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CT Construction Digest Thursday August 22, 2019

It’s time to act on tolls: Op-ed

Gail Berritt and Sean Goldrick
It’s time for the Democratic leaders of the General Assembly to demonstrate courage, call the Legislature into special session, and enact tolls. They need to stop dithering, and pretending that they need Republican votes. Republicans, demonstrating shameless hypocrisy, will never support tolls. It’s up to Democrats. And Democrats need to get it done now.
Why must we collect tolls? Because according to the 2017 report by TRIPnet, a transportation research organization, 57 percent of Connecticut’s roads are in poor condition. Because according to the group’s 2018 report, three out of five Connecticut bridges are more than 50 years old, making our state the 4th worst in terms of aged and dangerous bridges — 8 percent of all of our bridges are rated “structurally deficient,” and those structurally deficient bridges are on average 69 years old. And it gets worse. A list of the 250 most heavily traveled structurally deficient bridges compiled by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association reveals that 25 of them are here in Connecticut.
Our small state accounts for 10 percent of the most dangerous highly traveled bridges in this country.
What happens if we don’t raise revenue to repair those bridges? We only need to look to 1983, when the Mianus River Bridge collapsed in the middle of the night, hurtling five people to their deaths on the rocks below. Its neighbor, the Byram River Bridge, which also carries I-95 traffic into the state, is among the most highly traveled bridges rated “structurally deficient.” How many people will die this time if the Byram River Bridge collapses not in the middle of the night, but at 5 p.m. on a Friday? How many lives are we willing to risk before taking decisive action to raise revenue to make the repairs that we know must be made?
Let’s be clear: Tolls are the most cost-effective way to raise that revenue. According to Gov. Ned Lamont’s plan, and supported by the 2018 Connecticut Department of Transportation study, 40.6 percent of toll fees will be paid by out-of-state drivers. There is no other user fee or tax that we can possibly implement that will result in people from other states contributing 40 percent of the funds we require for our infrastructure. And the federal government is not coming to our rescue. While barely a decade ago, the federal government contributed over half of the funds spent on transportation infrastructure in our state, today that figure is down to a third.
And let’s be clear that Connecticut is not going off on a crazy strategy of taking money from the pockets of its residents. According to a 2018 PEW report, “at least a half-dozen states from Florida to Colorado are slapping tolls on roads that used to be free or building toll-only lanes this year, and many more are expected to do so next year. It all shows how, despite the nation’s relatively robust economy, even the most basic state services — providing roadways, bridges and tunnels — are still being squeezed.”
And, let’s dispose of the Connecticut GOP’s charade, “Prioritize Progress.” That plan includes borrowing some $700 million every year in general obligation bonds, with interest and principal paid 100 percent by Connecticut taxpayers. The result: Connecticut will add millions of dollars to its credit card debt that will have to be paid back at high interest rates by you and me and our children. Republicans claim that they will not raise borrowings, but instead will stop borrowing for other requirements. The absurdity of that claim is belied by the fact that the GOP refuses to tell taxpayers exactly what will be cut in this “prioritizing.” School construction, which annually comprises between a fifth and a third of total state borrowing? Higher education? Affordable housing? The Republicans won’t say because the outrage at their plan if it were to become clear would be instantaneous and deafening.
So, what’s the alternative if tolls don’t happen? Some are recommending a Connecticut gas tax increase back to the 1990s rate of 39 cents per gallon from its current level of 25 cents. But raising the state’s gasoline tax is not only regressive, it also is paid overwhelmingly by local residents, as opposed to tolls which collect far more from out-of-state drivers.It’s clear that we need to return tolls to Connecticut. It’s time for Democratic leaders to stiffen their spines and get tolls passed. Republicans, no doubt, will wait until bodies are once again pulled from the rubble. Democrats need to take action before that happens. No more dithering.
Pick up your phone. Tell your legislator to implement tolls now.

