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CT Construction Digest Friday October 11, 2019

State Republican leaders would consider toll plan
Kaitlyn Krasselt
Republican leaders are willing to look at a transportation plan that will include tolls on a limited basis.
That’s a big shift in public dialogue from Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, and House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, who, until now, have said in no uncertain terms, “absolutely not.”
A spokesman for Klarides clarified late Thursday that she does not favor tolls and would not vote in favor of a plan that includes any tolls but is willing to look at whatever plan is put forward.
“If you say ‘Absolutely no tolls, I’m not talking about it, period,’ then you can’t have a discussion,” Fasano said Thursday. “... If I just say, ‘I’m not reviewing your plan because it has tolls,’ that’s not how you get things done. But that doesn’t mean I want tolls.” Klarides, who had previously been even more explicit in her language against tolls, also said that, yes, she would at least look at a new, yet-to-be-released transportation plan from Gov. Ned Lamont.
“A plan is a plan so I’m not going to not look at it,” Klarides said. “We will have the same concern with one toll or 50 tolls, but I want to know any ideas that anybody has.”
It may not seem like a lot, and Lamont certainly isn’t tallying up Republican votes just yet, but the notable change in tone publicly and privately from Republican legislators suggests his efforts to start from scratch on a new transportation plan aren’t completely for naught, even if it includes a few tolls. One House Republican said they personally isn’t opposed to the idea of a “user fee” (that’s code for tolls), if there is a compromise elsewhere. The plan will include tolls. A source familiar with the new plan said tolls will make up between 10 percent and 25 percent of the funding needed for transportation improvements across the state. For some Republicans, it’s not ideal, or even favorable, but it is a little more digestible.
“At 54 (tolls), it’s a nonstarter,” Fasano said. “There’s nothing you could do to get me on board. So now that he’s brought it down, I have to go back and rethink, could there be? With that all being said, I’m not enamored with the idea at all of tolls.”
Not everyone has loosened their grip on the “no tolls” line, though. Rep. Laura Devlin, R-Fairfield, a ranking Republican on the Transportation Committee, maintains she will not support any form of tolling.
Following the end of the legislative session, Lamont and his team completely scrapped their original transportation plan — which included more than 50 toll gantries and never really got off the ground after a shaky spring rollout that included few details — to seek out new ways to fund and improve the state’s transportation infrastructure.
The hope is that funding alternatives, which include federal loan programs with lower interest rates than long-term bonding, would net bipartisan support, and Fasano has had a seat at that table since he and Lamont Chief of Staff Ryan Drajeweicz traveled to Washington, D.C., together over the summer to learn about the alternative federal funding options available for the state.
“These aren’t Republican and Democrat concepts,” said Lamont spokesman Max Reiss. “Sen. Fasano has been a great partner and everyone wants the state to move forward.”
The new plan will also include details about what exactly is being paid for and how, something the original plan lacked in a significant way. That’s partly because the federal loan programs require those details — they want to know exactly how they’ll be paid back — and partly the result of continuous conversations between the governor and legislators, especially Republicans, who want to know what’s being spent and why. Reiss said tolling would be focused around specific projects that provide qualify of life improvements.
Lamont has made dozens of personal phone calls to legislators on both sides of the aisle, and met personally with several Republicans in key districts where transportation improvements may be on the table as part of his strategy in getting legislators on board.
“The point is to let people under the tent,” Reiss said. “This shouldn’t be partisan, and they’ve been appreciative of that transparency. If you’re having a discussion, everyone should be there.”

Eight-figure Stamford sale paves way for senior-living project
Paul Schott
STAMFORD — A 10-acre parcel at 201 High Ridge Road was sold for $12.4 million to an affiliate of the firm that intends to redevelop the vacant lot into a senior-living complex.
Plans for the property call for a 145-unit “luxury” independent- and assisted-living campus called Waterstone on High Ridge. Today, an empty 196,000-square-foot-office building sits on the site, which was constructed as the world headquarters of Waldenbooks and more recently was owned and occupied by General Electric.Newton Lower Falls, Mass.-based National Development and its partner Epoch Senior Living are behind the Waterstone project.
To start construction, National Development plans in November to begin demolishing 110,000 square feet of the existing building. The project is scheduled to be completed in the third quarter of 2021.
At the same time, seller Steven Wise Associates will remain the owner of and redevelop the edifice’s remaining 86,000 square feet, according to commercial real estate firm CBRE, which represented SWA in the sale.
The plan between the two developers “is a classic example of the effective re-use of inefficient single-tenant surplus corporate real estate,” Jeffrey Dunne, a CBRE vice chairman, said in a statement. “In addition, National Development is providing much-needed senior living housing in the Stamford area.”
Steven Wise Associates bought the property from GE, for $17 million, in 2015. That deal, for a site that once housed offices for GE’s treasury department, was made shortly before GE announced it was relocating its headquarters from Fairfield to Boston.
National has developed nearly 30 senior housing projects, which together account for more than 2,000 units. At the same time, it operates as one of the region’s largest property-management companies, with more than 9 million square feet of commercial space and 2,900 residential units.
Its other senior housing projects include the 64-unit Bridges at Trumbull.
Steven Wise Associates’ other properties include the campus at 1 Blachley Road, on Stamford’s East Side, that houses NBC Sports Group and the Chelsea Piers athletic complex.
About a year ago, the city’s zoning board unanimously approved a text change to Stamford’s zoning regulations that paved the way for 201 High Ridge’s redevelopment into senior housing. Unlike other proposed office-park transformations, the modification faced scant public opposition.

