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CT Construction Digest Friday January 10, 2020

Dan Haar: A pro-toll senator lashes out at the diluted plan
Dan Haar
Democrats will barrel ahead with a vote on tolls for trucks at a dozen locations as soon as next Wednesday, sources at the Capitol say, adopting the measure with apparently zero Republican votes. That will give Gov. Ned Lamont some of the money the state needs to shore up aging bridges.
 Still unclear is whether Sen. Alex Bergstein, D-Greenwich, will vote for the final package. That matters not because the Senate needs her vote — it might have the needed 18 yeses without her — but because of what she stands for and says.
“I am woefully disappointed in what’s being presented to us now,” Bergstein told me Wednesday. “It’s like putting a Band-Aid on a patient who needs emergency surgery.”
Bergstein, perhaps alone in the General Assembly, certainly alone in the Senate, is willing to say loudly and with fervor that her colleagues — Democrats as well as Republicans — are doing the wrong thing for political reasons. She says the only correct path is tolling all vehicles as a way to cover a gap in bridge and highway costs that will reach at least $300 million by 2023, and probably twice that much.
The tolling plan for trucks would raise between $150 million and $190 million a year.
Democrats might want the early vote in part to create as much space as possible between it and the November election, and in part to get this whole, ugly tolls debate off the table before the February start of the three-month General Assembly session.
They also vow to bake into the bill a promise that — contrary to universal Republican accusations — this is not the first step in a bait-and-switch plan to toll all cars on all interstate highways. That, too, rankles Bergstein.
“I am not endorsing a statement that says we will never toll other vehicles,” she said. “Our word has to be worth something and I will not be disingenuous. I have always advocated for tolling of all vehicles. It’s the only responsible choice and I will not endorse any statement to the contrary.”
She’s right. It is the only responsible choice, especially as the trucking industry challenges trucks-only tolling. The good news for in-state trucking is that only the largest rigs will face a gantry levy, not the delivery vans, oil trucks or even those 2-axle, 24-foot box trucks that carry, say, furniture from Bob’s.
Lamont knows she’s right and he pushed for full tolling but couldn’t make it happen.
Here’s a solution: Forget the promise of never tolling cars, and build into the bill that any expansion of tolling must be accompanied by an equal, balanced tax cut someplace else. That means, for example, if we tack on a fee for cars and general trucks at those same gantries, we create a new income tax credit (good idea) or we cut the gasoline tax (bad idea).
That one-for-one trade-off would yield a bonus of 40 percent, the amount of tolls that would come from out-of-state drivers using our roads. It’s like a company match in your 401(k). Take it!
Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, the majority leader, likes the idea of eliminating the local property tax on cars, which he says punishes city residents. Would he pair that with an expansion of tolls? He wouldn’t bite on that, saying only, “Well, I’d like to end the car tax.”
Bergstein exited the Senate caucus a couple of hours early on Tuesday afternoon. Did she storm out? No, she and at least one person in the room at the state Capitol said. “I had heard everything I needed to hear, I said what I needed to say. I wasn’t angry,” she insisted.
She’s not angry at her fellow lawmakers, that is. “On an individual basis, I have profound respect for all of my colleagues in the legislature.”
No, she’s unhappy over the process that led to a watered down tolling bill when a truly meaningful one was in reach.
“If elected officials don’t have the courage to stand up for what they know to be in the best interests of the people in the state then they shouldn’t run for office,” she said. “The culture of bullying in Connecticut by a few people apparently has intimated some of our elected officials into shying away.”
One little issue is that there’s no final bill yet. Details, details. The 12 gantries on the target list — same as the 14 Lamont proposed in November, minus the Merritt Parkway, which has no trucks, and Route 9 in Middletown — could still change. And as one person pointed out, it doesn’t make sense to name each tolling location in statute.
Trucks would pay between $6 and $13 at each location — significantly higher than the fees trucks faced in rhe previous plan — and that’s bound to help the interstate truckers’ legal case that they’re being unfairly targeted. Yes, the controversial I-684 location that’s basically in New York state is on the list, for now.
The bigger issue, Bergstein said, correctly, is that we still face limited options: Tax more every year to pay for transportation upgrades; borrow more, which will lead to much higher costs in the long run; neglect the infrastructure and fall behind further as a state; and expand tolling to the people who use the highways.Most lawmakers who supported full tolling, and still want it, are lined up behind this flawed bargain. “Political reality being what it is, the proposal currently on the table is a reasonable compromise addressing some of the most pressing needs at this time and I hope we can move expeditiously to get it passed,” said Rep. Steve Stafstrom, D-Bridgeport, a strong tolls supporter.
Bergstein, whose tolling plan included an infrastructure bank that would bring significant financial advantages and federal dollars, said she’s sensitive to the rising cost of living in Connecticut.
“We need to invest so that there is less pressure to tax,” she said.

