals and ideas,” Rojas said, adding that summer vacation scheduling challenges also have slowed the talks.
“Governor Lamont is committed to putting Connecticut on the right track financially in the short- and the long-term while ensuring a responsible agreement on the bond bill,” Lamont spokesman Max Reiss said. “ … The governor wants a bond package that sticks to funding priority projects [and] that also makes the critical investments in our infrastructure.”

Funding for intersection work, other projects approved
Brian Gioiele
Work will be moving forward on the Huntington Street and Buddington Road intersection improvements.
Approval of this work was among more than a half dozen items for which the Board of Aldermen, during its meeting, Thursday, Aug. 8, voted to appropriate funds.
Concerning the intersection work project, the aldermen voted to pay $43,864.41 to Wengell, McDonnell & Costello, Inc., for engineering and inspection services, and $236,349 to John J. Brennan Construction Co. for the work itself. All funds will come from the city’s general fund, but the aldermen noted that 90 percent will ultimately be reimbursed by the state.
“This is a good deal by anyone’s standards,” said board President John Anglace, Jr.
The project, which was first discussed in 2017, is slated for construction under the Local Road Accident Reduction Program / Surface Transportation Program administered by the Connecticut Department of Transportation. The plans call for reconstructing the Buddington Road approach to Huntington Street by eliminating the traffic island and adding an exclusive southbound left turn lane on Huntington Street.
Also on Thursday, the Board of Aldermen:
* Approved a $27,891 payment to Ansonia-based Teodosio & Sons Construction Co. for the installation of sidewalks at Canal Street East, the former Chromium Process Plant site.
* Voted to spend $11,265.12 for the purchase of four new lights on Canal Street. The cost of the new lights is $10,000, with an additional $1,265.12 needed for the purchase of electrical materials to install the lights. The new lighting style will be purchased from Hubbell Lighting, the vendor that has supplied the lights since 2012 for the Riverwalk lighting project.
* Voted to pay $44,840 to A&B Mechanical for the replacement of roof top air conditioning units at the Richard O. Belden Cultural Center. The aldermen also appropriated $25,346 for the emergency replacement of an air conditioning unit for the Living Hope Church, also located in the cultural center. These funds will come from bonding.
* Approved a $2,100 reimbursement to William Kulmann of 65 Oak Avenue to cover repairs he made to the sidewalk in front of the property. In all, Kulmann had some 210 square feet of public concrete sidewalk replaced.
* Approved $2,541 for the purchase and installation of two magnetic hold-open arms on the existing Plumb Memorial Library elevator doors. The hold-open doors will be tied to the library’s alarm system, so should the alarm activate, doors will close automatically.

* Approved $29,590 to pay Multiforce Systems Corp. to replace the fuel island terminals for the police department and the public works department.
* Voted to appropriate $7,000 for the purchase and installation of eoxy and the alarm system for an Echo Hose Fire House floor. The funds will come from bonding.
* Approved payment of $2,763.75 to the city’s corporation counsel, Teodosio Stanek, LLC, for legal fees.

Stop-work orders issued at Stamford tower job
Angela Carella
STAMFORD — After state regulators cited labor violations at one of the city’s biggest downtown construction projects, a trade union is warning about the repercussions of wrongful practices.
Inspectors with the Connecticut Department of Labor last week ordered two contractors, ASF Construction of Tarrytown, N.Y., and NB General Construction of Brewster, N.Y., to stop work on Atlantic Station at 405 Atlantic St., where the second of two big apartment towers is going up.
Both companies were charged Aug. 7 with failing to provide worker’s compensation insurance, said Steve Jensen, director of communications for the labor department. NB additionally was charged with misrepresenting employees as independent contractors, Jensen said.
Several messages left for ASF were not returned. Contact information for NB could not be found.

“ASF was cited for failing to properly evidence workman’s compensation coverage. They did subsequently provide appropriate documentation and work resumed” Monday, Palazzo said. “NB has been barred from any further work on the site until such time that the allegations against them have been addressed. It is our policy to immediately investigate such charges and enforce compliance.”
Miguel Fuentes of Local 326 of the New England Regional Council of Carpenters, which monitors projects for labor violations, said ASF and NB were setting concrete for the tower.
“As I understand it, one company is doing the rebar and putting the forms together, and they brought in the other company,” Fuentes said.
He’s had his eye on ASF, he said.
“They have a habit of not paying overtime,” Fuentes said. “There’s a class-action lawsuit against them for that.”
Court papers show that the lawsuit, filed in New York City in January and as of this month headed for settlement, charges that ASF failed to pay overtime for hours worked in excess of 40 per week, a violation of federal and New York labor laws.
It was initiated by an Elmsford, N.Y., man who said he worked 63 to 84 hours nearly every week during the two years he was employed by ASF, and never received overtime pay.