201 High Ridge’s overhaul “represents a positive adaptive re-use” of city office parks, Planning Board Chairwoman Theresa Dell wrote to zoning officials last year. “The Planning Board found this request to be compatible with the neighborhood and consistent with (the city’s) Master Plan.”
EAST HAMPTON - There has been “a lot of progress” in the construction of the new town hall, according to one of the project managers on the project.
The progress has been good enough that co-project manager Lisa M. Motto estimates the work will be completed by March 9.
Motto made the comment as she was reporting on the status of the project to the Town Council this week.
The new 33,400-square-foot building will serve as the home for the town hall, police headquarters, and the Board of Education.It is being built inside the Edgewater Hills mixed-use development, on a 5.4-acre parcel owned by the Mottos.
Motto and her husband, Stephen, are acting as project managers for the $18.9 million project.“We still continue to run on schedule,” Motto told the council. “We’ve made a lot of progress. The brick is 100 percent in, and it’s being clean and scrubbed.”
“The fire-proofing has all been done, and (crews) are sheet-rocking” the interior spaces, Motto said.
The vault, which will house the town’s land records, vital statistics and other records, has been installed.
Outside the structure, the binder (or base coat) for the driveway and parking areas “will be put in in the next couple of weeks,” Motto said.
Once the binder sets up, asphalt will be applied.
However, “Everything will be stopped once we get to Nov. 15,” Motto said.
But “And the sidewalks are all in,” she added.
Members of the building committee “have toured the interior of the building, and Steve (Motto) is in there every day” overseeing the work, she said.
“All in all, it’s going very well,” Motto said.
For three decades the town had debated taking action to replace the post-World War II building that houses Town Hall.
However, nothing was done.
Then, in recent years, the issue became more critical.
The building was becoming unstable, the well that serves Town Hall was contaminated, and both the town offices and police headquarters (which is housed in the basement) do not come close to meeting the requirements for access by the handicapped.
Police headquarters in particular was cramped, did not have facilities that would allow the town to hire female officers and was subject to occasional flooding or worse.
A drain malfunction led to a back-up that caused what was politely referred to as “gray water” to flood a portion of headquarters.
After taking command of the department, Police Chief Dennis Woessner told the council the cramped headquarters did not provide the space necessary for a 21st century level of policing that residents could and should expect.
After reviewing a number of options, a deal was struck with the Mottos for the construction of the new building. As work continues apace on the new building, the current hall is for sale.

Norwich voters to decide on $5 million bond in Nov. 5 referendum
Claire Bessette           
Norwich — In addition to decisions on City Council and Board of Education races on Nov. 5, voters will decide in a referendum whether to continue the city’s aggressive effort to reconstruct and pave city roads and bridges, improve drainage and other infrastructure through a $5 million bond.
Voters supported similar $5 million road and bridge work bonds in 2006, 2009, 2013 and 2017.
Public Works Director Patrick McLaughlin released a plan Aug. 5 on how his department would use the bond money, along with the nearly $3 million remaining in the 2017 bond at the end of this construction season.
The city reconstructs six to eight miles of roadway per year at a cost of $350,000 per mile. The city has 162 miles of roadway and has a goal of repaving roads on a 20-year cycle, McLaughlin said.
Using the combined $3 million remaining from the 2017 bond and the newly requested $5 million, McLaughlin outlined proposed road reconstruction projects in various sections of the city. His plan is posted on the Public Works Department page on the city website, He said the schedule is subject to change based on pending utility work by Norwich Public Utilities.
McLaughlin said there are other minor bridges, culverts, guiderails and crumbled sidewalks that need to be addressed. If emergency sidewalk repairs are done, the city would seek reimbursement from property owners.
If the bond is approved, the proposed schedule calls for paving six miles of roads in 2020 in East Great Plain, Laurel Hill, Thamesville and the central city areas, with most of the work in East Great Plain and Laurel Hill. In 2021, the city would pave 7.3 miles, nearly three miles in Thamesville, two miles on the West Side and one mile in Greeneville.
In the third and final year of the proposed schedule, 6.6 miles of roadway would be repaved in 2022, including 2.45 miles in Norwichtown, 1.1 miles in Yantic and nearly a mile in Taftville and Plain Hill Road areas.
Other proposed work includes $500,000 for minor bridges and culverts, $300,000 for sidewalks and $200,000 for guiderails.

