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CT Construction Digest Thursday December 19, 2019

Toll advocates: Revenue will fix CT transportation problems
Christine Stuart
HARTFORD — After months of anti-toll protests and objections to various iterations of Gov. Ned Lamont’s transportation proposal, a group of “pro-toll” advocates showed up Wednesday at the state Capitol to lend the governor some support.
The group of about 20 people, mostly from Fairfield County, gathered outside the Legislative Office Building meeting room to greet Lamont before his post-Bond Commission press conference.
Michelle Abt of Stamford said Lamont’s truck-only tolling plan doesn’t go far enough. She said they would like to see tolls on all vehicles because it would increase the amount of revenue available to fix Connecticut’s transportation system.
“It would be solved if we had revenue,” Abt said. Angela Liptack, of Ridgefield, said they’ve been studying the issue of tolls for the past year and have concluded that tolls on all vehicles is the “most comprehensive fiscally, responsible solution.”
However, the group also supports truck-only tolls because it will allow the state to create the necessary revenue stream to access the low-interest loans from the federal government.
Republican legislative leaders were dismissive of the group.
Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano said the pro-toll group seems to be the minority.
“It’s a very, very small group,” Fasano said.
He said he’s not hearing from people saying “please tax me.”
The anti-toll protesters have been a constant presence at the state Capitol. At least one member of the group is at the state Capitol daily to greet the governor and lawmakers, who aren’t in session until next year.
Meanwhile, Republican legislative leaders were concerned about Lamont’s decision not to release any of the $60 million in funds for local road improvement projects, including snow removal.
In a Dec. 13 letter to the governor and Democratic legislative leaders, Republicans suggested a vote on authorizing the necessary funds.
“The thing we can agree on is that we have to keep our word on what we’ve promised towns and cities,” House Minority Leader Themis Klarides said.
Lamont said lawmakers know they can’t vote on local road funding without approving a 2020 bond package.
“I think I need a bond bill passed to release this money,” Lamont said. “We’re going to have a bond bill passed in January, the same time we do our transportation.”
Fasano said he’s aware they can’t give the towns their money until a bond package is approved, but that’s what’s being held up and it’s being held up because Lamont won’t vote on it until he gets a vote on his transportation bill.
“Let’s not stop transportation, stop towns for some political power play,” Fasano said.
Fasano and Klarides wrote in their letter to the governor and Democratic legislative leaders that “past struggles to come to an agreement on a final plan casts doubt on whether or not a plan will be voted on in January, and we should not continue to keep towns waiting because there is no agreement on a larger package.”
Republicans said they did not receive a response to the letter. The state Bond Commission approved $131.67 million in general obligations bonds Wednesday.That brings the total amount of general obligation bonding in Lamont’s first year in office to $1.25 billion.
Lamont started his tenure announcing that he was putting the state on a debt diet after former Gov. Dannel P. Malloy borrowed nearly $2 billion a year for the last few years of his term.
“We’ve been on a bond binge for a long time and now we’re going to go on a debt diet,” Lamont said last December when he announced his plan to cut bonding by $500 million a year. On Wednesday, Lamont said he thinks Connecticut’s fiscal discipline has been recognized.
He mentioned reports by Bloomberg News and Moody’s Investor Services, which recognized the state’s dedication to building up its Rainy Day Fund.
Moody’s said earlier this week that Connecticut has suffered from weak job growth since the recession and continues to be hindered by “an inefficient transportation infrastructure.”
However, its analysts praised the state for building up a Rainy Day Fund to help weather the next downturn. And a new report from the National Association of State Budget Officers’ Fiscal Survey of the States noted that Connecticut’s budget growth was below the national average, while its Rainy Day Fund is almost twice the national average.

