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Lamont, Lawmakers Quizzed By Public On Transportation Plan
WESTPORT, CT – Around 400 Connecticut residents turned out to offer their opinions to Gov. Ned Lamont and Democratic lawmakers about a proposal to improve transportation with a plan that is funded partly with truck-only tolls.
Lamont said that over the past year he’s heard from business owners who tell him the reason Connecticut has been last in job creation over the past decade is the transportation system. “Our rail is slower today than it was 10 years ago and 30 years ago,” Lamont said. “You all know that our roads are slower.”
Lamont is trying to use every vestige of his political capital to persuade the Democrat-controlled legislature to approve his $19.4 billion transportation plan over Republican opposition.
While a group opposing tolls boycotted the forum after calling for these types of public forums, there were those in the audience who opposed tolls and got to ask their questions.
Diane A. of Westport said she’s concerned this is just another way the state is trying to increase taxes.
She said she’s afraid “it’s an easy segue to having tolls on everybody.”
It’s an argument the anti-tolls group, “No Tolls CT,” has been making for months.
She also said since the gas tax was supposed to be paying for transportation improvements she wonders what happened to all that money.
“We all love our state, but we’re concerned about how money is being spent,” said.
Sen. Will Haskell, D-Westport, said he doesn’t view truck-only tolls as a tax.
“I really do view this as a user fee,” he said.
He said the maximum amount a large truck would pay in Connecticut for a toll would be $15. He said it costs $100 for a large truck to cross the George Washington Bridge in New York. He said he would like tolls to be levied on all motor vehicles, but “there just are not votes for it in the legislature.” Tolling all motor vehicles wouldn’t be allowed under the current proposal, but it’s unclear how much they can legislate.
Lamont said the gas tax revenue has been declining due to increased fuel efficiency and the introduction of electric vehicles. He said they are doing the best job with the revenue they have, but need to keep up with the “state of good repair.”
Department of Transportation Commissioner Joseph Giulietti said that under the previous plan that included tolling all vehicles, 40% of the revenue would have come from out-of-state drivers. Now, under the truck-only toll plan, it’s estimated 50% of the revenue will come from out-of-state trucks.
He said large trucks don’t stop in Connecticut for gas, so there’s no additional revenue from these trucks that do damage to Connecticut’s roads.
Rep. Laura Devlin, R-Fairfield, who is the ranking member on the Transportation Committee, said if it’s “overweight trucks that are causing all the damage to our roads then why aren’t we opening the weigh stations?”
She said they seemed to be focused on the type of vehicle and not necessarily the weight of the vehicle, “so why are they excluding certain ones?”
Giuletti said their plan is fashioned after the Rhode Island one and includes the same type of vehicles.
There may be future plans to implement new technology and new portable weigh stations, but it was unclear if that’s part of the latest transportation proposal.
Devlin said she hasn’t seen a draft of the legislation, but it’s her understanding that only 1% of the revenue will be captured through truck tolling.It’s estimated that truck-only tolls would bring in between $150 million to $175 million a year.
That revenue will then be used to leverage low-interest federal loans for improvements on 12 different bridges in Connecticut. The plan is also to use $100 million in general obligation bonds to help fund a 10-year, $19.4 billion transportation plan.
Some in the audience questioned lawmakers about the decision to “raid” the special transportation fund.
Haskell, a freshman lawmaker, explained they haven’t taken money from the special transportation fund. Instead, they slowed the amount of new car sales tax revenue, which was added to the special transportation fund to keep it solvent.
Haskell said it’s like if he gave $100 a month to NPR and then decided he was having a tough time and asked NPR to lower the amount to $50 a month before going back to his $100 monthly subscription. “You would not possibly claim that I had stolen $50 from NPR,” Haskell said. “That would be ludicrous and yet that’s the political reality in Connecticut.”
He said that’s the same thing that happened with the new car sales tax revenue.
Devlin disagreed with Haskell’s take on the special transportation funds.
“I am astounded that they continue to mischaracterize raiding verses diverting,” Devlin said. She said they pushed out the new car sales tax revenue on a schedule that doesn’t start for another year.
Haskell said he wanted his constituents to walk away from the discussion Sunday with the number “$15.6 billion”. That’s the amount the state has to spend over the next decade to keep the roads in a “state of good repair.” He said there are a lot of things they want to do like open weigh stations, but “we’re just not able to because we don’t have the revenue at the moment.”
Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, said they all want to get this done as soon as possible, it’s just a matter of working through the issues. According to Lamont, those have been addressed.
Last week, the Senate Democratic caucus asked for a few things to be added to the legislation in exchange for the necessary 18 votes.
