Dan Haar: In Lamont’s plan, it’s Tweed vs. Sikorsky for expansion
Connecticut has messed around for years with the idea that the state needs a serious commercial airport on Long Island Sound.
Tweed New Haven and Sikorsky Memorial both have powerful backers and detractors. We’ve seen no breakthrough progress, though Tweed is much further along.
Now the logjam might end with a state-run competition that will be part of Gov. Ned Lamont’s 10-year, $18 billion transportation plan, set to roll out sometime in the next two weeks.Yes, travel fans, watchers of economic development, there will be a winner. And a loser. One and only one of these two historic locations, 20 miles apart as the jet flies, will secure the state’s blessing to back up Bradley International as Connecticut’s No. 2 airport.
The hope underlying the contest: An expanded Tweed or Sikorsky would bring in 15 or more flights a day from established airlines to places such as Chicago, Baltimore-Washington, Washington National, Miami, Charlotte and maybe even Dallas-Fort Worth.
Neighbors in both places are aghast, of course. I would be, too. But in a state that’s stuck in neutral, a second airport downstate with modern runways and amenities absolutely must be part of the fix.
Lamont sees the urgency and will formally launch a path to a decision by 2021 according to sources familiar with the plan. Whichever city’s airport the state picks would have enhanced rail service from the other city.
“We need an airport here in south-central Connecticut,” Lamont told an audience at the Bridgeport Regional Business Council Monday, my colleague Jordan Grice reported. “Probably Tweed and Sikorsky are at the top of the list, but it’s absolutely invaluable.”
Probably? If there’s 1,000 available acres someplace else around here, I haven’t heard about it.
Tweed, run by its own authority, straddling the New Haven-East Haven line, and Sikorsky, in Stratford but owned by the city of Bridgeport, are in many ways mirror images of each other. Founded as municipal strips in the early days of aviation, with plenty of history, both places are built on swampland next to the sound, hemmed in by wetlands and neighborhoods, with too-short runways.
Both sit in metro areas that the major airlines could take or leave. But both have primary “catchment areas” with significant wealth and business activity.
Either airport would be run, ideally, by the Connecticut Airport Authority, which includes Bradley — the better to coordinate airline service.
My view is that getting it done effectively is more important than where it happens. Let’s look quickly here at the arguments for and against both airports.
* New Haven is the largest or second-largest metro in the United States that doesn’t have a main airport. Corporations and institutions such as Yale University, Yale New Haven Hospital, Alexion and others must sheepishly tell would-be star employees that, yeah, you need to fly through a place called Bradley an hour away, north of, um, Hartford.
* Mayor-to-be Justin Elicker supports the idea, as outgoing Mayor Toni Harp does, albeit with significant caveats. “Three questions need to be addressed with Tweed,” Elicker told me Monday. “Sea-level rise, community benefits, financial viability.” More on that below.
* Tweed’s longest runway is 5,600 feet with 5,250 feet of “usable” landing space. That’s close to the 6,100 feet that airlines want to see. And Tweed has fairly open space at the end of that runway for expansion.
* Tweed already has active commercial service with the infrastructure to support it.
To get there, passengers need to wend their way through narrow, residential streets. Building a new terminal on the East Haven side is one option, but adds cost.
Tweed falls in the districts of the two top leaders in the state Senate: Martin Looney, D-New Haven, the president pro-Tem; and Len Fasano, R-North Haven, the GOP leader. They have a home and a business, respectively, hard by the runways. Both have presented roadblocks to expansion of Tweed.
Tweed recently won a decision in the U.S. 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals, saying a 2009 state law limiting the size of the runways is unenforceable. That puts the Tweed authority at odds with the state. Attorney General William Tong has not decided on an appeal but the case might not matter. No one is expanding without the state’s blessing.
Larger neighborhoods in the immediate shadow of the airport.
Not as helpful to customers in lower Fairfield County.
A central downstate location with a catchment area — including New Haven — that has no good in-state options for thousands of customers. They’re farther from Bradley and face a trek to either LaGuardia in New York or the limited menu at Westchester County Airport just over the state line.