Some holiday cheating on Lamont’s ‘debt diet’

Gov. Ned Lamont loosened the tight grip he’s kept on borrowing when the state Bond Commission met Wednesday for only the fourth time in 2019, but only under the terms of a “debt diet” and other measures the governor says have produced dividends for Connecticut on Wall Street.
The meeting came as Moody’s and Bloomberg News each reported that Connecticut has improved as a credit risk and is better positioned to weather a recession as the result of various financial moves, including some required in a bipartisan budget passed in 2017 under the previous administration. 
“We haven’t borrowed and allocated as much money as we have in years past, but I think our fiscal discipline is being recognized around the country,” Lamont said.
Connecticut’s budget reserves are projected to reach $2.9 billion by the end of the fiscal year in June and the refinancing of some pension debt has given the state a greater measure of stability, drawing applause from Moody’s, a rating agency, and Bloomberg. Standard & Poor’s upgraded its Connecticut outlook months ago for the first time in 18 years.
“I was elected on the commitment that I would be hyper focused on righting our fiscal ship, and in doing so changing the narrative about this great state,” Lamont said.
The allocations approved Wednesday by the Bond Commission allow the treasurer to go to the bond markets to borrow money for a range of capital projects approved by the General Assembly in previous years, including $135 million for transportation, $46 million for affordable housing,  and $42 million for energy and environmental spending.
Lawmakers approved no bond package in the 2019 session, a casualty of the governor’s struggle to win passage of a transportation infrastructure financing plan. Lamont has refused to commit to new borrowing without knowing the terms of a long-range transportation plan.
With a vote expected in January on a plan that relies on truck tolls, Lamont told commission members that he will agree then on a bond package necessary to provide state aid for local capital improvement projects and municipal roads repaving.
 House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, and Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, whose caucuses oppose tolls or any new transportation revenue, complained Wednesday that rather waiting until January the legislature should immediately adopt at least a partial bond package for local aid.
“The governor is holding the bond bill hostage with the tolls,” Klarides said.
Legislators were in Hartford on Wednesday for a one-day special session on the settlement of hospital litigation and a bill that clarifies how restaurants should pay tipped waiters and bartenders when they are doing non-tipped work. The issue has generated lawsuits against restaurants.

Dozens of toll opponents and proponents show up at Capitol
The Associated Press
HARTFORD (AP) - Connecticut lawmakers aren't expected to vote until next month on a transportation plan that could include tolls, but both opponents and supporters of tolls turned out Wednesday to make their opinions known.
Dozens of activists holding signs and wearing pro-tolls and anti-tolls T-shirts appeared at the Legislative Office Building, where the State Bond Commission was meeting. While toll opponents have frequently appeared at the state Capitol during the monthslong debate over tolls, it's been rare to see toll supporters other than unionized construction workers.
Shiva Sarram of New Canaan said the group of toll supporters, mostly from Fairfield County, included Democrats, Republicans and unaffiliated voters. She said they decided to come to the Capitol and send a message that it's time for Connecticut to finally start collecting transportation revenue from out-of-state drivers who use the state's roads.
"What exactly are we waiting for," she asked. "Why are we allowing cars and vehicles from other states to drive our roads without paying us a dollar, when we drive across state lines everyday and pay them. So we're not waiting another ten years. This needs to get done now."
Toll opponents were not fazed by the sudden turnout of toll supporters, noting they were from the southwest corner of Connecticut.
"They want trains, they want tolls. And what about the rest of the state," asked Jen Ezzell of Lisbon. "I'm not spending their money. They're looking to spend mine."
While lawmakers were at the state Capitol on Wednesday for a special session, transportation was not on the agenda.
No date in January has been set yet for a vote on a proposed 10-year plan to improve roads, bridges, airports, rail and bus service. While Lamont and Democratic lawmakers appear to be galvanizing around the idea of tolling only big trucks on at least a dozen bridges, many of the toll supporters on Wednesday said they support tolling all passenger vehicles as well - something Lamont has been unable to persuade the General Assembly to support.

