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CT Construction Digest Monday July 29, 2019

Tolls still a live issue
Eric Bedner
HARTFORD — While the debate over electronic tolls may seem over for the summer, Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney said Thursday that discussions are ongoing and a proposal could include tolling on some bridges combined with additional borrowing.
Gov. Ned Lamont has proposed several variations of a tolling plan throughout the year in an effort to appeal to more lawmakers.
While House Speaker Joseph Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, has been confident he had the party-line votes in the House to pass a more widespread tolling bill, Looney, D-New Haven, has said he did not want the controversial issue to be decided by a partisan vote.
Therefore, he said, he would not call a comprehensive toll bill in the Senate, knowing there wouldn’t likely be a single Republican vote in favor.
Senate Minority Leader Leonard A. Fasano, R-North Haven, said he believes Looney didn’t want to call the issue for a partisan vote in the Senate because “he felt that was boxing his guys into a corner” on potentially the most controversial issue of the year.
Looney said Thursday that he is working with lawmakers to develop a “hybrid, consensus, compromise plan,” that could include tolling on certain bridges and additional state bonding.
When those discussions are likely to conclude is unclear, he said.
The bridge-only proposal is the newest variation of ideas put forward this year, with others consisting of tax breaks for low-income earners, bus fare reductions from $1.75 to $1, congestion pricing, and in-state discounts.
Lamont began his political career with two tolling proposals — trucks only while he was campaigning and on all vehicles after being elected.
Weeks before the end of the legislative session, he scaled back the all-vehicle proposal, limiting the potential number of gantries to no more than 50.
Finally, Lamont most recently proposed placing tolls on bridges most in need of repair, which would not raise enough money to adequately address the state’s transportation needs and would require more bonding.
On the final day of the legislative session, Lamont vowed to call lawmakers back within a couple of weeks to vote on a toll bill, but there wasn’t agreement among legislators and the governor on a tolling plan.
Fasano said the issue was never about partisanship, but rather about a general mistrust in state government’s ability to use toll money properly.
Although toll dollars must be used for transportation, the fear, he said, is that legislators would divert other transportation revenue from the Special Transportation Fund before it were deposited.
The ongoing toll negotiations may come as a surprise to other legislative leaders who feel the toll debate is over for the year.
This week, Aresimowicz, a perpetual optimist, said he believed any toll vote this summer would be a “long shot.”
“Joe will say something after it’s been obvious for a while,” House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, said Thursday. “It’s dead.”
Klarides said she believes the reason the toll plan has been changed so many times is because Democrats did not have the votes for more widespread proposals, despite Aresimowicz’s continuous assertions that he could get a bill through the House.
Regardless, Klarides said she doubts there is a single House Republican that would support any plan that includes tolling.
“I am not even open to one toll, and my caucus isn’t even open to one toll,” she said, adding that if a small number of gantries were constructed, they would become more widespread over time.
While agreeing that other projects would be delayed, Klarides said she will continue to push for the Republican “Prioritize Progress” plan that relies entirely on bonding to cover transportation costs.
She said she would continue to oppose tolls no matter how many years the debate goes on.
“I’m prepared for any fight every session and every day if I believe it’s what is best for the state of Connecticut,” Klarides said.
Fasano said Democrats and Lamont are negotiating a bond package that could call for as much as $1.7 billion in borrowing, $200 million less than the bond cap.
This, he said, would give legislators a little room to bond more for transportation. Admittedly, other projects, such as capital improvements to state-owned buildings, would have to wait. Other bonding items, he said, are often pet projects and “political payoffs.”
Fasano compared the state’s priorities to homeowners with crumbling foundations, saying if there is a major issue that needs to be resolved, it should be addressed before spending money on luxuries.
‘We may have to be a little sharper with our pencils,” Fasano said. “We need to put transportation first and take a breather on some of these other things.”
 