Middletown middle school project runs into hitches during demolition
Cassandra Day
MIDDLETOWN — The discovery of asbestos during the demolition process at the middle school, while unexpected, won’t delay the start of classes or pose a danger to students, officials said.
Construction at Woodrow Wilson Middle School on Wilderman’s Way is expected to be finished within a week, just in time for the first day of school on Aug. 29.
Middletown Public Schools Director of Operations Marco Gaylord said crews are working to safely remove the material, which could pose a health risk after repeated exposure.“These things happen when you do these projects,” he said.
Once finished, Woodrow Wilson will incorporate seventh- and eighth-graders who attend at the facility with sixth-graders from Keigwin Middle School on Spruce Street.
City officials and Board of Education members haven’t yet determined what Keigwin’s future use will be.
Asbestos was used in almost every public and commercial building constructed before the 1980s in the United States, according to Asbestosnetwork.com.
It presents a hazard when breached, because fibers containing the material may be released into the air. The accumulation of asbestos due to repeated exposure could lead to diseases, including lung cancer and more rarely, malignant mesothelioma, according to the organization.
During the demolition process, when the auditorium, music rooms, main office and guidance department areas were knocked down, workers discovered asbestos between the exterior wall of the building and cinder blocks, Gaylord said.
He consulted Wednesday with the project manager of Torrington-based O&G Industries, which is overseeing construction, and district Facilities Director Peter Staye about the issue.
The state of Connecticut has granted the schools a deadline extension until Sept. 3 to get the work done, which Gaylord said may be unnecessary.
He will send a letter to parents and staff about the matter.
Another unforeseen complication arose when the aging electrical wiring for the security and fire systems had to be redone in the “main hub” of the building, Gaylord said.
“That slowed us up a little bit, but everything is moving forward, and we’re going to be ready for Day 1 for the kids to come back,” Gaylord added.
The new parking lot at the southwest portion of the building is being built now, along with a new driveway and bus loop. Paving is expected to begin Thursday, he said.
In the 1970s, the main office was by the gymnasium, where they boys team rooms used to be, Gaylord said. Once located at the entrance of the school, administrative offices have returned to the original location.
Phase 1 of the of the $87.35 million plan includes knocking down the auditorium and administrative offices, as well as the creation of temporary bus loops and parent drop-off/pick-up areas, according to Common Councilwoman Mary Bartolotta, chairwoman of the Middle School Building Project Committee.
Until the new school is complete, assemblies will be held at Middletown High School, Bartolotta said.“It’s crunch time: full-steam ahead. Everyone is working around the clock to get things ready, including Saturdays and Sundays,” Gaylord said.
The city will hold a groundbreaking in September following the completion of Phase 1.

Fasano calls for probe of port authority contracts and bids
Julia Bergman
State Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano of New Haven is calling for an "immediate legal and financial examination" of all contracts and bids under the purview of the Connecticut Port Authority since its inception.
Fasano wrote a letter Wednesday to Attorney General William Tong and Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management Melissa McCaw asking them to review all current contracts, past contracts and bids signed by the port authority.
Elizabeth Benton, spokeswoman for the attorney general, said Tong's office is reviewing the request. OPM spokesman Chris McClure said that office will give the request "due consideration as we continue our exhaustive review of the port authority's finances and operations."
Fasano, in his letter, acknowledged efforts by Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont to increase financial oversight of the port authority such as directing an independent audit of the agency's finances and management practices and placing McCaw in charge of financial decision making at the authority.
"While those are important steps, I believe we are missing a needed joint effort to immediately examine information available to the state today from both a legal and financial perspective," Fasano said.
The results, he said, will help the administration in overseeing financial decisions for the port authority going forward.
The port authority receives about $400,000 in state appropriations annually, in addition to revenue from leasing State Pier, which it owns, in New London. In fiscal year 2019, the port authority had about $1.7 million in operating revenue. Salaries, fringe benefits and other contractual services make up most of the port authority's expenses.
Emails to and from port authority officials that The Day received through a Freedom of Information Act request raise questions about discretionary spending at the quasi-public agency, including the selection of an interior designer to outfit its Old Saybrook office, a payment made to a daughter of a board member for artwork that hung in the office, and a contract for marketing and communications work.
More major action taken by the port authority includes signing a long-term agreement earlier this year with New Haven-based port operator Gateway to manage State Pier, and negotiating a planned $93 million public-private investment at the facility to enable it to be used as a staging area by the offshore wind industry. A public meeting to detail the harbor development agreement intrinsic to those negotiations, which are ongoing, will be held on Sept. 17 in New London, with an exact location to be determined.
The most recent audit of the port authority by state auditors found that it did not have basic accounting and personnel practices in place. The audit covered the 2016 and 2017 fiscal years.
As a result of a complaint received by state auditors in late May related to mismanagement and misuse of funds at the port authority, the office decided to immediately conduct the next regular audit of the agency, which includes a review of procurement and contracting processes. The office is working expeditiously to complete that audit, which is expected in next couple of months.
These issues were the subject of a five-hour hearing convened Tuesday by the General Assembly's Transportation Committee. Those involved in the decision-making at the port authority, including Executive Director Evan Matthews, who is on paid administrative leave for comments he made to the news media, and Scott Bates, who served as chair of the port authority's board from its inception until June and is also deputy secretary of the state, were not present at the hearing.
Fasano on Tuesday asked Secretary of the State Denise Merrill to temporarily remove Bates from his post as deputy pending further review of his role at the port authority. House Republican Leader Themis Klarides, also on Tuesday, called for Bates to resign immediately.
Bates did not respond to an email requesting comment Wednesday. An out-of-office message says he's out of the country for a family event.

