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CT Construction Digest Tuesday November 26, 2019

Lamont, legislators to reopen transportation talks today
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Legislative leaders are going to the Executive Residence today to talk to Gov. Ned Lamont about the prospects of passing a transportation financing bill in special session, uncertain if the governor is ready to commit to one of the two competing ideas outlined by Senate Republicans and House Democrats.
Based on his public statements in recent days, Lamont is inclined to reject a Senate Republican plan that would use nearly two-thirds of the budget reserves and instead embrace a House Democratic proposal for trucks-only tolls as a key element in a dedicated revenue stream necessary to obtain low-cost federal financing.
“I would hope at this meeting at least some lines are drawn, that everybody expresses where their lines are,” said House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby. “Do we go forward on this or do we not?”
If Lamont endorses trucks-only tolls, lines will be drawn: With GOP leaders saying they are unalterably opposed to tolls or other sources of additional revenue, the Democratic governor presumably would then open direct talks with the Democratic majorities in the General Assembly.
“We need to know,” said Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven.
But it was unclear Monday if Lamont was ready to abandon all hopes of bipartisan support for a 10-year plan of transportation improvements that he says would spark economic growth by creating 26,000 construction jobs and speeding commutes by modernizing Metro-North and eliminating highway chokepoints.
Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said he did not know what to expect.
“I don’t know what the agenda is,” Fasano said.
Max Reiss, the governor’s communications director, declined to say precisely what the governor intends to tell lawmakers, but observed it is time for policymakers to at least broadly assess the varying approaches and talk about finding a path forward.“It makes the most sense to sit down and discuss where we are and then make a decision about what the coming weeks and months will look like,” Reiss said.
The timing of the meeting is awkward. Lamont and many legislators plan on attending the funeral of Rep. Linda Orange, D-Colchester, in the morning, then return to Hartford to meet  at the governor’s official residence.
Thanksgiving travel plans ruled out another day this week.
The meeting today comes as a coalition of unions, construction companies, regional councils of government and chambers of commerce urged legislative leaders to enact a transportation financing scheme by year’s end.
“We believe this matter demands your utmost attention,” they said in a letter. “Despite each of you acknowledging that Connecticut is facing transportation funding challenges, the state’s transportation systems are stifling mobility and spiraling into a state of disrepair.”
They said an additional $400 million in annual transportation spending is needed to maintain a state of good repair and incidental upgrades and another $300 million is needed for projects to improve travel times.
A struggle to finance transportation for the next decade has dominated the governor’s first 11 months in office.
 “There are just some issues that are very difficult to pass,” said House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford.In February, Lamont proposed charging tolls on cars and trucks at 50 points on Route 15 and Interstates 84, 91 and 95. It never came to a vote. On Nov. 7, Lamont released a plan calling for 14 tolls on all motor vehicles, but Senate Republicans and Democrats leaders quickly responded that their caucuses would not support tolls on cars. 
But the transportation spending priorities in his plan, CT2030, were broadly applauded. Unlike the original proposal, the new version made a case for why the projects were needed and how they would improve the quality of life in Connecticut. And the administration also added a new element: relying on low-cost federal financing.
The Democratic administration has established a working relationship with the Trump administration on transportation. The director of the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Build America Bureau visited Connecticut to brief lawmakers on available federal aid, and the governor’s chief of staff, Ryan Drajewicz, has been invited to participate next week in a Build America panel discussion in Washington.
The Senate Republican minority offered an alternative to tolls or other new revenue: Using two-thirds of budget reserves to pay down unfunded pension liabilities, freeing up $130 million in annual pension contributions that could be directed to transportation.
Lamont and Democratic legislators said they were uncomfortable drawing so deeply on reserves. House Democrats responded with a trucks-only tolls proposal, the campaign position of Lamont.
Fasano said the only fully vetted plans are the ones proposed by the governor and the Senate Republicans. The House Democratic plan is conceptual, not fully realized, he said.
“You’ve got a concept,” he said. “There are a lot of questions.”
If Lamont passes a transportation financing plan with only Democratic votes, the governor will have to compromise on his so-called “debt diet,” his insistence on spending less than $1 billion a year in new general obligation bonding. Between 2012 and 2019, the state issued an average of $1.59 billion annually in general obligation bonds.G.O. bonds are the principal means used to finance municipal school construction, capital projects at public universities — as well as various community-based initiatives in legislators’ districts — and are repaid from the budget’s general fund. Connecticut’s bonded indebtedness per capita ranks among the highest of all states and annual payments already consume 10% of the annual budget.