On Sunday, Lamont believed all those issues had been “resolved.”
He said the legislature is drafting the final bill and a vote is expected shortly but declined to put a timeframe on debate.
Duff said they were working to finalize legislation and a vote could be held as soon as next week, or right before the start of the Feb. 5 session.
“We all want to get this done as soon as possible,” Duff added.
Lamont says he has ‘resolved’ transportation issues with Senate
Westport — Gov. Ned Lamont said Sunday night that he believes his administration has resolved all issues raised by Senate Democrats last week as a condition of their support for a 10-year, $19 billion transportation spending plan that would require tolls for tractor trailers on a dozen highway bridges in Connecticut.
“It’s been resolved. I think it’s all been resolved,” Lamont told reporters after a transportation forum organized by supporters of his plan, CT2030. “We’ve got it over to the legislative committee. They’re drafting the bill right now.”
Administration officials met Friday with the co-chairs of the legislature’s Transportation Committee to talk about the framework for raising about $170 million annually from truck tolls, a revenue stream that would be blended with sales tax revenue on motor vehicle sales and general-obligation borrowing.
Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, stopped short of saying every issue had been resolved, but he confirmed that work was progressing on a transportation infrastructure bill. The goal is to pass the bill in special session before the regular 2020 session opens in little more than three weeks.
“It’s still a work in progress,” Duff said.
No vote in expected this week.
The legislation would authorize the Department of Transportation to begin work on raising a dozen electronic tolling gantries, while prohibiting the DOT from charging tolls on passenger cars or trucks other than tractor trailers. Revenue would be collected beginning in 2023 by overhead gantries.
The initial rates would be set in legislation. A transportation oversight board would be empowered to raise rates, but not to exceed the rate of inflation, a mechanism common in other states with tolls, according to Joseph J. Giulietti, the commissioner of transportation.According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, at least 31 states have regional or statewide tolling authorities.Last week, some Senate Democrats hinged their support on several conditions, including assurances that the legislation would make clear there is no authorization for passenger car tolls. Others wanted to see a commitment to improved urban bus service and the opportunity for minority-owned businesses to share in the transportation spending.
Lamont, Giulietti and Duff shared a stage Sunday with four Democrats who support CT2030: Sen. William Haskell of Westport, Rep. Jonathan Steinberg of Westport, Rep. Lucy Dathan of New Canaan and Sen. Carlo Leone of Stamford. Leone is co-chair of the Transportation Committee.
Construction unions staged a festive rally and tailgate party before the forum and there was a friendly crowd inside the auditorium of the Bedford Middle School. Each panelist was greeted by cheers.
As panelists spoke, slides from a power-point presentation flashed behind them. One displayed a map of the eastern seaboard, showing every state from Maine to Florida with tolls. The only exceptions were Connecticut and Vermont.
Another showed the aftermath of the 1983 collapse of a bridge that carried I-95 across the Mianus River in Greenwich. Steinberg looked over his shoulder, jerked his thumb at the screen and said, “Remember that?”
In response to the collapse, the legislature established a Special Transportation Fund. The idea was to have a reliable source of money to pay debt service on transportation borrowing by dedicating fuel taxes, certain fees and, eventually, some motor vehicle taxes to the fund.
But when the legislature struggled to balance the budget in 1987, it shifted some agency operating costs from the general budget to the transportation fund. Currently, the operating costs of the Department of Transportation and the Department of Motor Vehicles, including pension costs, are paid from the fund.Lamont said there is no disagreement about the need to address a backlog of transportation projects. More than $15 billion is needed over the next decade to return the state’s highway and commuter rail system to a state of good repair, and Lamont wants additional funding to eliminate highway chokepoints to speed commutes.“It really gets down to how we pay for this,” Lamont said.
The Republican minorities in the House and Senate are uniformly opposed to any form of tolls or new revenue. Republicans instead have countered with committing much of the state’s annual borrowing to transportation, a plan Democrats say would not be sustainable in the face of other needs, such as school construction and clean-water systems.
Senate Republicans also made another proposal to take $1.6 billion of the state’s $2.5 billion budget reserves to pay down pension debt, producing an annual savings of $130 million that could be spent on transportation.
But Lamont has refused to tap into the budget reserves unless they exceed 15% of operating expenses, a fiscal reform adopted in 2017 as part of a bipartisan budget deal. The reserves are now at 13%, but economists fear a coming downturn.
“They were smart when they did that in 2017,” Lamont said.
Connecticut’s habit of setting aside long-term fiscal plans for immediate fiscal and political needs was an issue Sunday night. The panel was challenged by audience members over past “raids” on the Special Transportation Fund.
