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CT Construction Digest Monday 23, 2019

I-84 Widening Project is Finalist for National Award
Twelve winning transportation projects from four U.S. regional competitions, including the I-84 widening project in Waterbury, will battle it out in this year’s America’s Transportation Awards competition, with two $10,000 cash awards for a charity or transportation-related scholarship of the winners' choosing at stake. The broad scope of the projects in the final round include one credited with using drone technology to get transportation systems back up and operating after a devastating hurricane as well as others that endeavor to incorporate citizen feedback and involvement in project design and development.
"This is a significant honor and an affirmation of the innovative approach we have been taking in recent years for major projects," said CTDOT Commissioner Joseph Giulietti. "I am proud of the work everyone did and congratulate the team on becoming a finalist in this prestigious competition. Many of you will recall that the Q Bridge project won the Grand Prize from AASHTO in 2016."
Sponsored by the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials, AAA, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the competition evaluates projects in three categories: Quality of Life/Community Development; Best Use of Technology & Innovation; and Operations Excellence. The projects are also divided into three sizes: small (less than $25 million); medium ($25 million to $200 million); and large (more than $200 million).
The 12th America’s Transportation Awards competition attracted 81 project nominations from 39 state DOTs this year. The three highest scoring projects from each of four regional contests earned a place in the “Top 12” national finals, competing for the national Grand Prize and the People's Choice Award. Both prizes come with the aforementioned $10,000 cash awards.
“These final projects are just a small sampling of the many ways in which state DOTs are making communities safer and supporting economic development,” said Jim Tymon, AASHTO executive director. “Whether deploying innovations to save time and money or exploring strategies to move more people and goods, state DOTs are delivering projects and programs that create a more efficient transportation system for the movement of goods and services.”
An independent panel of transportation industry experts will select the Grand Prize winner, while the general public will decide the People's Choice Award winner through online voting. Online votes will be weighted to each state's population, allowing for greater competition between states with larger and smaller populations. The winners will be announced at the AASHTO Annual Meeting in St. Louis on October 8th.
Online voting is under way and ends at 11:59 p.m. eastern time on Sunday, Oct. 6. Cast your vote at http://AmericasTransportationAwards.org. Individuals can cast no more than one vote per day.
The Top 12 projects in alphabetical order are:
California Department of TransportationHighway 1/Mud Creek Emergency Restoration – Best Use of Technology & Innovation, Medium category.
Connecticut Department of TransportationI-84 Waterbury Widening Project – Operations Excellence, Large category.
Florida Department of Transportation SunRail Southern Expansion – Quality of Life/Community Development, Large category.
Georgia Department of Transportation Northwest Corridor Express Lanes – Operations Excellence, Large category.
Maryland Department of Transportation Dover Bridge Project – Quality of Life/Community Development, Medium category.
Missouri and Illinois Departments of Transportation Improvements for Downtown City of St. Louis – Quality of Life/Community Development, Large category.
North Carolina Department of TransportationUAS Hurricane Florence Response – Best Use of Technology & Innovation, Small category.
Ohio Department of Transportation I-71 & Martin Luther King Jr. Interchange – Quality of Life/Community Development, Medium category.
Pennsylvania Department of Transportation PennDOT Connects/Connecting Communities – Quality of Life/Community Development, Small category.
Texas Department of Transportation US 290 Reconstruction from I-610 to Beltway 8 – Quality of Life/Community Development, Large category.
Washington State Department of TransportationI-90 Snoqualmie Pass East Project, Phases 1 and 2A – Best Use of Technology & Innovation, Large category.
Wisconsin Department of Transportation Zoo Interchange Core and Adjacent Arterials – Best Use of Technology & Innovation, Large category.
Learn more about the America's Transportation Awards and vote for your favorite Top 12 projects at www.AmericasTransportationAwards.org.