Wind company to set up shop on Bank Street in New London
Greg Smith
New London — The joint venture of Danish offshore wind giant Ørsted and partner Eversource, the companies negotiating with the state on a $93 million public-private partnership to transform State Pier, hosted a ceremonial groundbreaking Thursday at the site for its new Connecticut office.
The companies are funding a renovation project on the top two floors of 42 Bank St., the home of Muddy Waters Café. The building is owned by Barry Neistat and wife Susan Devlin, who also own and operate Muddy Waters. Neistat said the building, which was built in 1830 and initially housed a hardware store, has been in his family for 80 years.
The 3,000-square feet of space will include two conference spaces and private offices. The companies signed a lease in December and expect to be in New London for at least five years. Renovations are expected to be completed in 2020, including structural repairs and construction of a back deck.
David Preka, president of Mystic-based Advanced Group, is performing the work.
“The governor, port authority, city and local industry leaders have been fantastic partners, and we are looking forward to beginning constructions on Connecticut’s first offshore wind projects,” Thomas Brostrøm, president of Ørsted North America, said in a statement. “It’s time to set up a permanent presence for the (joint venture) in New London and I can think of no better place than in a historic downtown building with views of State Pier.”

What we know about Gov. Ned Lamont’s $18 billion transportation plan

Gov. Ned Lamont is fine-tuning a 10-year, $18 billion transportation plan, narrowing it down to specific projects in a compromise proposal that he says will make a huge difference, saving as much as 20 minutes each way on various state highways and commuter trains.It also eliminates a previous proposal for electronic tolls on highways and instead relies on low-interest federal loans and tolls only for bridges under repair.  Lamont is looking for improvements at all levels of the state’s transportation network, including airports, roads, bridges, railroad and buses, officials said. As one of the top priorities of his administration, Lamont says transportation is critical to solving the state’s long-running problem with job growth because commuters are stuck in traffic too long as they head to their offices and workplaces. The much-anticipated proposal -- known as CT 2030 -- is expected in the coming weeks, but various aspects have dribbled out in recent days. Here are some highlights: Fixing the worst choke points
Lamont wants to fix specific “choke points” that he says will ease the commute around the state, particularly in traffic-clogged Fairfield County. This idea represents a contrast from Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who talked about widening I-95 from Groton to Greenwich as part of his 30-year, $100 billion transportation plan. Much of that plan was scrapped and downsized as the state legislature balked at the price-tag and Malloy failed to seek re-election. The choke points cited by the Lamont administration include three exits in Milford, where traffic backs up and causes major delays, including the Post Road at exit 39. Like other spots in the state, including exit 5 in Greenwich, the exit from I-95 immediately leads to local roads that are already filled with traffic, particularly in areas where the Post Road parallels I-95. Lamont also wants to improve the northbound stretch of I-95 between exit 18 in Westport and exit 27 in Bridgeport - a critical choke point that brings motorists to Route 8 North and funnels traffic to Waterbury and beyond. "Seven of the worst choke points in the country - according to Trump’s federal department of transportation - are right here in the state of Connecticut,'' Lamont said recently to a union audience. He cited 2.5 miles of improvements on I-84 in Waterbury, which he said saved nearly 30 minutes each way for commuters. Sikorsky Memorial Airport may be expanded
Lamont has spoken to representatives of Tweed New Haven and Sikorsky Memorial airports for potential improvements at the small, regional airports, but administration officials concede that changes cannot be made overnight. The battle over the length of the runway at Tweed, for example, has raged for years as local residents have battled against the noise from both larger planes and more frequent flights that would come with a longer runway. Sikorsky, located in Stratford, could serve travelers from lower Fairfield County who want to avoid New York congestion.
"We need a good, strong, regional airport in south-central Connecticut,'' Lamont said. "That opens up economic development. That opens us opportunity.''Tolls for bridges, not highways Petitions with more than 100,000 signatures opposing tolls were presented to Gov. Lamont during the legislative session. Lawmakers refused to vote for tolls during the regular session, and no special session was called throughout the summer. A recent Hartford Courant/Sacred Heart University Poll found that 58 percent of residents surveyed disapprove of Lamont’s handling of tolls. Now, Lamont has largely dropped the word "tolls'' in favor of “user fee.” He is ditching a plan for electronic tolls at 53 locations across the state’s major highways in favor of tolls at specific bridges that are being replaced or repaired. "This is an historic period where we can get the lowest-cost financing, either from the private markets or from the Trump DOT,'' Lamont told two reporters recently. "It’s incredible to lose this unique opportunity to make a difference. ... I’d like to have a mix of borrowing and a user fee - more on the user fee side.'' Low-interest federal loans