West Main Street bridge project in Meriden should wrap up in June, DOT says
Matthew Zabierek
MERIDEN — The state expects work to replace the Sodom Brook bridge along West Main Street to finish in June.
The state’s contractor — Shultz Corporation — began diverting traffic to a temporary bridge and roadway on Nov. 30, allowing them to begin construction of the new bridge next month, according to Kevin Nursick, spokesman for the state Department of Transportation.
Demolition of the old bridge will also begin next month, Nursick said.
“As of right now, the contractor is still anticipated to finish on June 5, 2020,” Nursick said of the project, which began in July 2018. DOT recently told the city they expect traffic will shift back by the end of May, according to City Manager Tim Coon.
Traffic along West Main Street was recently realigned around the project, while traffic through Route 71, which intersects with West Main at the bridge site, is still continuous but has been realigned around the original bridge, according to Michael Mugbee, transportation engineer for DOT.
The state is completing the project because it owns the 90-year-old bridge, which DOT deemed “structurally deficient” in 2015.
The new bridge will have new sidewalks and four lanes. To date, Schultz Corporation has constructed a utility bridge that carries a newly-relocated water main over Sodom Brook. The contractor is currently “working on mircropiles for the new bridge, drainage, and utility location,” Nursick said.

DOT reports continued increase in Hartford Line ridership
Mary Ellen Godin
The state Department of Transportation announced record ridership on the Hartford Line during the Thanksgiving weekend.
The recent announcement backs up Hartford Rail ridership numbers from rail officials who said participation has exceeded expectations, from 580,000 annual trips last year to 630,000, with more than 750,000 trips expected next year.
Connecticut DOT deployed 10 additional rail trains on the Tuesday and Wednesday before Thanksgiving and four additional trains on the Sunday after. The added trains were scheduled five to 10 minutes after Amtrak trains. The CTrail trains provided additional seats to alleviate overcrowding on many sold-out Amtrak trains, according to the DOT.
“The extra trains were a resounding success and surpassed expectations,” said DOT Commissioner Joseph Giuletti. “Our preparation and teamwork paid off.”
The DOT is also seeking additional input on the next fleet of rail cars before it ends its lease with Massachusetts for 16 cars. The lease, which began in June 2018 is three years, with up to a three-year option period. The term for each coach is staggered based on the delivery date of the vehicle, according to the DOT.
“Massachusetts wants its cars back,” Tom Maziarz told a group of potential investors and Meriden officials last month. Maziarz is the bureau chief for the DOT and has been involved in downtown Meriden for 17 years.
The cost for the lease of the 40-year old cars is $1.8 million in year one ( to cover maintenance), in year two $1.372 million and in year three $1.372 million.
If the state exercises its option, year four will cost $1.414 million, year five $1.456 million and year six  $1.5 million.
“We are in close communication with our MassDOT colleagues,” said DOT spokesman Judd Everhart. “They have been supportive of the rail service that benefits both CT and western Mass. alike.”
After years of inactivity, Massachusetts state and federal lawmakers are aggressively seeking rail service from Springfield to Boston to improve congestion in greater Boston and expand economic development to western Massachusetts, according to media reports. Although years away, the commuter service would provide an inland route from New York to Boston along the Hartford Line. Over the next 10 years, the state plans to purchase new coaches in Connecticut and dual-mode locomotives. Gov. Ned Lamont’s proposed 10-year transportation plan is now stalled over a proposal to implement truck tolling on state highways.
Other long-range plans include completing the double-tracking from Windsor to the Enfield state line where Massachusetts has double tracks to Springfield. There are also plans to run 25 trains a day from Hartford to New Haven, up from 17 trains now running.
“In the next decade, DOT expects to procure new locomotives,” Everhart stated in an e-mail. “These new locomotives will very likely include dual-mode technology that allows locomotives to operate in either diesel or electric mode.”
The dual mode technology eliminates the need for time-consuming locomotive change to provide direct service from Hartford Line to New York City. The new locomotives are not necessary for near-term service options, such as possible direct train service between Hartford and Stamford, Everhart said.
Maziarz said last month, transportation officials are looking to possibly add three trains with direct service from Hartford to Stamford and possibly New York City.
Before purchasing new cars the DOT has extended a survey guaging public input on amenities and services. To participate go to https://ww.surveymonkey.com/r/newrailcars2_2.