Haskell and others disagreed with that description, noting that the legislature actually had committed sales tax revenue to shore up the Special Transportation Fund, when fuel taxes provided inadequate. The legislature committed to steadily increase the transfer of tax revenue derived from motor vehicles, with $60 million this year. The transfers are supposed to increase until 100% of the motor vehicle taxes are transferred, producing $424 million in 2030.But if the legislature did not raid the transportation fund, it is guilty of slowing the pace of the transfers. Rep. Laura Devlin, R-Fairfield, the ranking House GOP member on the Transportation Committee, said Democrats are engaging in semantics when they say diverting funds before they were deposited is different from raiding the fund.
“I am astounded they continue to mischaracterize raiding versus diverting,” said Devlin, who watched the forum from the audience. Devlin also said she objected to the use of the Mianus River picture as “alarmist.”
Haskell said one fact is indisputable: The Special Transportation Fund is facing insolvency in the next five years, and the need for new revenue is stark.
“Doing nothing is simply not an option for me,” said Haskell, who unseated a long-time Republican incumbent last year running on a pro-tolls platform.
He keeps a Metro-North timetable from 1963 on his desk in the Senate. It shows that commuters could catch an 8:10 a.m. train from Westport and arrive at Grand Central at 9:14 a.m., a 64-minute ride. The train now leaves at 8:29 a.m. and takes 73 minutes.
Giulietti said the slower times are the result of slower speed limits due to the condition of the tracks and bridges, and the DOT already is working with Metro-North on improvements. Giulietti, a former president of Metro-North, said delays on the shared Connecticut and New York rail system are largely the fault of deferred maintenance on the Connection portion.
Lamont’s truck-tolling plan gets applause in Westport
WESTPORT — Before a supportive crowd in a middle school auditorium, Gov. Ned Lamont on Sunday was greeted warmly for his truck-tolls proposal, aimed at supporting the state’s infrastructure improvements with a percentage of out-of-state dollars.
During a late-afternoon forum in Bedford Middle School, Lamont stressed the need to persuade the Democrat-dominated General Assembly to approve his 10-year, $19-billion transit improvement plan for a variety of economic reasons.
“These are all about good-paying jobs,” Lamont told a crowd of about 350 during a public forum held following an afternoon-long rally of construction workers outside. “Thousands and thousands of recession proof, good paying jobs. It really gets down to how do we pay for this. I think we generally agree how important it is to fix our transportation system”
Sen. Will Haskell, D-Westport, who sat next to the governor on-stage, said it’s important to make large trucks pay a user fee.
Lamont said that the fuel taxes that fund transit improvement are decreasing, while the state’s already-aged bridges. “This is the best deal for taxpayers,” Lamont said. Later, in answer to a question from a toll skeptic, said he doesn’t want to use the state’s emergency reserves. “I think we have a better way of paying for this,” he said. “That’s why we’re here today.”
Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, noted that current transportation crisis is costing taxpayers $1,800 a year in lost time and motor vehicle repairs.
Another panelist, veteran state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, a member of the legislative Transportation Committee, said that the average age of highway bridges is 53. “Bridges and roads built in the ‘50s and ‘60s, it could be argued that they are at the end of their useful life,” Steinberg said.
He said that Rhode Island’s defense of its trucks-only tolls gives state officials optimism.
Lamont said that the plan by Republicans to bond an additional $700 million a year in borrowing is too expensive and doesn’t make as much fiscal sense as truck tolls.
In response to a question on climate change, Lamont said that transportation improvements is a part of the attempt to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, including a big commitment to wind power.
DOT could raise rates and 5 more things we learned from a draft of Gov. Ned Lamont’s truck-only toll bill
The state transportation department would have the power to raise toll rates, starting in 2024, based on a working draft of a truck-only tolls bill that lawmakers plan to vote on next week. That provision could prove to be controversial as anti-toll advocates say that legislators — not unelected officials — should be the ones to raise toll rates in the future. The draft, obtained by the Courant, does not call for towns where toll gantries are located to share in toll revenue. Under previous versions, towns would have received 5% of the toll revenue. But that incentive came in a proposal to toll cars and trucks, generating far more revenue. Estimates of how much the state would collect from truck-only tolls have ranged from $150 million to $200 million a year. The money would help fund a 10-year, $19.4 billion transportation plan. “I think we’re going to have an agreed-upon bill very soon — this weekend — and we’ll be getting together with the leadership very early next week and hopefully bringing it to a vote," Gov. Ned Lamont said Friday. Spokesmen for House and Senate Democrats said no final schedule has been set but sources said a hearing on the bill could be held as soon as Tuesday with a vote as early as Wednesday. The toll debate at the state Capitol has carried on for nearly a year, but Democratic leaders said this week after discussing Lamont’s latest proposal with rank-and-file legislators that they believed they had the votes to pass it. The 15-page draft includes the following:
Only large tractor-trailers
Tolls would only be paid by large tractor-trailer trucks, according to the draft. There would be no tolls, for example, for FedEx and UPS delivery trucks or oil trucks that deliver to homes. Even with fewer trucks paying tolls overall than under previous plans, Lamont said that officials still expect the state to raise sufficient revenue. "We’re following Rhode Island’s example — the big tractor-trailer trucks — taking their law, a law that’s been in operation a couple of years,'' Lamont said Friday. DOT could increase toll rates
The draft states that the state transportation department "may change the fees for using the bridges,'' as long as the increases are not above the inflation rate or the National Highway Construction Cost Index, whichever is higher. The highest prices would be charged on the Gold Star Memorial Bridge on the Groton-New London border and the Charter Oak Bridge off I-91 in Hartford. The base rate would be $12.80 for trucks with a Connecticut-issued E-ZPass. Those without a transponder would pay 50% more.