Lamont is seeking low-interest federal loans under the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Build America Bureau, which met with administration officials and legislators recently. The federal loans, at 2%, will allow Connecticut to delay repayment until after a project is completed. Searching for Republican support.
For months, Lamont has said he is willing to compromise and willing to work on a bipartisan basis. He is seeking support from Republicans, who have expressed interest in the federal programs that help provide financing for projects. One major enticement is that the state would not need to repay the federal money until the project is completed. Senate Republican leader Len Fasano of North Haven is still cautious, but he said that Lamont is showing creativity in seeking federal funds. "No administration prior to this one ever suggested these ideas,'' said Fasano, who tangled frequently with Malloy and has disagreed with Lamont at times. Deputy House Republican leader Vincent Candelora of North Branford said he is willing to closely scrutinize Lamont’s plans, but he is still cautious about tolls. "We never wanted to lead with revenue,'' Candelora said of Republicans. But he added that Lamont’s plan deserves further consideration.
"I’m not going to summarily dismiss it,'' Candelora said. Lining up Democrats
To win approval, Lamont will need support from most Democrats in the General Assembly. Democrats hold a 22-14 edge in the Senate and a 91-60 majority in the House
"Frankly, most of the Democrats who come to me privately say, ‘I know it’s the right thing to do, but not now — or I only won by 80 votes or can I do it later?‚’ ‘’ Lamont said. "No. We’re going to do it now.'’ He added, "Democrats, we have a majority in the House. We have a majority in the Senate. Let’s use our majority. Let’s stand up and make our voices heard. What good is being majority leader if you have a majority and you’re not willing to lead? Get up and take the lead.'' An evolving plan
During the 2018 election campaign, Lamont called for highway tolls on trucks only. But he changed course in February when he expanded the proposal to cars, too. The proposal called for more than 50 overhead gantries to electronically charge drivers as they drove on four major highways: I-95, I-91, I-84 and Route 15, which includes the Merritt and Wilbur Cross parkways.
Lamont and other Democratic supporters have described tolls as a user fee for motorists, adding that an estimated 40 percent of the costs would be paid by out-of-state drivers due to deep discounts for Connecticut residents. The tolls were projected to generate as much as $800 million annually.Special session or wait till next year?
Witthout a transportation plan, “the state will continue to fall backwards," Lamont said. "That’s been the very mindset that’s gotten the state into a problem over the last 50 years.''
Lamont says he hopes there can be a special session take up his transportation plan.

Improvements planned to make Naugatuck intersection safer
NAUGATUCK – An intersection officials consider to be very dangerous is a step closer to some major improvements.
Officials are planning upgrades to the offset, four-way intersection of Rubber Avenue, Hoadley and Melbourne streets. The project includes new sidewalks, new crosswalks, repaving the roads in the area, a painted island with arrows on Rubber Avenue in the intersection to guide drivers, and drainage improvements.
“There are no traffic censors and no pedestrian walking features. The old signals don’t meet the current requirements,” Public Works Director James Stewart said.
At its Oct. 1 meeting, the Board of Mayor and Burgesses awarded contracts to A.M. Rizzo Electrical Contractors, Inc. of Danbury for $878,022 to do the work, and to BL Companies Connecticut, Inc. of Meriden for up to $143,000 for the engineering and inspection work.
The borough received a state grant to pay for 90% of the project, and the borough is responsible for the remaining 10%. The borough will fund its share through the five-year capital fund, officials said.
Officials are looking to make the intersection safer for drivers and pedestrians. Naugatuck High School is less than half a mile from the intersection, and students frequently walk through the intersection.Stewart said construction is expected to start next April and finish by July 1.The project coincides with a larger project to reconstruct Rubber Avenue from Elm Street to Melbourne Street. The reconstruction project, which is slated to start next year, will include drainage improvements, new sidewalks and landscaping along Rubber Avenue, and a new roundabout to replace the four-way intersection of Rubber Avenue and Meadow and Cherry streets.

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