Developers purchase Lofts at Main and Temple apartments, seen as critical to $100 million revival of downtown Hartford’s Pratt Street corridor

The developers planning to turn Hartford’s Pratt Street into a visitor destination purchased a critical property for the $100 million project: the financially troubled Lofts at Temple and Main apartments.The partners in the development — Lexington Partners, LAZ Investments and Shelbourne Global Solutions LLC — acquired the mortgage in recent days and took over ownership of the property, Martin J. Kenny, who heads Hartford-based Lexington, said Tuesday.“It’s a critical piece for the project,” Kenny said. “We will be well on our way to executing our overall plan.” Kenny declined Tuesday to comment on the value of the transaction. But it has been publicly reported that the partnership had an option to acquire the property for about $20 million. The apartment complex sits atop Pratt when looking east from Trumbull Street and was built in the mid-2000s incorporating the facade of the former Sage-Allen & Co., once one of the city’s most prosperous department stores.
 The development partners plan to invest about $13 million in renovations to The Lofts. The renovations largely target the student housing in the rear of the complex, which did not work well and contributed to the financial woes. In the redevelopment, the 42 townhomes of student housing would be converted to 84 “micro-apartments” and 12 townhomes of market-rate rentals. As many as eight apartments also would be added to the rentals facing Main Street, by dividing larger units. Gaining control of the property was complicated. The Connecticut Housing Finance Authority sold the $46 million mortgage, including interest, for $18.25 million to an investor in late 2018. CHFA said it no longer wanted to invest more in the apartments, even though the sale meant a $25 million loss to the state. The property had failed to turn around, and the value of the building kept declining. However, the Lexington and its partners secured an option to buy back the mortgage and takeover ownership of the building for about $20 million, the current value of the property. The renovation of Lofts at Main and Temple is the second of a larger three-part planned transformation of the Pratt Street. Charming with its street and sidewalks paved with brick, vibrancy has long eluded the downtown corridor. The other parts of the project include the addition of up to 209 apartments on the south side of Pratt Street and the potential renovation of the shuttered Talcott Street garage. The developers are seeking $20 million in state loans for the overall project. The State Bond Commission is expected to approve $12 million in loans from the Capital Region Development Authority at its meeting Wednesday. The $12 million is for the first, 129 apartments over storefront space at the corner of Pratt and Trumbull streets, in 196 Trumbull and 99 Pratt. This portion of the project is pegged to cost nearly $30 million. Rentals in 196 Trumbull could be ready by March or April. The units in 99 Pratt could be finished in early in 2021.

Bond Commission OKs funding for Hartford apts., transportation projects
Joe Cooper
he State Bond Commission on Wednesday approved hundreds of millions of dollars in new financing to spur apartment and affordable housing developments in Hartford and other transportation-related improvements, among other allocations.
Gov. Ned Lamont’s fourth state Bond Commission meeting was another example of the first-year Democratic governor’s pledge to slow state borrowing as part of his self-imposed “debt diet.” Lamont’s administration cancelled bond commission meetings in June, July and August.
“We haven’t borrowed and allocated as much money as we have in years past, but I think our fiscal responsibility is being recognized around the country,” Lamont told the 10-member bond commission Wednesday morning. “It sends a signal that the state is getting its fixed costs under control.”
The largest approval on Wednesday was a $135 million request from the Connecticut Department of Transportation for various resurfacing and reconstruction projects and road and bridge repairs.
The majority, or $12.5 million, will be used by the Pratt Street Initiative Partnership -- including Martin J. Kenny of Lexington Partners LLC, landlord Shelbourne Global Solutions and LAZ Parking CEO Alan Lazowski -- in the first phase of their $100 million revival of the Pratt Street corridor. A $1.5 million loan will go to the owner of Colt Gateway to help finance the construction of 26 apartments in a recently vacated magnet high school building.
The Pratt Street allocation faced push back from State Rep. Christopher Davis (R-East Windsor), who questioned whether the state should be financing some of “the richest people in Greater Hartford.”
“This sends a message we are providing borrowed money to some of the richest people in our state to do these projects, when they can afford to do these projects without state assistance,” Davis said.CRDA Executive Director Michael Freimuth responded by saying the financing was needed because many housing projects downtown lack any level of return on investment.
Davis also asked Lamont to comment on how this allocation conforms with his vision to reel in state borrowing.
The governor responded by saying he wants to ensure the trio of investors spend their money in downtown Hartford and other city centers.
“As Mike said, sometimes they need a little extra incentive to be competitive,” Lamont said. “This is key to economic development, I believe.”
The commission also approved $2 million, requested by CRDA, for improvements to the 15-year old plaza connecting downtown Hartford’s Connecticut Convention Center, Hartford Marriott Downtown and the Connecticut Science Center.
Another $46 million was approved for the Connecticut Department of Housing for numerous affordable housing projects in Hartford, West Hartford, New Haven and Greenwich, among other towns and cities. That includes over $2.1 million for the rehabilitation of 29 units in Hartford at the Bristol Apartments on Broad Street and the Ward-Affleck Apartments on Ward and Affleck streets.
“One of our great strengths as a state...is our extraordinary quality of life,” the governor said. “Wherever you go in Connecticut, you are 10 to 15 minutes away from a park.”
Other approved requests include:
  • $15 million for the state’s Small Town Economic Assistance Program.
  • $4.3 million to finance the development and implementation of information technology enhancements for various state agencies, including the state Department of Labor and the Department of Development Services.
  • $1 million for the replacement of a turf field at Hartford Public High School.
  • $1 million for renovations and new construction at state parks and other recreation facilities.
Remaining approved projects could be found here.