A 4-lane road connecting directly to I-95.
Full support of Bridgeport Mayor Joe Ganim. Bridgeport needs some kind of spark, and although the city’s business community isn’t robust enough to support even a small commercial airline destination, having one would help matters.
* Three currently active general aviation companies.
No commercial service in many years.
Both runways are shorter than 4,700 feet, and there’s no easy path to lengthening them, based on wetlands and adjacent development.
Location in a town outside the city that owns it could create cross-border zoning fights or other problems.Elicker’s concerns about finances and, especially, sea-level rise probably applies to both places. “Tweed is basically gone in 50 years and I am not aware of any meaningful study that has been done that addresses that,” he said.That’s a sobering thought with implications far bigger than how you’re getting to Des Moines.
Add it all up and there is no clear frontrunner. Sikorsky’s location has more promise if New Haven can see adequate transit to the expanded airport, but Tweed is closer to the physical requirements.
“It’s probably 50-50 at this point until we can see what happens,” said Sen. Carlo Leone, D-Stamford, co-chairman of the legislature’s transportation committee.
Greens Harbor project completed — but at a hefty cost
New London — The drainage and park improvement projects at Greens Harbor Beach are completed but have come with a hefty price tag.
The latest estimate presented to the City Council shows the cost has increased from the estimated $1.9 million to a final tally of $5.15 million — a combination of added work to expand the park and unexpected costs related to drainage and associated work under Pequot Avenue.
City administrators have called the project a success, since it enlarges and beautifies the beach and park areas while addressing the historical flooding problems along that stretch of road.
City Councilor Martin Olsen continues to argue the city administration has skirted City Charter provisions that give the council control over the city’s “purse strings.” Olsen, a Republican challenging Mayor Michael Passero in the upcoming election, was already critical of what he characterized as a lack of transparency about the work there.
Finance Director David McBride presented an overview of the project, along with possible funding sources, to the Finance Committee of the City Council on Monday.
The city is using about $2.3 million in funds that were borrowed over the past few years for undefined infrastructure work — things like road, sidewalk and drainage projects — to cover a portion of the Greens Harbor cost overruns but is looking for other sources to make up the rest, McBride said.
The city already has applied for the additional grant funds from the state Department of Housing and plans to talk with the Stormwater Authority for the possibility of more.
The original scope of the project, funded with a $1.48 million federal grant and city commitment of $493,000, was to relocate an outfall pipe away from the beach and improve drainage in the area. The city was approved for funding in 2014.
The city’s Public Works Department managed the project and hired Colonna Concrete in 2018, expanding the scope of work to include a rehab of the park. Costs eventually mushroomed due to the need for additional excavation work and a requirement that a bypass road be constructed to allow traffic to pass through the construction site.
Olsen said Article VIII, Sec. 70, of the city charter, which requires that modifications of contracts need authorization of the City Council, was “grossly abused,” despite an opinion of the city's law director that it was not.
“They’re arguing a bond approved in 2017 and 2018 is being used,” Olsen said. “We didn’t approve a blank check for millions of dollars. We approved a bond that year for roads and sidewalks and an approved list of streets to be getting sidewalks and curbs. The policies and procedures have been bastardized.”
Olsen said his fellow council members, all Democrats, are now “circling the wagons to protect the administration.”
“It’s embarrassing,” Olsen said.
McBride said all funding sources used had been approved but also acknowledged there were lapses in communication with the City Council about project costs and funding sources.
McBride recommended a monthly meeting to be held with the public works director and the council’s liaison to review all capital projects — such as the ongoing high school project. Olsen is the council’s current liaison.
Councilor Tracee Reiser, chairwoman of the Finance Committee, said McBride addressed the pressing questions of the council: why the work was necessary and clarity on funding sources for that work. She said one outcome is likely to be a strengthening of communication between departments' heads and the council.
East Lyme’s I-95 south Exit 74 ramps to close for four days
East Lyme — The Department of Transportation has announced that the Interstate 95 south on- and off-ramps at Exit 74 will be closed from 6:30 p.m. Oct. 16 through 6 a.m. Oct. 20.