12 bridges would be tolled
Tolls would be located at the following sites:
- I-84 over the Housatonic River on the Newtown-Southbury border, which is known locally as the Rochambeau Bridge
- The so-called Mixmaster at the intersection of Routes 84 and 8 in Waterbury
- I-84 over Berkshire Road in West Hartford
- The Charter Oak Bridge in Hartford
- I-95 over Metro-North Commuter Railroad bridge in Stamford
- I-95 over Route 33 in Westport
- I-95 over Metro-North railroad in West Haven
- I-95 over Route 161 in East Lyme
- The Gold Star Memorial Bridge between Groton and New London on I-95 over Thames River
- I-395 over the Moosup River in Plainfield
- I-684 over the Byram River in western Greenwich
- Route 8 south of I-84 in Waterbury
No “personally identifiable toll customer information” that is collected by the state can be sold or released publicly, including names, addresses, license plates, photographs and credit card numbers of the customers paying the toll. The information will not be subject to the state’s Freedom of Information Act, according to the draft. But the information could be disclosed in special circumstances, for example, in relation to a search warrant or subpoena in a criminal case.
Punishing ‘toll evaders’Those who skip out on paying tolls could face fines as high as $3,000 if they don’t pay up after a series of notices. And the bill says the state Department of Motor Vehicles “shall not issue or renew the motor vehicle registration” of violators until the tolls have been paid.
Some Senate Democrats said one of their conditions for voting for tolls would be improvements in the state’s effort to hire minority contractors. The draft calls for an analysis of “state contracts of small contractors and minority business enterprises” and whether enough contracts have been awarded to those firms. The yearlong study would then be submitted to the legislature’s labor, transportation and government administration committees for legislative action in the 2021 session.
Lamont, lawmakers, answer questions from toll supporters, opponents
WESTPORT — Before a generally supportive crowd in a school auditorium, Gov. Ned Lamont on Sunday was greeted warmly for his truck-only tolls proposal, aimed at supporting the state’s infrastructure improvements with a percentage of out-of-state dollars from largely interstate carriers.
During a late afternoon forum in Bedford Middle School, Lamont stressed the need to persuade the Democrat-dominated General Assembly to approve — over unified Republican opposition — his 10-year, $19 billion transit improvement plan, for a variety of economic reasons.
He said that a bill is finally being hammered out by legislative leaders, but declined to predict when the General Assembly might take up the long-simmering issue.
“These are all about good-paying jobs,” Lamont told a crowd of about 400 during a public forum held following an afternoon-long rally of construction workers outside on an unseasonably warm day. “Thousands and thousands of recession-proof, good-paying jobs. It really gets down to how do we pay for this. I think we generally agree how important it is to fix our transportation system”Only a few anti-toll advocates seemed to have attended the event, including Joe Scully, president of the Motor Transportation Association of Connecticut, who stood in front of the school entrance with signs underscoring the more than $17,000 a year the average interstate truck pays in road-use fees.
The usually familiar anti-toll core, famous for getting “no tolls” banners into photos of the governor, were elsewhere, campaigning for anti-toll Republicans in a special state House election in Colchester.
Inside, the crowd, while generally pro-toll, included skeptics who questioned the need for bringing back a toll system that was discontinued more than 30 years ago.
After the 82-minute event, state Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-Wilton, a member of the legislative Transportation Committee, and Rep. Laura Devlin, R-Fairfield, ranking member of the panel — both of whom oppose tolls — said that Westport is generally a pro-toll town, and they believe the forum was located there for that reason.