Connecticut DOT launching retooled website
HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — The Connecticut Department of Transportation is launching a retooled website.
The public can begin using the updated site on Monday. While it will have a fresh look, the website will include much of the same information on the existing site, including traffic cameras, news releases, information on how to do business with the agency and information about DOT programs and services.
The site also includes information about highways and bridges, public transportation, bicycle and pedestrian issues, highway safety and non-discrimination policies.
Users who previously signed up for electronic alerts for DOT news and information should continue to receive them under the new website. The new web address will be https://portal.ct.gov/dot .

CT DOT leader reassures legislators about Arrigoni Bridge
Jeff Mill
PORTLAND — The commissioner of transportation has sought to allay concerns about the involvement of a Florida company linked to a fatal bridge collapse being chosen to monitor repairs to the Arrigoni Bridge.
State Sen. Norm Needleman and state Rep. Christie Carpino had written to Joseph Giulietti, the commissioner of the Department of Transportation , expressing their concerns about Figg Bridge Group’s role in the planned renovation of approaches to the bridge.
In 2018, Figg was involved in the collapse of a pedestrian bridge in Miami that killed six people and left eight other people with injuries of varying severity.Responding to concerns from a resident, Portland First Selectwoman Susan S. Bransfield asked Needleman, an Essex Democrat, and Carpino, a Cromwell Republican, to look into the matter.

Earlier this month, the two legislators sent a joint letter to Giulietti in which they referred to the Miami incident and said, “Based on the company’s past safety record, we have some serious concerns” about Figg’s role in the Arrigoni Bridge project.
The DOT expects to spend $40 million to repair and/or replace structural support steel supports beneath the approaches to the 73-year-old bridge that links Portland and Middletown.
The work is scheduled to begin in 2020.
After the letter was sent to Giulietti, Carpino said, “A tragedy occurred in Florida and we want to ensure that another one doesn’t happen here.”
The DOT commissioner responded, taking “this opportunity to reassure you as well as dispel any potential misperceptions of misunderstandings moving forward, regarding the inspection of the upcoming Arrigoni Bridge rehabilitation project.”
Figg’s role in the bridge repair project involves “project oversight,” Giulietti said.
“Their particular role will be to perform Construction Engineering and Inspection (CEI) services.”
While CEI services are sometimes performed by DOT staff, at other times, “particularly on larger more complex projects (CEI in performed) by private sector consultant engineering firms, like Figg,” he said. “In essence, their role is quality assurance.”
In that role, Figg employees will “affirm that the prime contractor is upholding its end if the contract,” the commissioner said.

DOT has worked with Figg on a number of projects, including construction of a bridge in New Haven and the recently completed reconstruction of the southbound portion of the Gold Star Memorial Bridge from Groton to New London, Giulietti said.
“Combined, the Figg team on the Arrigoni Bridge project has more than 90 years of CEI experience,” Giulietti wrote.
He also identified “two important distinctions that are pertinent and need to be made.”
“First, no one on the Figg team for the project was involved in the work in Miami,” he said. “Second, Figg’s role in Miami was not for CEI services but rather they had a role in the design of the actual structure.“CEI services and ‘Design’ are distinctly different aspects of the industry,” Giulietti.
He closed by assuring the two legislators that “the public’s safety…is always our top priority.”
In a letter this week, Needleman and Carpino thanked Giulietti for his letter, saying it “provides significant and important details as to Figg’s role” in the Arrigoni Bridge projects.
They also welcomed Giulietti’s “confidence in the project.”
 However, “As the project…represents a major transportation and economic opportunity for impacted towns, we are adamant that safety remains the foremost aspect of the work,” the two legislators said.
Consequently, “We request that we remain updated on the progress of the bridge construction in (the) coming weeks and months. We would like to request a meeting closer to the start of the project to discuss the safety protocols in place,” they said in closing.