On transportation, a moment of bipartisanship

Newington — Democratic and Republican legislative leaders were upbeat Friday after a briefing by U.S. transportation officials about the potential of below-market federal financing for a significant portion of CT 2030, a 10-year transportation infrastructure plan being finalized by the administration of Gov. Ned Lamont.
The Build America Bureau is one-stop shopping at the U.S. Department of Transportation for financing, and a team led by its executive director, Morteza Farajian, briefed leaders on what they say is a flexible menu of low-cost credit — less than 2 percent for highway loans that come with a repayment period of 35 years.
Some of the programs allow the state to defer payments until five years after substantial completion without incurring interest costs during the deferral, a provision that could delay significant debt payments well into the next decade, when Connecticut’s crushing pension and debt liabilities are expected to abate.
Given that some projects can take a decade or more to design, bid and complete, House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said the federal program essentially offers no-cost financing for 15 years.
“When you look at debt service it makes sense,” Ritter said.
The briefing at the state Department of Transportation was closed to reporters, but the remarks offered by lawmakers marked a rare bipartisan moment in a seven-month debate over how to maintain and modernize an aging transportation infrastructure that is one of the obstacles to sustained economic growth.
“I hope this is the critical first step toward a spirit of bipartisanship in addressing Connecticut’s transportation and infrastructure needs,” Lamont said in a statement. “Having Republicans, Democrats, and CTDOT leaders in the room is essential to ensuring everyone is at the table and prepared to transform our state’s roads, bridges, rails and airports in a way that will make Connecticut an even better place to work and live over the next decade and beyond.”Farajian, who declined through the governor’s office to be interviewed, conducted separate briefings for lawmakers, municipal officials and representatives of the construction trades. Municipalities are eligible to seek low-cost financing for infrastructure.
The federal programs provide cheap financing for up to one third of eligible project costs on highways and up to 100 percent on rail. Funding is in place for the programs and not contingent of the outcome of the negotiations between congressional Democrats and President Donald J.Trump over a potential $1.8 trillion in new infrastructure spending.
Legislators say they expect the CT 2030 plan to have some tolling, perhaps for select bridges, but far less than the comprehensive system Lamont proposed in February. The difficult question of how Connecticut would pay its share — whether it could do so within current resources or need tolling or other new revenue — was left for another day.
“We’ll have to have that conversation about how we pay for it. We’re going to have to pay for it,” said Rep. Roland J. Lemar, D-New Haven, the co-chair of the Transportation Committee.
 Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, and House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, and ranking Republicans on the legislature’s Transportation Committee all said the briefing by Farajian, a former state transportation official from Virginia, pointed lawmakers to potential areas of consensus, even if the GOP remains opposed to tolls.
 “I think it’s a big step,” Klarides said. “I mean, I think it’s a big step in regards to something we may be able to get consensus on. It’s something that is fiscally feasible for the state of Connecticut. It’s something that’s affordable and something that has been working in the past, based on the examples they’ve given us, and it is something we should seriously consider.
“So I think it is game changer in a lot of ways.”
A dissenting view came from Sen. Alex Bergstein, D-Greenwich, who faulted the administration and legislative leaders for not pushing through a tolling plan. She was less enthusiastic about the impact of cheap federal financing, saying Connecticut will need either tolls or higher taxes.
“The feds are not going to bail us out,” she said.

 Her tone surprised the other lawmakers.
“I don’t know what meeting she was just in, that’s for sure,” Fasano said.
The Lamont administration is trying to devise CT 2030, a mix of rail and highway programs aimed at cutting car and train commutes over the next decade, as a single, integrated project, an approach that the federal officials say is feasible.
Rep. Laura Devlin of Fairfield, the ranking House Republican on the Transportation Committee, said the GOP has been seeking an integrated, long-range plan allowing the state to accurately gauge its financial needs.
“That’s what Ryan is talking about, so that’s really encouraging,” she said, referring to the governor’s chief of staff, Ryan Drajewicz.
Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, called the approach “holistic.”
The Build America Bureau was established by Congress in July 2016 as a way to provide more flexible financing through some longstanding programs such as TIFIA, the Transportation Infrastructure and Innovation Act, and RRIF, Railroad Rehabilitation and Improvement Financing. Connecticut never has used them.