The regular 2019 legislative session ended in June without Lamont and Democrat legislators agreeing on a bond package. Lawmakers want at least $1.3 billion.
The stalemate has taken a toll on Connecticut cities and towns. The state provides $150 million per year in non-education grants to communities — including a $60 million road maintenance grant used chiefly for winter snow removal — using borrowed funds obtained through bonding.        

  • Study finds region has adequate housing for new Electric Boat employees
    Julia Bergman
    A study looking at the impact of thousands of new residents coming to work at Electric Boat over the next decade has found there will be adequate housing for them in the region but it’s likely that these new employees will rely on cars to get to and
    from work.
    The study, which began in 2018 and primarily looked at housing and transportation, is intended to provide guidance to planners as they navigate future development in their municipalities.
    Electric Boat is gearing up to build 12 new ballistic missile submarines, in addition to its current work building attack submarines, and as a result, employment in southeastern Connecticut is expected to grow by about 5,000, peaking in 2029.
    While many of the new hires will likely already be living in the region, the study estimates one third will come from outside southeastern Connecticut.
    At the same time, more sailors and their families are expected to come to the area with the construction of these new submarines, which are much bigger than the attack submarines. A ballistic missile submarines has two crews consisting of about 150 sailors each whereas an attack submarine has a single crew of about 135.
    At the peak, there will be about 600 Navy sailors and families living in the area, about a third of whom are expected to buy or rent in the local community, said Capt. Todd Moore, commanding officer of the Naval Submarine Base. Moore said the study fits in nicely with his mission to increase the appeal of Groton to sailors.
    “I see that as one of my big mandates here, based on the fact that we compete with other naval installations for sailors, I want to make our base and the surrounding community even better than they are (now) in order to entice sailors to want to come and live here, and when their time in the Navy is done, retire here and continue to contribute to the community,” Moore said.
    The peak in Navy sailors is expected to happen several times throughout the late 2020s to late 2030s, given the construction schedule for the ballistic missile submarines. These sailors will only be stationed in Groton during construction, as the ballistic missile submarines, known as the Columbia class, will not be based here.
    Bob Ross, executive director of the state’s Office of Military Affairs, said at the start of the study there was concern that the increase in sailors and EB employees would strain the region’s housing market, but the findings prove otherwise.
    From 2012 to 2017, the region’s population declined by 5,600 residents, or 2%, and “that created some excess (housing) capacity that we didn’t realize was there until we really started looking,” Ross said.
    The study says there’s a need for about 500 additional housing units, but that the various housing developments already approved in the region will address that demand.
    Nearly 2,000 EB employees were surveyed about their housing and transportation preference as part of the study. The majority of the respondents said they are interested in buying as opposed to renting and are interested in single-family homes.
    However, of the newer employees surveyed, those hired in the past three years, almost 40 percent said they prefer to rent and about a third of them said they prefer to live in an apartment or condominium.
    Most of the employees surveyed said that they would consider paying more than $1,500 per month for housing to be unaffordable. The starting salary for a new hire at EB is about $40,000 per year and the average is $60,000 annually.
    The study finds that affordability will continue to be an issue and may be exacerbated with the greater demand for housing.
    “Some new workers may find challenges in locating the types of housing they seek in the locations they want,” the study says.  “A number of housing programs are active in the state and should be explored to facilitate new housing at varied income levels, and to support rehabilitation of existing housing stock, in order to help homeowners bring their houses up to modern standards to be attractive to potential buyers.”
    The study also recommends that new housing developments consider existing transportation capacity as well as the potential to respond to demand for alternative travel modes, such as transit, walking, and biking.
    Among the EB employees surveyed, most would prefer to drive alone to work and for their commute to be less than 30 minutes each way. However, employees under 35 who responded to the survey are significantly more interested in walking and biking to work.
    The study found that the traffic resulting from new workers will be manageable on most roadways in the region, with some problem areas in the City of Groton including Five Corners, Poquonnock Road at Rainville Avenue, and Eastern Point Road.
    The study proposes improving bicycle and pedestrian conditions on those roads, and calls for a more in-depth review of congestion and safety issues at points along Route 12 in Groton, Route 32 in New London and Waterford, and Route 85 where it intersects with Interstates 95 and 395 in Waterford and New London.
    Amanda Kennedy, assistant director of the Southeastern Connecticut Council of Governments which received a grant from the Pentagon's Office of Economic Analysis to do the study, said the findings show that the percentage of employees likely to take public transportation to work is not enough to justify major changes to service. But she said the council of governments and City of Groton officials are in “early discussions” with EB about establishing satellite parking lots and shuttle service in the city.