“Westport has always been a little bit different,” Lavielle said, stressing that Republicans haven’t been shown the latest incarnation of the planned legislation. In particular, Lavielle is concerned about whether lawmakers may not have control of future issues, including toll fee rates and the possible expansion to include cars.
“All we’ve heard is that the legislature would not,” Lavielle said.
“There were certainly a lot of things not shared and therefore there were some questions not asked,” Devlin said in an interview. “They are targeting tractor-trailer trucks, which I think are easy for people to visualize,” she said, stressing that it’s actually the weight of trucks that create danger for other motorists and wear down state highways. She noted the need for the state’s weigh stations to reopen.
Sen. Will Haskell, D-Westport, who sat next to the governor onstage, said it’s important to make large trucks pay user fees.Lamont said that the fuel taxes that fund transit improvement are decreasing, while the state’s aged bridges deteriorate further. “This is the best deal for taxpayers,” Lamont said.
Later, in an answer to a question from a toll skeptic, Lamont said he doesn’t want to use the state’s emergency reserves to pay for improvements. “I think we have a better way of paying for this,” he said. “That’s why we’re here today.”
Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, noted that the current transportation crisis is costing taxpayers an average of $1,800 a year each in lost time and motor vehicle repairs. The state’s biggest pollution problem is transportation-related, he said, including cars idling in traffic.
Another panelist, veteran state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, another member of the Transportation Committee, said that the average age of highway bridges is 53.
“Bridges and roads built in the ‘50s and ‘60s, it could be argued that they are at the end of their useful life,” Steinberg said.
After a half-hour of statements from the seven-member panel, questions from the audience broke down around 50 percent from supporters and 50 percent from potential opponents. Throughout the afternoon, construction unions who would benefit from Lamont’s massive infrastructure plan held a rolling demonstration in the school parking lot, including signs promoting CT2030, the name of the governor’s plan. They were given signs that said “Better Infrastructure Economic Development.”
Transportation Commission Joseph Giulietti said that trucks-only tolls would bring in about 50 percent of the estimated $170 million or more from out-of-state vehicles. “This is truly a fair way of assessing the costs,” he said, stressing that every other state along the eastern seaboard tolls vehicles.
He said that Rhode Island’s defense of its trucks-only tolls gives state officials optimism. Connecticut’s relationship with New York State is also very good, with both states wanting the best possible service in the northeast corridor, Giulietti said.
Lamont said that the plan by Republicans to bond an additional $700 million a year in borrowing is too expensive and doesn’t make as much fiscal sense as truck tolls.
“We have more per-capita debt than any other state,” Lamont said. “This is the best alternative I’ve been able to find. The plan makes sense. The numbers add up.”
In response to a question on climate change, Lamont said that transportation improvements are part of the state’s program to reduce the emission of greenhouse gases, including a big commitment to wind power.
The biggest applause of the event went to Haskell, who explained the nature of the state’s troubled fund for transportation improvements.
State Sen. Carlo Leone, D-Stamford, said that the current plan was the result of exempting fuel trucks and largely intrastate trucks. “This is really the big 18-wheeler trucks,” he said. “It’s not the smaller trucks.”
In this affluent town, which is in the heart of the commuter-train region, some questioners wanted to find out how the governor plans to speed up Metro-North service to New York City. “We want to make sure that not only are we doing this for Fairfield County, but the entire state,” Duff said.
WATERBURY — The cost of the ongoing Mixmaster rehabilitation project could be $100 million more than the $153 million specified in the state Department of Transportation’s contract with Chicago-based Walsh Construction.
A list of projects on the state’s website for CT2030, which is Gov. Ned Lamont’s transportation plan for the next 10 years, says the Route 8 and Interstate 84 interchange reboot will cost $235 million to $260 million.
Project overseers say added costs are typical of a rehabilitation project, as discoveries of additional needs are common after work begins.
“We are experiencing some greater quantities of concrete and structural steel repairs, but nothing outside the norm of what was expected,” said Project Engineer David Ferraro of the DOT.
The state has budgeted 10% to 15% of the $153 million contractual cost for contingencies. The DOT estimates contingencies of $15 million to $20 million, along with incidentals of $42 million, according to Kevin Nursick, a DOT spokesman.
Contingencies are unforeseen costs associated with a project, and incidentals are added costs outside of the project scope. When change orders are factored in, the cost could be as high as $260 million, Nursick said. The scope of the rehabilitation has expanded since workers broke ground in June 2018. Still, when the project is finished, the network of ramps and bridges that comprise the Mixmaster will be configured the same way they are now — but with fresh asphalt and concrete, and a like-new appearance.