CT’s small solutions to climate change: Making Bridgeport more resilient

Bridgeport has seen the face of climate change and it is wet.The city’s south end had a gulp of that when it was swamped by Tropical Storm Irene 2011, followed by Sandy a year later – both likely intensified by climate change. Among the hardest hit – low income and public housing neighborhoods.
In the aftermath of those two storms, Bridgeport took the lead in Connecticut’s attempts to participate in two federal recovery programs, competing for funds in Rebuild by Design (RBD) and the National Disaster Resilience Competition (NDRC).
The big bucks went elsewhere, but Bridgeport did come up with some money: $10 million through RBD and $54.3 million through NDRC. Seven years later, the city is coming closer to getting shovels in the ground on projects that will better enable it to withstand the effects of sea level rise caused by climate change.
Earlier this month the final environmental impact statement for the projects – now jointly known as Resilient Bridgeport – was released by the state’s Department of Housing. After 30 days for public comment, a final agreement will be in place in late October. Work should begin by next spring, said Rebecca French, director of resilience for DOH.
“The final EIS is a big milestone. Completing the environmental review process unlocks funding for final design and construction,” she said, noting that, under program guidelines approved by Congress, all funding must be spent by Sept. 30, 2022. This is admittedly a tight deadline, but French said the construction plan meets it, and given the high level of community involvement in the plans, there are likely to be few objections.
“Community participation has been significant. I don’t think there’s ever been a project in the state of Connecticut that has been this heavily vetted by the community,” French said.While Resilient Bridgeport is vastly scaled back from early proposals that would have redesigned huge portions of the city to cope with climate change, it addresses some of the most pressing concerns through three components.
One is the RBD portion at Marina Village, the public housing area that flooded dreadfully in the storms, but also has chronic flooding because it is low-lying and near the coast. The plan elevates roads, creates a stormwater park to gather and drain water, and provides dry access routes for emergencies. Marina Village will also be rebuilt, but that is being handled by the city with separate funding.
Another component is a resilience center that will act as the informational access point during emergency events like Superstorm Sandy. Those details are still being worked out.
The most ambitious and far-reaching component is a massive flood risk reduction project on the east side of the South End. The final EIS chose what French called the preferred alternative for what is essentially a flood wall that wraps around the neighborhood – in some places a visible wall, in other places cleverly hidden.
French considers it the most unique part of the project – combining protection and esthetics.
“It’s going to take the largest area out of the floodplain,” she said. “It’s about reducing flood risk and maintaining the health and safety of the community, but doing it in way to blend into community using urban design concepts,” she said.
In the University of Bridgeport area, for example, it will look like a landscaped berm that will be easy for people to walk across where the road enters Seaside Park.
The project also includes a pump station to eliminate water that might collect behind the berm from storm surges or heavy rains. And the combined sewer overflow that for generations has spilled sewage into Long Island Sound at times, would at long last be separated. Green infrastructure would also be used to supplement new drainage systems.
The protective wall is designed to accommodate 2.5 feet of sea level, which may not ultimately be enough, but the features are designed for adaptation beyond that, French said.What worries her is time.
“What keeps me up at night is that it’s hurricane season,” French said. “That neighborhood got hit in Irene. It got hit in Sandy. It could get hit again. We don’t frequently get hurricanes, but it’s not if, it’s when.”