“I can say with some certainty one out of three projects has some element of law-breaking activity,” Fuentes said.
Connecticut labor officials have in recent years said the same.
About a decade ago they — and labor investigators around the country — began spot-checking work sites for contractors who fail to pay income taxes, social security contributions, unemployment insurance and overtime. They looked for those paying substandard wages, using unlicensed workers, ignoring safety laws, exploiting undocumented workers and classifying employees as independent contractors to avoid paying worker’s compensation insurance.
Such violations allow unscrupulous contractors to submit lower bids for jobs and increase their profits.
“It’s becoming an epidemic,” Fuentes said. “If it goes unchecked, it becomes the norm.”
Violators cheat not only construction workers, he said. They cheat governments out of income tax revenue. If they use unlicensed workers, they cheat construction quality.
And they cheat taxpayers. When an employee working for a contractor who doesn’t pay worker's compensation insurance is injured on the job, state taxpayers cover the employee’s medical expenses. A worker who is laid off may collect unemployment checks even if the former employer didn't pay into the system, so taxpayers cover that, too.
“Companies that cut corners and evade regulations are trying to get a competitive edge on the ones that do the right thing,” Fuentes said.
His union represents more than 30,000 carpenters, shop and mill workers, pile drivers and floor coverers in the six New England states plus upstate New York. The council works to ensure fair wages and working standards, and to educate nonunion workers on their rights and help them seek legal recourse if needed.
Migrant workers are regularly exploited because they are unlikely to report abuses, Fuentes said.
But the effects of wrongful labor practices are more far-reaching than that, he said.
“The trades have always been a great middle-class job, but because of this underground economy, many of those jobs don’t exist anymore,” Fuentes said. “These predatory companies are eroding our economy.”
He has been “paying very close attention” to Fairfield County, and Stamford in particular, Fuentes said.
“It’s a hotbed of activity,” he said.
“Any passerby who sees a bunch of people working on a project probably thinks, ‘OK, that’s a good thing; it’s prosperity,’” Fuentes said. “But many times the workers are not getting health care, which means they get indigent care, and we pay for that in higher health-insurance premiums. This doesn’t get the attention of a robbery; it’s hard to explain and understand. But it’s a crime nonetheless.”
Erica Drzewiecki NEWINGTON - State transportation officials have introduced a plan to fix one of the town’s most dangerous intersections.
Where Fenn Road meets Ella Grasso Boulevard and Holly Drive, the main challenge lies in drivers turning left from Fenn intending to make a quick right onto the ramp for Route 9 northbound.
Crashes occur here around the rush hours, as drivers trying to take a right turn from Fenn onto Ella Grasso and others head straight from or onto Holly Drive, where several factories are located.
A traffic signal in the intersection has failed to prevent traffic jams and accidents, according to the state Department of Transportation. From 2014 to 2016, the corridor saw 47 motor vehicle crashes, including 10 with injuries and, in one case, a fatality.
“Severe congestion can lead to crashes and these statistics show us that more significant congestion relief is needed here,” Project Manager Marissa Washburn told the Town Council in July.
She briefed councilors on a solution concept along with transportation engineers Daniel Haptas and Edward Sabourin. Plans call for a roundabout anchored by a center island, with splitter islands along each road to ease traffic flow into the pattern.
Still in its infancy, the proposed project is known as PP-093-017 or “Roundabout at the Intersection of Fenn Road & Ella Grasso Boulevard.”
Pedestrian improvements are also proposed, including a sidewalk from the driveway of Iwo Jima Memorial Park down Fenn Road to the Stop & Shop plaza, with crosswalks for Holly Drive and the plaza. CTfastrak’s Cedar Street station and Starbucks are adjacent to the plaza, on the same side of the road.
“No funds have been allocated for this - it would be a future project at this point,” Washburn told the council.
Earlier this week the team said it was finalizing a date with the town for a public information meeting on the proposal. The meeting will probably take place sometime in October.
The group went through several alternatives considered for mending the intersection - including widening Fenn Road to add a double left turn onto Ella Grasso Boulevard. This wouldn’t provide enough relief and could even result in an increase in crashes, the team determined. They also looked at realigning both of the main byways. This proved too costly and did not provide operational improvement needed.
The roundabout was selected as the most effective and feasible option for this corridor.
“The more people know of these roundabouts, the more they use them and the more they like how they control the traffic flow,” Washburn said.
Based on data available after the installation of other modern roundabouts in similar locations across the nation, crashes are expected to decrease by 80% once the improvements are complete.
“There’s a major safety benefit but also congestion relief,” Sabourin pointed out. “They are really an effective tool.”
Realistically, the team is about a year-and-a-half away from the design phase, so the soonest construction would begin is 2024. Unless it faces significant public opposition, the team plans to move ahead with the project after the first meeting.
In that same area next summer, the DOT plans to replace 15 traffic signals along Route 175 that have exceeded their life expectancy.
People with questions can contact Project Manager Marissa Washburn at