The work includes replacing the full bridge decks of Route 8 northbound and southbound, along with other repairs to the steel, substructure and joints of both directions of Route 8 and I-84. This will extend the Mixmaster’s life for another 25 years, at which point it will need to be replaced, the DOT says.
The project plans included replacing the Route 8 northbound bridge deck, along with five spans in the southbound direction. But after workers milled the roadway, they realized the deck in the southbound direction needed to be replaced as well.
“We realized it would be more prudent to replace all the decks than to patch them,” said Jim Pelletier, the assistant resident engineer for the project, who works for GM2 Associates in Glastonbury.
For about $2.5 million to $3 million more than initially projected, 21 spans in the southbound direction will be replaced, Ferraro said. At the outset, the DOT planned to replace only five spans.
The savings associated with economies of scale lowers the marginal price per span, he said. It should also reduce future maintenance costs.
The rehabilitation is part of CT2030, which includes investments totaling $19.4 billion over the next 10 years, said Max Reiss, Lamont’s director of communications.
Although 2023 is the first year the state could start generating truck toll revenue, Reiss said the Mixmaster was included in CT2030 because it has been promised for years and is only partway finished.
“We want to make sure those major projects have the spotlight on them so everyone in the state knows we’re taking them seriously and getting the jobs done,” Reiss said.
Toll revenue could be used to offset the cost of the rehabilitation by paying off bonding debt, he explained. CT2030 plans show tolls on both Route 8 and I-84 near the Mixmaster.
“What we end up doing is shoring up the STF (Special Transportation Fund) so all the revenue used to pay for projects like the Mixmaster, even with a new user fee like truck tolls, all goes into the STF,” Reiss said.
While the current project won’t lower travel times or increase capacity, it will strengthen the Mixmaster so it can carry truck loads over 80,000 pounds. These types of loads, which require a special permit from the DOT, will no longer be prohibited, Nursick said.
As the rehabilitation moves forward, a Kansas City, Mo.-based consultant, HNTB Corp., is laying the groundwork for a study of alternatives to redesign and replace the Mixmaster.
Construction on that project is likely decades away, but HNTB has begun collecting data and assessing existing conditions as part of the planning process. The replacement is expected to cost $3 billion to $7 billion. “We’re talking about this potentially being a multibillion dollar project, the complexities of which are extraordinary and impacts of which are expected to be extraordinary, so you’ve got to get the ball rolling early,” Nursick said.
Truck tolls: An explainer
The Mixmaster bridge network in Waterbury is one of 12 locations where Gov. Ned Lamont and legislative Democratic leaders have proposed to set up truck-only bridge tolls.
The daily poundings from heavy traffic over the course of five decades have worn down the elevated, double-decked interchange of bridges and ramps where Interstate 84 and Route 8 converge.
The proposed bridge tolls would be used to offset the $260 million cost of an ongoing project intended to shore up Mixmaster and buy another 25 years of safe use to plan its replacement. Old estimates have put the replacement cost at $7 billion to $8 billion.
Only heavy commercial trucks out of the estimated 150,000 vehicles that travel the busy span daily at this time would be charged to cross the Mixmaster under the tolling plan that Lamont and Democratic majority leaders have outlined.
Just how much to charge and what trucks would have to pay tolls are among the subjects of the ongoing negotiations. These two decisions will have a direct bearing on the amount of revenue that truck-only bridge tolls generate.
One set of potential toll rates under discussion last week proposed a discount rate of $9.60 for heavy trucks using a state-issued electronic pass on the Mixmaster. This was based on a rate structure that Lamont administration floated last month.
As contemplated, toll rates will vary among the selected 12 bridge improvement projects.
The Lamont administration proposed charges of $6.40 to $12.80 for heavy trucks with Connecticut passes in December. Rates were 25% to 50% higher for trucks without a transponder.
The rate schedule from December proposed to charge $9.60 one-way for heavy trucks with a Connecticut pass on the Mixmaster, $12 for trucks registered in a video tolling program, and $14 for all other trucks.
The latest tolling plan also included projects to strengthen a set of four bridges on Route 8 just south of the I-84 interchange in Waterbury and reconstruct the Rochambeau Bridge on I-84 in Southbury and Newtown. The Lamont administration in December proposed rates of $6.40 to $9.60 for each project.
Within a 24-hour period, the administration recommended, trucks with a Connecticut pass would only be charged for one round trip per toll gantry. This one-day limit is being retained in the tolling plan being negotiated now.
Another big question is what trucks will be subject to bridge tolls.
Lamont and Democratic leaders have settled on heavy trucks because too many Democrats oppose tolling passenger vehicles and lighter trucks. With no Republican support for highway tolls, a tolling plan will only pass with Democratic votes.