Lamont scales back transportation funding idea for a new pitch
PAUL HUGHES
HARTFORD — Gov. Ned Lamont is preparing to release a retooled transportation funding plan that he says will include a scaled back highway tolling proposal.
The first-term Democratic governor is trying to reboot after getting shut down in his initial attempt to get a reluctant legislature to vote to bring back tolls to state roadways.
The Lamont administration will propose to leverage federal grants and loans to a greater degree to augment state borrowing, existing taxes and fees supporting the Special Transportation Fund, and new revenue from a more narrow and targeted tolling plan.
Yet, any funding initiative that relies on highway tolls remains a tough sell for the legislature and the general public, may be too hard for the former businessman to close a sale in the end.
“The question is not about tolls,” Lamont said. “The question is about fixing our transportation system in the most thoughtful way.
“Let’s not wait until its broken. Let’s act on it now. Never an easy thing for the legislature, but we are working very closely with the legislative leadership trying to craft a package that has a reliable revenue stream, allows us to take advantage a lot of infrastructure money that we seeing coming out of Washington, D.C., so we can fix our roads and bridges, and start speeding up the gridlock,” he continued.
A now battle-tested Lamont is contemplating a more limited approach to toll bridge projects and projects that target highway bottlenecks, a tolling plan that the governor’s office hopes is more palatable, and, more importantly, passable.
THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT ALLOWS states to put up tolls to pay for new highways or new lanes on existing highways.
The Lamont administration is looking into the possibility of adding toll lanes to stretches of highways or reconfiguring highway interchanges to ease traffic congestion.
Former Gov. Dannel P. Malloy proposed expanding I-95 to three lanes from the New York border to the Rhode Island border. Instead of widening all of I-95, Lamont has pitched adding lanes at certain choke points, such as west of New Haven.
The governor has also argued tolls could help finance an overhaul of the heavily congested interchange of I-91, the Wilbur Cross Parkway and I-691 in Meriden.
“I’m trying to show people comprehensively we can speed up a few of these bottlenecks over the next 10 years, dramatically make a difference,” Lamont said.
STATES ARE ALSO PERMITTED to impose tolls to pay for the reconstruction or replacement of bridges.
There are a number of possibilities in that category. The Federal Highway Administration has rated 332 of 4,238 Connecticut bridges as structurally deficient, and 279 have been rated in poor condition.
There is an ongoing $153 million project to rehabilitate the Mixmaster in Waterbury, the elevated, double-decked interchange that carries I-84 and Route 8 over city streets and the Naugatuck River.
Built in the 1960s, the network of bridges and ramps has outlived its life expectancy, and the needed repairs are meant to extend its life another 25 years, or until the state can afford to replace it. Old estimates have put the replacement cost at $7 billion to $8 billion.
Sen. Henri Martin, R-Bristol, the ranking Senate Republican on the Transportation Committee, remains unconvinced Lamont can get tolls passed, even a scaled back plan.
“Right now, I think the public is pretty clear that they don’t want any type of tolling in the state of Connecticut,” he said.
Martin said many people are still questioning why the state government is unable to maintain roads and bridges with all taxes, fees and state bonding that has been dedicated to support the transportation system.
Lamont is not giving up. He feels a pressing urgency – toll opponents say he is just desperate.I’m here to make a difference, and I’ve got four years to do it, and I’m not waiting,” the governor said.