Eversource gives up on Northern Pass hydropower project
MICHAEL CASEY
CONCORD, N.H. (AP) - After nearly a decade of protests, hearings and court fights, the Northern Pass hydropower project that promised to bring hydropower from Canada to southern New England is dead.
The company behind the plan, Eversource, announced Thursday it was abandoning the project after suffering a defeat in the New Hampshire Supreme Court.
"It is clear there is no path forward," Eversource spokesman William Hinkle said in a statement. "The need for new sources of abundant, low-cost renewable energy in New England remains urgent, and we will continue working toward new, innovative solutions that lower costs for our customers, improve reliability and advance clean energy."
Though expected, the announcement by Eversource was a significant setback for a company, which has repeatedly promised that Northern Pass would be built by 2020.
Despite framing the project as a win for the environment and economy, Eversource was never able to overcome opposition from a determined collection of town officials, environmentalists and residents who opposed the project. Often clad in orange in the numerous public hearings, opponents argued that the project would damage the state's tourism economy and destroy rural communities.
"It's good that Eversource is finally accepting the reality that Northern Pass is dead," Jack Savage, a spokesman for The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. "It's a relief to the many thousands of landowners and residents who have opposed this project for almost nine years."
Eversource's proposal called for building a 192-mile (310-kilometer) transmission line across New Hampshire to supply power to almost a million homes in southern New England. It argued that the $1.6 billion project would bring clean energy to the region and help the economy. It spent $318 million on the project, according to a filing with the Security and Exchange Commission and will write off $200 million after taxes.
The company initially had the support of Republican Gov. Chris Sununu, received a series of federal approvals and was chosen to provide much-needed clean energy to Massachusetts.
But members of the Site Evaluation Committee, which would cast the critical vote, questioned the project's promised benefits and worried about the impact it would have on rural communities. They unanimously defeated the project last year amid concerns that towering transmission lines would hurt property values, tarnish scenic views and scare off tourists that come for the fall colors. Many opponents also worried that months of construction would disrupt businesses and cause traffic delays.
The company responded to the rejection by saying it would spend hundreds of millions of dollars to compensate property owners, fund energy efficiency programs and help low income residents in a last-ditch effort to salvage the project.
But the committee denied the appeal, and the court affirmed the committee's ruling. That prompted Sununu, one of the most prominent backers of the project, to pull his support.
The project's defeat prompted Massachusetts to shift to a similar one that would bring Canadian hydropower through transmission lines in Maine. The $1 billion New England Clean Energy Connect has won the support of Maine Gov. Janet Mills. The Maine Public Utilities Commission also gave its approval, but several other agencies must sign off on the project.

Cheshire developers eyeing hotel, residential, retail space
Joe Cooper
pair of Cheshire developers is looking to build a sprawling mixed-use development on two local vacant properties that could house an assortment of hotel, residential living, restaurant or retail space, among other uses.
The proposal by Miller Napolitano Wolff LLC and Tri-Star Development LLC scored a major victory this week as the town’s Planning and Zoning Commission overwhelmingly approved their subdivision application requesting to split 1953 and 2037 Highland Ave. into eight lots.
The developers first pitched a rendering of what the proposed North End development could look like in 2018 during a zoning commission meeting, Cheshire Town Planner William Voelker said Friday.
The preliminary plans, which have been largely unchanged, show a variety of uses to woo potential investors.
Miller Napolitano Wolff LLC acquired the two parcels for more than $1.4 million in July 2005, town records show. The total acreage of the two properties was not immediately clear Friday.
Several developers have sought to develop the vacant land in recent decades, Voelker said. Mass.-based real estate developer WS Development was the last group that eyed development there, but later nixed its plans in 2015, he said.
The town’s initial approval this week gives the current developers an opportunity to market the properties to prospective vendors who may be interested in occupying a portion of the lots, Voelker said.
Plans for the development are likely to change depending on how the land is used, so the price of the development and its potential footprint in terms of square footage have not yet been determined.

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