Asbestos, Glass Have Been Reported For Years At Fairfield Sites
Anna Bybee-Schier
FAIRFIELD, CT — Officials are rushing to test Fairfield school and park property for contaminants in connection with an investigation of the town public works yard and the company contracted to run it. But records show that suspected asbestos and broken glass were reported at some of the testing sites as many as five years ago, and no tests were conducted after those early reports.
The town announced Friday that 20 sites, including nine schools, had been identified as priorities for testing after asbestos shingles were found this month along a stretch of sidewalk at Gould Manor Park. The high-priority sites all received material from the public works yard between 2013 and 2016, when contractor Julian Development was operating the facility. Reports of suspected asbestos and broken glass at Gould Manor Park and other areas in town date as far back as the second year of Julian's contract to run the yard.
Emails sent between January 2014 and May 2015 that were provided to Patch indicate that Fairfield resident Dana Kery contacted public works in January 2014 about possible asbestos and broken glass in the fill around the Gould Manor Park sidewalks. Kery's initial email resulted in an exchange about how best to address the issue. She sent another email in August of 2014 to several local officials, including First Selectman Mike Tetreau, stating the debris was still visible.
"I would like to know the source of the fill that was used, and how this can be remediated," Kery said.
Director of Public Works Joe Michelangelo, who is currently on leave in connection with the investigation, replied to that email.
"The material at Gould Manor is not acceptable," he said. "I am not sure what happened, but somehow a bad batch got into the mix. We will remove it an (sic) replace it with proper topsoil, and we will start this week."
In April 2015, Kery emailed Michelangelo, Tetreau and Superintendent of Public Works Scott Bartlett, who is also now on leave. She said that the debris was partially covered by topsoil and seed, but not removed.
"I do not see how covering half of the problem solves the problem," she said.
Later that month, Kery and Bartlett via email discussed plans to meet and review the situation. In May 2015, she sent an email thanking Bartlett for fixing the issue.
Tetreau said Tuesday that, to his knowledge, the suspected asbestos was not tested after Kery's complaint.
"It should have been tested," said Tetreau, a Democrat. "... I am not clear on why it wasn't."
Results released by the town Tuesday revealed elevated levels of arsenic and lead in soil at Gould Manor Park, while results made public last week confirmed the presence of asbestos shingles. The testing was conducted after Fairfield police and the state's attorney requested the area be evaluated by the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection due to concerns that contaminated fill from the public works yard was used for a 2013-14 sidewalk project.
Kery, a Republican who is running for a seat in Representative Town Meeting District 7, said via email last week that she recently contacted police about the suspected asbestos at Gould Manor Park, although she was unsure if anyone else also notified law enforcement.
"I believed the timing of Julian beginning the contract with Town of Fairfield and the installation of the fill was possibly connected," she said.
The situation with Gould Manor Park is not the only time concerns have been raised about unsafe material on Fairfield property. In 2015, the Parks and Recreation Commission discussed the discovery that fill material on town fields contained glass, according to commission meeting minutes from spring of that year.
"DPW evidently took the fill from the wrong pile," the minutes said.
Parks and Recreation Department Director Anthony Calabrese said glass was found on five fields in 2015, all of which are on the recently released list of high-priority testing sites. At the time the glass was discovered, the fields were shut down immediately and the topsoil was removed and replaced, according to Calabrese. No contamination testing was done.
"I don't believe anybody knew that the fill pile at DPW could've been contaminated," he said.
Fairfield hired Julian Development in 2013 to run its public works yard and reduce the size of a pile of leftover project material on the property from 40,000 cubic yards. Over the course of the three-year contract, the pile more than doubled in size, and days before the contract was set to end, contamination was discovered on the property. After conservation officials said the transportation and dumping of contaminated material could have violated state or federal law, police opened an investigation.
Michelangelo, Bartlett and Julian Companies Owner Jason Julian were arrested earlier this monthand are accused of crimes including larceny, forgery and dumping. The majority of the crimes are alleged to have occurred during the years Julian Development was under contract to operate the yard on Richard White Way.
In addition to the criminal case, Fairfield has sued Julian for about $3 million in costs associated with the yard and Julian has sued the town for defamation.

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