Revival of Waterford solar plan reason for concern
Deborah Moshier-Dunn and John P. Jasper
Save the River-Save the Hills would like to inform the public about an ongoing threat to the water quality of the Niantic River and two of its major tributaries (Oil Mill Brook and Stony Brook) in Waterford. The developer of a proposed solar array installation, which was "denied without prejudice" by the Connecticut Siting Council (CSC) last December largely because of the negative effects it would have on the two native trout streams on each side of it, has indicated they will be moving forward with the installation.
A “denial without prejudice” allows the developer to return with another plan under the same request for proposal. We feel it is important the public know, because if this project is allowed to move forward, prospective adverse impacts will detrimentally affect not only the water quality of the adjacent brooks, but the Niantic River and ultimately the Long Island Sound.
The current proposal is to install 55,000 solar panels on approximately 90 acres of hilly terrain off Oil Mill Road in Waterford. Installing a solar array of this size on the hilly terrain between two streams that currently support native brown and brook trout is irresponsible development. The developer already has a record of destroying a tributary to the Niantic River in East Lyme (see photo of East Lyme watershed above) resulting in a lawsuit against the developer by downstream landowners. Looking at the devastation after sequential two-inch rain events on the Walnut Hill Road solar installation gives a daunting forecast for the proposed Waterford site which is three times the size.
The CSC wisely denied the developer's petition to develop the Waterford site because it felt the project would adversely affect the environment, causing huge amounts of runoff on both sides of the property. These are not "solar fields,” they are industrial structures made of glass, metal and concrete which are installed on soil that has been physically compacted during the installation process. As seen at the East Lyme site, these ground-mounted solar arrays have a record of destroying water quality around them. The stormwater systems in the solar installations in East Lyme were inadequate to handle the actual volume of runoff generated.
The proposed site in Waterford uses the same faulty engineering and will likely cause similar issues – on a scale three times larger than the one in East Lyme, adversely affecting two different native-trout-stream tributaries to the Niantic River. The Waterford site is a mere 4,000 feet from the Niantic River. The river will suffer if this project goes forward.
In 2014, the design of the solar array installation in East Lyme involved marked earth disturbance over an approximately 30-acre area. Topsoil was stripped and removed from the site and does not appear to have been replaced after mass grading was performed. Site disturbance compacted the native soils to such a degree that rainfall even from the grassed areas runs off and does not infiltrate into the soil.
The engineering design incorrectly considered the solar panels in the array to be “pervious” and thus grossly underestimated the volume of runoff. Even after completion, increased runoff volumes continue to cause adverse impacts to the unnamed brook that runs into Cranberry Meadow Brook and ultimately the Niantic River.
These issues existed in a ground-mounted solar installation in Pomfret, resulting in the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection fining the developer $575,000 for non-compliance with its permit and for the resulting destruction to wetlands by “sediments from the Site going off-site and blanketing thousands of square feet of adjoining wetlands…”
A much smaller proposed solar installation in Killingworth was denied approval in May with the CSC citing water quality issues as the main reason for denial. Current engineering standards used for ground-mounted solar are inadequate because they are based on the incorrect assumption that the solar arrays are on liquid pervious sites. In most cases, however, they are not. The construction of ground-mounted solar arrays creates an impervious site and should be required to have the Low Impact Development engineering required of buildings. It should not be allowed at all in a core forest surrounded by trout streams.
Also, cutting 90 acres of core forest to install 55,000 solar panels — replacing nature's free carbon recycling and storage with hardscape, metal and glass — does not result in a net decrease in carbon emissions in New England. The conversion of active cropland, farm meadow, and forests to a solar array is environmentally irresponsible as these green areas are effective carbon sinks. The vegetations take in carbon dioxide to grow and release oxygen to the air. Carbon is sequestered in the woody material and in the soil in these areas and remain there, unless disturbed, for decades to millennia.
In 2017, the Connecticut state legislature passed a law that effectively bans cutting core forest to put in solar arrays. It states: “The act requires the DEEP commissioner, when considering proposals received after July 1, 2017 in response to certain energy-related solicitations, to consider (1) their environmental impact, including the impact on prime farmland and core forests, and (2) the reuse of sites with limited development opportunities, such as brownfields and landfills.”
Unfortunately for the Waterford forest, the developer petitioned the siting council on a request for proposal that was applied for prior to the new law. That is the only reason this proposal to cut down a core forest has been allowed to continue. It should be stopped.
While the installation of solar arrays has a seemingly appealing environmental and certainly federal-tax abatement appeal, each solar panel only converts about 26% of the sun’s energy into power every year, with this efficiency decreasing by roughly 0.5% per year. Additionally, when the lack of sunny days in Connecticut is accounted for on a yearly basis, the power generated by one of these large arrays is only 22% of the stated power output. Finally, there is currently no present method for the recycling of solar panels.
Brook and brown trout populations are on the decline in Connecticut because of habitat destruction such as siltation caused by solar field installation. Let's protect those we have left and not turn them into drainage ditches. Let's be smart about solar and put solar panels where they belong — on already developed property like a large warehouse rooftop or even a landfill that's been properly capped. Let's keep the forests surrounding our rivers thriving and our rivers clean.

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