Torrington bonding funds 16 repaved roads, more to come
BRUNO MATARAZZO JR.
TORRINGTON – Sixteen roads covering four miles were paved this year in the first round of funding from bonding approved by voters last year. More paving is slated for next year.
The update on public works project was given to members of the City Council on Monday by Public Works Director Ray Drew and City Engineer Paul Kundzins.
In 2018, residents approved a $38 million referendum to repave city roads, build a new animal shelter and update part of the Torrington Middle School roof.
The city is breaking up the bonding for repaving the roads over five years at $7.1 million each year and this year was the first round.
The city is faced with the issue of bonding for road repaving after years of fluctuating city and state money for road repair that couldn’t keep up with the demand and the price of asphalt.
The five-year bonding plan targeted 26 miles of roads that are in failing condition in the city and 20 miles on the threshold of failing.
Other non-bonding public works updates include the East Main Street sidewalk expansion project funded by a state grant. It’s expected to go out to bid this winter with work beginning in the spring.
Kundzins said the city is still waiting for final encroachment approval from the state Department of Transportation. East Main Street is a state road. The plan is to build new sidewalks from Peck Road to Torringford West on both sides of East Main Street and then on the southern side of East Main only from Torringford West to Target Plaza.
Parks and Recreation is looking into adding a multifeatured splash pad at the municipal pool to replace the wading pool.
Other projects that will be done next year is road reconstruction of Peck Road, Richard Road and Felicity Lane. The $488,984 project is paid for by a state Local Capital Improvement Program grant. The project also includes new curbing, driveway aprons and a new low pressure sewer pipe on Felicity Lane.
ROADS PAVED BY BONDING
West Hill Road, Putter Lane, White Pine Road, Winburton Road, Canterbury Court, Oxford Way, Upper Valley Road, Tall Tree Lane, Middle Lane, Quail Run, Eagle Ridge, Deer Path, Jordan Lane, Hillandale Boulevard, Ginger Lane, Pepper Lane
ROADS TO BE PAVED BY BONDING
Spring 2020: Heights Drive, Lawrence Lane, Adam Drive, Birney Brook Drive, Gale Court, Hyde Street, Judi Terrace, Juniper Court, Lynn Heights Road, Martha Street, Overlook Court, Parson Terrace, Planet Street, Starview Lane, Winesap Run, Thomas Street
Wimbledon Gate, Notting Hill Gate, Weed Street, Chelsea Court, Hassig Road, Town Farm Road, Rossi Road
Lorenzo Street, Eastwood Road, Winthrop Street, Alice Sreet, Eastwood Road, Benham Street, Calhoun Street, Margerie Street.
Palmer Bridge Street, Clarence Street, Lawton Street, Linden Street.
Saw Mill Hill Road (Eichner Road to Winsted line), Babbling Brook Road, Starks Road, Meenhaga Lane.
West Pearl Road, East Pearl Road and Torringford West Street (Woodlawn Drive to West Pearl Road)

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