    The Pentagon provided $330,423 to the council of governments for two studies: one to examine housing needs in the region, and the other to look at land use around the submarine base to ensure development by surrounding communities doesn't impede base operations and vice versa.
    Of the funds, $246,000 was allotted for the housing study. The council of governments contributed about $36,000 in staff time.

    Hartford’s State House Square undergoing $12M facelift
    Joe Cooper
    Downtown Hartford’s State House Square is getting new life in its fourth decade of operation.
    More than $12 million is being spent to upgrade elevators, lobbies and a food court in the three-tower office and retail complex located across the street from Constitution Plaza.
    “Many of these office buildings in Hartford were built around the same time in the mid-to-late 1980s,” said David Jakubowski, the tower’s general manager. “They are all at the point in their life cycle where they need a capital injection.”
    The installation of new elevator cabs and interior and dispatch-system improvements are the most expensive upgrades, costing owner-landlords FBE-State Square LLC and MAC-State Square LLC approximately $7 million.
    An overhaul of 90 State House Square’s lobby will be finished in the coming weeks as construction crews turn their focus to adding similar chic improvements to the lobby at 10 State House Square in the first quarter of 2020.
    The three-year renovation project was originally slated to kick off last summer with a $1.5 million overhaul of the 478-seat food court at State House Square, but a pipe break delayed physical work from beginning until August this year.
    Upgrades to seating, lighting and flooring at the 22,000-square-foot food court, home to Moe’s Southwest Grill, Dunkin’ Donuts and other fast-food vendors, will be completed by year-end, Jakubowski said. The project also includes retail-unit improvements.
    The renovations, he said, will significantly improve the dining experience for both office tenants and downtown consumers.
    Built in 1987 for $250 million, the lower level of State House Square was originally designed as an urban shopping mall, with a food court located on the second floor of the complex. It was later moved to its current location on the ground level in 2000.
    About 85 percent of State House Square’s office space is filled with lead tenants including Travelers Cos., Pullman & Comley, UBS Realty Investors and Jackson Lewis PC. Wells Fargo, Bank of America and Greater Hartford YMCA are among the retail tenants on-site.
    The 844,000-square-foot complex also houses a U.S. Post Office and a parking garage with 445 spaces. A fitness club and pool, now leased by Greater Hartford YMCA, was improved through a $6-million renovation project in 2015, Jakubowski said.
    A year earlier, the owners invested $8 million in an on-site central and heating cooling plant to reduce operating costs. It recorded savings from that project in less than four years, he said.
    That includes Hartford health insurer Aetna, which had a major presence at the complex and acquired it out of foreclosure in 1996 from a partnership led by developer and former Hartford Whalers owner Richard Gordon, and the defunct Connecticut Mutual Life Insurance Co.
    Aetna then sold State House Square less than a decade later to Virginia’s Harvard Group International, which then sold the property to its current owners.
    In 2016, FBE-State Square LLC and MAC-State Square LLC, both based in New York City, modified their original $87.5 million mortgage obtained in 2007 to acquire the complex.

     CT’s pathway to energy and economic sustainability
    Joel Rinebold
    Connecticut continues to move forward with aggressive implementation of an energy strategy that includes procurement of offshore wind, development of solar facilities, installation of fuel cells, and development of biomass facilities.
    This renewable-energy agenda with zero- or low-carbon fuels makes good sense to increase energy sustainability and long-term reliability, reduce waste, improve air quality, and reduce carbon for climate control.
    This energy agenda also appropriately includes replacement of older obsolete baseload facilities with new high-efficiency combined cycle natural gas facilities derived from our aerospace industry that are reliable and cost-effective as we transition into a fully sustainable energy environment.
    Development of these energy resources in Connecticut helps to provide jobs related to construction and operation. These values are not insignificant in that they provide thousands of jobs and millions of dollars in revenue to the Connecticut economy.
    New renewable-energy technologies made in Connecticut or supplied with components from the Connecticut manufacturing supply chain will further improve the value proposition for Connecticut with additional jobs and revenues.
    High-tech businesses seeking to operate in Connecticut will also find this green-energy economy of value to support product lines that include IT server farms, bioscience and health care.
    The message here: Connecticut is a technologically advanced state and we should continue to use our manufacturing and supply chain industries to research, manufacture and develop advanced renewable-energy technologies.
    In addition, where and when possible, these technologies should be interconnected in Connecticut to provide reliable service directly to consumers.