The closure is necessary, DOT said, and will help facilitate construction activity associated with the realignment of the ramps near Costco, which is scheduled to open Nov. 14. The finished roadwork will help accommodate an expected influx of traffic once the store opens.
The work is being performed by Costco developers and contractors Cherry Hill Construction Inc.
Detour signs will direct I-95 southbound traffic to Exit 73 at East Society Road, while drivers trying to access I-95 south from Flanders Road will be directed south on Route 161 then west on Route 156 to the Exit 72 ramps.
DOT said that all road work associated with the Costco project in the Exit 74 interchange area is scheduled to be completed Nov. 14.
Connecticut DOT spends more on road inspections by outsourcing
HARTFORD — An engineer inside the state Department of Transportation said Connecticut could save at least $100 million a year in taxpayer money by allowing state employees to do the work. The DOT contends that paying significantly more to outsource jobs ultimately saves tax dollars. All the while, Connecticut is racking up some of the highest per-mile road construction costs in the nation.
Travis Woodward, a project engineer in the New Haven office, said using the DOT’s own numbers, the agency would have saved $324 million over a three-year period, between 2016 and 2018, if DOT employees had performed construction inspection and engineering services instead of outside consultants.
The DOT agrees.
Woodward is president of CSEA SEIU Local 2001 P-4 bargaining group and has been testifying for years that privatization is a gigantic waste of resources. He said the DOT’s latest evaluation again proves his point.
“We all see our work subcontracted out to consultants in a 61.6 percent more costly manner,” Woodward said. “The balance is tipped way too far into the private sector.”
In addition, most of the state’s engineering workforce is eligible to retire by 2022, which will increase the cost of necessary road work even more in the future, Woodward said.
But the DOT maintains that it is operating with the right balance of state workers to contractors, even as its own report agrees with the $324 million in lost savings.“The results of this cost evaluation showed a savings if this service were performed in-house. The length of time required to establish and fill in-house positions related to this work would be lengthy, and would likely result in inspection delays,” the report notes.
Judd Everhart, a DOT spokesman, said it doesn’t make sense for the DOT to do the work even if it produces short-term savings.
“Things like engineering and inspection services are performed on a project-by-project basis and it often makes more sense to bring in a consultant to perform the task and be done with it. As you know, state employees get state-paid lifetime pensions and health benefits long after they leave state service,” Everhart said.
Woodward countered that the same consulting firms and consultants have been used by the state for more than 30 years.
“They’ve made a career on the state’s dime and yet they don’t show up as state employees,” Woodward said. “Their companies have made untold profits and continue to be a waste of money for taxpayers. While we do agree that there needs to be a balance between the use of state employees versus private consultants, the pendulum has swung way too far and we are at the tipping point with a dangerous lack of oversight on our critical infrastructure projects.”
Building roads in Connecticut is more expensive than almost anywhere else in the U.S.
The Reason Foundation as part of its annual report on federal and state highway conditions found that Connecticut spent $209,157 per lane mile of road, compared to a national average of $71,117.
On spending, Connecticut ranked 46th in total spending per mile, 47th in capital and bridge costs per mile, and 50th in administrative cost per mile. The administrative cost per lane mile in Connecticut was $35,028 per mile, while the average was $4,501.
The administrative costs in Connecticut include pension costs, which come out of the Special Transportation Fund and have increased over recent years because of the state’s unfunded pension liability. Legislative budget analysts say the Special Transportation Fund is headed for insolvency without a new revenue stream sometime after 2021.
Gov. Ned Lamont has yet to announce how he plans to prevent that from happening following his failed attempt to get the General Assembly to approve tolls.On Monday, Lamont told the Bridgeport Regional Business Council that he plans to roll out a bipartisan plan that includes a “user fee” that will help pay for widening at the seven worst traffic choke points in the state.He said by fixing up the choke points on Interstate 95 they could free up about 20 minutes of commuting time in maybe five to six years.
Lamont had planned to roll out a new transportation plan as early as this week,but the announcement was postponed.
Developer proposes $14M Windsor hotel
A Groton-based developer wants to build a $14 million Holiday Inn Express & Suites hotel on former tobacco farmland in Windsor.