A consensus emerged last week to exempt all but the largest commercial tractor-trailers using the 13-category classification system that the Federal Highway Administration developed.
Only trucks in class 8 and higher would have to pay bridge tolls. This cutoff will spare lighter commercial vehicles such as box trucks that many small businesses use. The class 8 category includes two-axle trucks pulling one- and two-axle trailers, two-axle tractors pulling one- and two-axle trailers, and three-axle tractors pulling one-axle trailers.
Receipts from truck-only bridge tolls will depend on the toll rates, how many toll gantries are erected, and the number of trucks that have to pay the highway user fees.
The Lamont administration in December projected the planned 12 bridge tolls would raise $197.1 million annually when medium trucks were included as well as heavy trucks.
The decision to exclude medium trucks lowered the amount of anticipated toll revenue. A range of $150 million to $175 million was cited last week based on the rate schedules under discussion.
Lamont and Democrats are planning to use the toll revenue to secure $1.5 billion in low-interest federal loans through the Transportation Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act to finance the 12 bridge improvement projects.
The governor’s office in December estimated out-of-state trucks would pay 50% of the anticipated $197.1 million in road charges. With the exclusion of medium trucks, it was conjectured last week this percentage could go as high as 60%.
Old Lyme solar project moves forward despite environmental concerns
Old Lyme — An 11-acre solar project proposed off Short Hills Road is moving forward after the Connecticut Siting Council approved the project last week.
The Siting Council, which has jurisdiction over approving proposed solar projects in Connecticut, approved the project after solar developer James Schwartz of Cobb Road LLC, an affiliate of the Essex-based Independence Solar, submitted a petition requesting a declaratory ruling from the council in October.
His petition was considered by the council on Jan. 2, along with reviews from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, a bevvy of questions from the project’s intervenor, #SmartSolarCT, as well as letters expressing concerns about the project and its location from the Old Lyme Open Space Commission and Old Lyme Land Trust, among other considerations.
According to Schwartz’ petition, the project would be set back more than a half-mile from Short Hills Road on a 120-acre property owned by Howard Tooker. The proposed property abuts the Old Lyme Land Trust’s Lay Preserve, which adjoins to the McCulloch Family Open Space property.
Schwartz told The Day in November that Cobb Road LLC has negotiated a 25-year lease with Tooker and the project would generate 1.95 megawatts of power to be sent directly into the Eversource utility system. The project would not be visible to passing cars.
Upon completion, the solar array will take up 11.16 acres, with more than 7,700 individual panels. A 7-foot-tall chain-link security fence will enclose the facility, while the remaining 1.56 acres will be used to establish a meadow to support pollinators, such as butterflies.
The project was selected by Eversource and awarded a 15-year contract to participate in its Low Emission Renewable Energy Credit program, helping Connecticut meet its emissions-reduction targets, the petition says. Schwartz said that after the 15-year contract with Eversource expires, Cobb Road LLC will sell generated power on the open market.
As part of its review, the council granted the group #SmartSolarCT intervenor status on the project in December, essentially allowing the group to submit pages of questions pressing the developer and engineers about all aspects of the project for the council to review before making its decision. #SmartSolarCT — which recently was formed and is made up of three members: East Lyme’s Save the River-Save the Hills Vice President Deb Moshier-Dunn, Southbury-based civil engineer Steven Trinkaus and retired Dominion Energy fisheries biologist Don Danilla of East Lyme — has spoken out against other solar projects regarding their stormwater runoff management practices, including a larger array proposed and put on hold in Waterford last year.
As part of its ruling last week, the Siting Council wrote that Cobb Road LLC still must get a general permit from DEEP regulating the site's stormwater management and submit to the council construction site plans that comply with a DEEP-approved Stormwater Pollution Control Plan, as well as other requirements, before proceeding with construction.
Despite that, #SmartSolarCT members said Friday they still worried their concerns, specifically those with the project's proposed stormwater runoff mitigation efforts, would not be adequately addressed.
#SmartSolarCT alleges that Cobb Road LLC’s engineer, All Points Technology Corporation, has not adequately predicted the amount of stormwater runoff that may be generated due to the impervious surfaces of the arrays and, because of that, alleges the developer has not adequately planned enough, or the correct kind, of water catch basins to mitigate and control the runoff.
Schwartz was not immediately available Friday to address #SmartSolarCT’s concerns but has told the Day in the past the project has been well planned and that his engineers are abiding by DEEP's new, more stringent standards for stormwater management, though those requirements are not yet being enforced.