Contentious East Lyme affordable-housing development returns
Mary Biekert  
East Lyme — Almost three years after an appellate court sided with a developer over the zoning commission's denial of an affordable-housing development proposed near Rocky Neck State Park, the project is moving forward.
Town officials confirmed this week that a Georgia-based developer, who also has planned housing at Waterford's former Cohanzie Elementary School, is pursuing the project.
The 60-unit development, known as Rocky Neck Village, was first proposed by JAG Capital Drive LLC, a development company based out of New London, in 2013. Planned to be located at a 24.6-acre property behind the Divine Wine Emporium off Route 156, the project was shot down by the zoning commission that same year due to its location in a light industrial zone.
The commission maintained that because of the proposed location, future residents would be at risk due to various chemical operations taking place nearby, and that locating a residential complex in a light industrial zone would violate town zoning laws.
After an appellate court upheld a judge's ruling in favor of the developer over the zoning commission in 2016, however, JAG Capital Drive listed the property, as well as its project development rights, for $1.5 million in 2017, according to
JAG, which still owns the property, according to land-use records, bought the tract in 2006 for $425,000.
Developer Harold Foley, owner of the Georgia-based housing development company HF3 Group LLC, said Wednesday he has signed a contract with JAG to purchase the property and its development rights to build Rocky Neck Village but is first “going through the proper channels in town” before closing on the deal.
Foley is the same developer looking to build a contentious 44-unit mixed-income development at Waterford’s former Cohanzie Elementary School.
Foley said if all goes well in East Lyme, he expects that estimated $20 million project to break ground this upcoming spring.
According to zoning official Bill Mullholland, the project still needs to go through a “few more steps," including receiving necessary permits from both the town’s zoning and building departments and submitting a final "affordability plan" to “make sure that what the new developers want to build is the same" as what previously was passed by the town and the courts, as well as “a wetlands signoff, a fire marshal signoff and paying their taxes, as well as other technical hurdles.”
“That’s a minimum of 30 to 40 days to get all that through,” Mullholland said.
Mullholland said that the project does not again need zoning or planning commission approvals, but rather must now go through an “orientation process” with town officials to “make sure everyone is on the same page” with the project. He said he and town officials will schedule pre-construction meetings once the development's groundbreaking approaches.
Mullholland added that Foley and the associated Nehantic Partners LLC listed with the development under Foley’s larger development company still may need to receive sewage capacity through the Water and Sewer Commission. In January, town utility engineer Brad Kargl estimated the development would need an approximate 20,000 daily gallon allotment.
According to Mullholland, the project should be a “straight shot,” assuming the developer isn’t looking to deviate from already-approved plans. He said Foley had tried to submit plans differing from what already was approved earlier this summer, but Mullholland turned down those plans, stating that they would need to go through a separate approval process should Foley want to continue with them.
Mullholland said that Foley then decided to stick with the originally approved plans but now hopes to build 56 units, instead of the approved 60, as well as a community house on the property.   
According to site plans and an “invitation to bid” submitted to the town for review, Foley has hired Missouri-based architect Crockett Engineering Consultants, as well as Meriden-based contractors LaRosa Building Group LLC for the project.
Foley, who has completed several housing developments throughout Mississippi, Louisiana and Tennessee, according to the website of another Georgia-based development company he owns with his wife, started developing in Connecticut in 2015, after rehabilitating a historical Waterbury building into a 35-unit apartment complex with LaRosa Building Group.
During a phone interview Wednesday, Foley said the Rocky Neck Village development would be his third housing development in Connecticut. That does not include the Cohanzie school development, he said, which is still “being worked out.”
Foley said Rocky Neck Village will feature only three-bedroom townhomes, to be rented for an average of $1,400 per month, with included “garages, sidewalks, green spaces and a community center.”
“It will be very nice,” he said. “A great development.”
Foley said his company would retain ownership of the property, with a third-party management company overseeing rentals.
Speaking to why he chose to develop in East Lyme, Foley said, “It is a great location. I like East Lyme and Old Lyme, and I like that the development is directly across the street from Rocky Neck.”
“There is a dearth of affordable housing in the area. We did our assessment and we found that this town fit the demand for affordable housing,” Foley said. “I’ve always been attracted to the New England area. Connecticut is a great state. The people are wonderful and there’s a certain ease to doing business.”