Jimmy Patel has filed an application with the town seeking a special use zoning regulation to allow for the four-story, 108-room extended-stay hotel at 777 Day Hill Road. The hotel would span over 65,000 square feet, Patel said Tuesday.
Mark Greenberg, a prominent landlord in the area, owns the 18-acre site and the abutting land of the Northeast’s largest fastpitch softball facility. Greenberg said he will lease the land to Patel, who will own and operate the Holiday Inn hotel.
Greenberg acquired the site of the proposed hotel for more than $2.2 million in March, land records show.
If approved, a groundbreaking would be scheduled sometime next spring, Barz said.
The site is located near medical-device manufacturer Protedyne Corp. and offices for Hartford HealthCare.
Day Hill Road has been especially active over the last year.
Holiday Inn, which includes the division of Holiday Inn Express, has other Connecticut locations in Rocky Hill, East Hartford, Newington, Vernon, Southington and Meriden.
Sherman considers school construction project
SHERMAN — Instead of spending on repairs and improvements, the school district is looking into another option — a larger construction project.The Sherman School at 2 Route 37 serves children in preschool through eighth grade. Since its construction in 1937, the building has undergone a number of additions and renovations — the last in 2000.
A study of the 85,745 square-foot building by Friar Architecture revealed areas in need of “significant capital investments,” said Superintendent-Principal Jeff Melendez.
The study recommended architectural, mechanical, plumbing and electrical areas needing repair or replacement, including — but not limited to — heating, ventilation and air conditioning, roofing, flooring, piping and ventilation.
The Sherman School is only in partial compliance with National Fire Protection requirements, according to Friar. Not only are the school’s fire protection systems “in need of service,” the report states, but years of moisture buildup have damaged its fire pump equipment, and the school lacks proper sprinkler system coverage.
The school fails to meet some Americans with Disabilities Act requirements, such as those pertaining to walkways, ramps, parking spaces, signs, accessible interior routes, handrails and riser heights, according to the report.
Upon reviewing the facility study report, the Board of Education formed an ad hoc Design and Innovation Committee in April to suggest courses of action.
“The numbers from the Friar report tell us that it’s going to cost millions of dollars to repair. What the committee thought was: If we’re going to spend money, what if we thought bigger?” Board of Education Chair Kasey Diotte said.
“What if we involved other groups from the community? What if this became ‘the center’ of the community, and what could that look like?” she said. “The committee and the board certainly felt it was worth investigating a bit further.”The committee met several times between April and August and took an in-depth tour of the school, Diotte said.
With the committee’s recommendations, Friar’s facility study and enrollment projections in mind, the Board of Education decided to put out a request for proposals and qualifications Sept. 13, seeking conceptual design options and cost estimates from firms.
The district is asking firms to consider renovations and new structures in their proposals.
Firms from across the state responded, Melendez said, and 11 participated in a mandatory walk-through of the school on Sept. 27.
“I was very, very pleased with that robust turnout,” Melendez said at the school board’s meeting on Wednesday.
The deadline for proposals is set for Oct. 25, oral interviews and presentations are scheduled for Nov. 4, and the tentative contract award date is Dec. 9.
The project will be an item on the school board’s agendas until a recommendation is made to the Board of Selectmen, Diotte said.
“It will not be a recommendation for a building project,” she noted. “It would be for funding to engage a firm for conceptual drawings of what this building might look like, and what that cost might be.”
Diotte said she provided an update on the school board’s plan during the Board of Selectmen’s Sept. 26 meeting and got “pretty positive feedback” and “a couple of questions.”
First Selectman Don Lowe said the Board of Selectmen will “gauge (its) interest” based on what the school board presents.
“The BOE and the school’s administration have been doing a great deal of studying and analyzing, so it will be interesting to see what develops,” Lowe said.As part of the project, Diotte said, the school board will consider how the needs of other departments and groups — like Parks and Recreation and the senior citizen community — might be served in a centrally located building like the Sherman School.
Taxpayers in neighboring New Fairfield earlier this year approved a $113.4 million construction project for two schools.