Trinkaus said that if Cobb Road LLC does not address the problem he is alleging, streams running along Tooker’s property will erode and create sedimentation deposits further downstream, potentially damaging wetlands and nearby vernal pools and could eventually have adverse impacts on the nearby Land Trust property, as well as town-owned open space.
“It’s not something that’s going to occur necessarily today. But if they work the site in a certain way and get rainfall on bare soil, you could very easily see destructive issues in Old Lyme,” Trinkaus said by phone Friday.
#SmartSolarCT said it will continue to follow the issue closely and advocate generally for tighter stormwater runoff regulations with DEEP.
DEEP on Wednesday released a guidance document spelling out suggested best practices for solar developers and engineers to follow when developing stormwater runoff mitigation plans. The document is included in a proposed draft of DEEP's new permitting standards regulating stormwater management for construction. In that document, DEEP writes that it is considering the “large amount of impervious surface inherent in the construction of a large-scale solar array,” which “entails challenges not encountered in traditional development projects.”
“If not properly managed through appropriate design and mitigation measures, stormwater discharged during and after the construction of solar arrays can be a significant source of pollution resulting from increased runoff, erosion, and sedimentation, which can adversely impact wetlands or other natural resources,” DEEP says in the document.
However, it does not spell out formal regulations that developers must follow.
“The Department is willing to consider alternative approaches,” DEEP wrote. “To be approved, however, any proposal must address the issues noted in this Guidance as well as demonstrate compliance with the requirements of the general permit. This guidance is provided for informational purposes only and is not meant to modify or replace any provision of the general permit or any applicable laws or regulation.”
Both DEEP and the Council on Environmental Quality were required to review the proposed project and offer feedback to the Siting Council before it made its decision on Jan. 2. In DEEP’s review, environmental analyst Linda Brunza wrote that the developer will register for DEEP’s general permit addressing stormwater discharges, but that the “critical consideration” will be for the developer to “maintain site stabilization during construction,” which also will be reviewed during the permitting process.
Hartford’s DoNo developer commits to building new grocery store
The developer of Hartford’s Downtown North (DoNo) parcels on Friday promised that a grocery store will be part of his plans to revamp the area surrounding Dunkin’ Donuts Park.
Randy Salvatore, founder and CEO of Stamford-based RMS Cos., said he plans to break ground this spring on the DoNo development, a roughly $200-million project expected to bring between 800 to 1,000 new apartments, 30,000 square feet of retail space and a supermarket to the Capital City’s North End.
“We expect to have a grocery store as part of the development, which is much needed in the area, which would be an amenity for residents as well as the downtown and the areas to the north,” Salvatore said Friday morning at CBRE's annual 2020 Greater Hartford real estate outlook breakfast-forum at the Hartford Marriott Downtown.
The addition of a supermarket has been a hot-button topic surrounding the proposed DoNo project in recent years. Local advocates have said the area is a food desert and that a large grocery store is needed to support residents who live there.
On Friday, Salvatore, also the owner and operator of Hartford's historic Goodwin Hotel, offered a glimpse of what the DoNo development may look like.
Phase I of the project, he said, would include a 240-unit apartment building accompanied by ground-level retail space along Main Street. A parking garage in “Parcel C” of the development will also be included.
“It will be an extremely heavily amenitized building, Class A type of structure,” Salvatore said, adding that construction on the first phase will last about 18 months. “We are committed to hiring Hartford residents for construction.”
“Fast-forward six years from now, we are optimistic that this development will be completed bringing 1,500 to 2,000 residents to this area and as well as new restaurants, new entertainment options, community retail and hopefully a grocery store,” he said.
Salvatore and the city are expected to ink a development agreement in the coming weeks before RMS breaks ground this spring, city officials say.
While downtown does not have a large-scale grocer, the proposed DoNo supermarket would have competition downtown.
In November, a new food market launched in a 6,650-square-foot space on the ground level of downtown’s Stark Building.
The so-called Hartford Food Market joined The Greenway Market and New York Market & Deli, both on Asylum Street, purveying fresh and packaged goods to downtown residents and workers.
Mansfield engineering firm CME acquired
ME Associates Inc., a Mansfield-based transportation engineering firm, has been acquired by an international engineering consultancy headquartered in Albany, N.Y., the companies announced Thursday.
CME says it was recently bought by CHA Consulting Inc. for an undisclosed amount. The first step of the combination is a branding change for CME, which will operate as CME Associates, a CHA Company, effective immediately.
CME, named Thursday as a finalist for Hartford Business Journal’s 2020 Best Places to Work in Connecticut awards, employs 85 people at offices in Mansfield, East Hartford, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Texas.
The firm says it typically focuses on complex highway and bridge projects and provides its expertise for accelerated bridge construction.