    With this policy for energy sustainability and action to facilitate transformation through replacement of older obsolete power facilities, Connecticut will be on a favorable pathway to provide clean, cost-effective and reliable energy to consumers in Connecticut that will further enhance Connecticut’s position as a world-class manufacturer and global leader in clean-energy technology.

    Shelton’s final Shelter Ridge public hearing set Jan. 9
    Robert Sample
    The Shelton Inland Wetlands Commission will hold one final public hearing on the controversial Towne Center at Shelter Ridge project on Jan. 9.
    The plan, which would occupy a parcel at the end of Mill Road where it meets Bridgeport Avenue, has been a source of intense opposition since it was first proposed three years ago.
     It calls for a multi-story structure with apartments, retailers and restaurants. There is an option for a medical facility and an assisted-living center as well.
    Project stakeholders must now submit comments to a project study done by Westport-based LandTech, an engineering firm that specializes in environmental consulting. LandTech was hired by Inland Wetlands Commission to study the impact the proposed Shelter Ridge project will have on adjacent wetlands and wildlife.
    Study contributors include the attorney for the project’s developer, the city’s own attorney, members of the commission and the engineer who represents Save Our Shelton, an organization initially formed to fight the Shelter Ridge proposal. The study was also posted to the city website on Nov. 22.
    Commission Chairman Gary Zahornasky pointed out that he and his fellow commissions had not yet had the opportunity to review the LandTech report. He invited Shelton residents to submit their concerns to the commission during the review process, which the commission will complete by its Dec. 12 meeting.
    Earlier zone change
    In March, 2017, the Shelton Planning and Zoning Commission approved a zoning change for the Shelter Ridge property, establishing it as a planned development district (PDD). Many Shelter Ridge opponents said they saw the zoning change as setting the stage for the property to ultimately be developed for commercial purposes.
    In the words of Sorghum Road resident Mary Kay Novak, “The horse is out of the barn.”
    Zahornasky and other wetlands commissioners reassured residents at last week’s meeting that the earlier zone change had nothing to do with the commission’s own review.
    “We are going to review this proposal just from a wetlands point of view,” Zahornasky said. “We are going to look at everything involved (in the proposed development) and we are going to make our determination based on if it impacts wetlands or storm water. We’re not bound by anything the P&Z or the applicant has proposed.”
    “We are operating independent of any zone change,” added Commissioner Kenneth Nappi. “We’re looking at it as, ‘does it protect inland wetlands?’ If we don’t like certain things, (the developer) will need to make certain changes. And if they don’t, we won’t approve it.”
    There was no formal public comments section at last week’s meeting — that will take place at the Jan. 9 hearing. Despite that, attendees had plenty of comments and questions.
    A valid zoning approval?
    Novak questioned why the 2017 zoning change had not been reviewed first by Inland Wetlands prior to the favorable vote by P&Z.
    “How can that be a valid vote?” she asked.
    “That’s because the vote by P&Z was for the zoning change only,” said Nappi. At the time there was no formal project proposal and thus no impacts for Inland Wetlands to review.
    Buddington Road resident Mark Widomski, a Planning and Zoning commissioner, said that the Connecticut statute governing these kinds of matters requires an Inland Wetlands report prior to the approval of a zoning change.
    “How are we at this point, when it should have been done (reviewed by Inland Wetlands) in the first place?” he said. Widomski was not a member of P&Z when the zoning change was approved.
    Nappi said that a more recent Connecticut court case substantiated a municipality’s ability to make a zoning change without prior review by Inland Wetlands, absent any project plans.
    Striking a fair balance
    Save Our Shelton member Greg Tetro questioned why the LandTech report is not being treated as the final decision against or in favor of the project.
    “I don’t know why it wouldn’t stop right there,” Tetro said.
     Zahornasky said that the report had yet to be reviewed by anyone on the commission or any of the other project stakeholders, and because of its volume would take some weeks to complete.
    Any application process has to be fair,” said city attorney Francis Teodosio. “The applicant has the right to respond to the LandTec report.”
    Teodosio said that at the public hearing, all sides will be permitted to present their arguments. That includes Steve Trinkaus, a civil engineer based in Southbury who specializes in storm water and wetlands issues for municipal projects.Zahornasky said that the multi-side nature of the proposal and its size work to make the Inland Wetlands Commission’s review process both exhaustive and time consuming.
    “Our commission has never before been presented with a project plan as voluminous as Shelter Ridge,” Zahornasky said. “At the end of the day, we’re confident we’re going to do our due diligence and make the right decision.”

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