Toll Opponents To Boycott Westport Forum

Wilton police station design is scaled back
Jeannette Ross
WILTON — A revised police station proposal — one that is expected to cost about $14 million — was presented to the police station building committee at its meeting on Jan. 8. The new proposal was designed by the team from Tecton Architects with input from a working group of committee members, Wilton police administrators, and Colliers.
The new design allows for 16,800 square feet, down from the 19,500 square feet the committee recommended to the Board of Selectmen on Dec. 16. The larger building was expected to cost around $16 million, which the selectmen nixed, tasking the committee to come in with a proposal for $14 million. The present station measures 11,000 square feet.
Representatives from Colliers, acting as the town’s owner’s rep for the project, and Tecton told the committee they had a “difficult conversation” with the police on what could be cut and still meet the statement of requirements.
“Are there compromises? Yes,” said Rebecca Hopkins of Tecton. “Does it meet all the needs? No,” she said, adding it does not have as much flexibility for the future as the previous, larger design would have.
In addition to the size of the building, where the building would be situated was also changed. Instead of placing it at the end of the driveway to the town hall campus as presented to the selectmen, which would require razing the town hall annex, the building would go directly behind town hall, in front of the current police station. Police would continue to work in their current building during construction.
The first floor of the two-story building would include an entry lobby off of which would be dispatch. There would also be a records room; public interview room; three cells — one of which would be handicap accessible; space for booking, prisoner processing and holding; evidence storage; a lab; general storage; weapons storage; armory; communications equipment and IT; a small kitchen; restroom; and mechanical and electrical rooms.
The first floor would also include a multi-purpose room that can be used for training, the emergency operations center, and a meeting room open to the public. This room would have a public entry, kitchenette, restrooms, and furniture storage.
The second floor would include a briefing/roll call/tactical planning room; interview room; work spaces for detectives, youth bureau, sergeants, lieutenants, captains, assistant, training officers, and chief; locker rooms for men and women; a fitness room; break room; restroom; and conference room. Some of the work spaces could do double duty.
The exterior — which would be a combination of brick and clapboard — would include two sally ports.
Among the items that were completely eliminated were: a “soft” interview room for juveniles and others such as victims of domestic violence, one cell, a space for a future lieutenant, and a bunking area in case personnel have to stay over during a crisis such as a major storm.
Committee member Jack Suchy asked why the soft interview room was cut.
“The reason is cost,” Capt. Tom Conlon said. “It would be helpful to have a room like that but it wasn’t in the cards.”
A space for bulk property storage was also eliminated but Hopkins said this was “a critical compromise we need to get back.” This would be for evidence too large to be stored elsewhere in the building.
 Another compromise was a reduction in the size of a carport. Tecton managed to include a carport for 16 vehicles but police had requested one for 22 cars. The carport is important, Hopkins said, because it reduces maintenance costs for the police cruisers.
This design also has an air handling system on top of the building instead of inside, where it would have a longer life.
“There were some hard choices that have been made and may be some more,” facilities director Chris Burney said of the plan. “Generally speaking, we’re moving in the right direction.”
Chief John Lynch agreed. “We’re at that point where I don’t envision us cutting any more, and we may have cut too much but we can make it work.”
Capt. Rob Cipolla noted “we’ve already shaved 8,000 square feet off what was originally proposed. There’s no firearms range, no updates to the animal shelter — all were necessary.”
Tecton will now send this project to its cost estimator and the committee will meet again on Jan. 30 to review the numbers. Committee members will then present the plan to the Board of Selectmen on Feb. 3. At some point they will also meet with the Board of Finance. At least one public information session will be scheduled, perhaps in early March.

Westport work set on replacement of Beachside Ave. bridge over I-95
Jim Shay
The state Department of Transportation has announced the start of a construction project to replace the Beachside Avenue bridge over I-95.
The bridge, built in 1958, crosses I-95 and the Metro-North train tracks near the intersection of Green Farms Road. About 3,800 vehicles cross the bridge each day.
An inspection of the bridge found it to be in poor condition because of a deteriorated deck.
DOT said work on the $7.3 million project will begin “on or about Jan. 23.”
In a release, DOT said, “the project consists of the replacement of the existing structure with a two-span, continuous steel girder superstructure with a precast concrete deck supported on Geosynthetic Reinforced Soil Integrated Bridge abutments and wingwalls and a concrete pier in the I-95 median.
“The existing bridge geometry will be modified to realign the intersection of Beachside Avenue and Green Farms Road into a T-type intersection. This modified geometry will provide a 12-foot travel lane and a 2-foot shoulder in each direction and a 5-foot sidewalk on the north side of the bridge. The new structure will be 38.5 feet wide.”
Work to remove the existing bridge - and the replacement of a new one - will require a closure and detour for Beachside Avenue traffic.
Construction of the new bridge would require a more than three-mile detour onto local roads.
The detour is tentatively scheduled to begin on March 1, 2021, and ending on or before Oct. 10, 2021.
Last month, DOT awarded the $7,334,804 contract to Rotha Contracting Co., Inc. of Avon.
The project is expected to be complete in December 2021.

State Pier plan to be presented to Connecticut Port Authority board this month
Julia Bergman

The long-awaited redevelopment plan for State Pier will come before the Connecticut Port Authority's board at the end of this month.
Following about a year of negotiations, largely conducted behind closed doors apart from a public meeting held in September to unveil some of the details, the port authority's board is expected to vote on the so-called harbor development agreement at its Jan. 21 meeting in New London, said board Chairman David Kooris, a key player in the talks. The agreement will lay out the work that will be done as part of the $93 million public-private investment in the State Pier facility to allow it to be used by the emerging offshore wind industry.
Negotiations have gone on despite personnel changes at the port authority, including the resignation of its executive director and two board members, and scrutiny over the quasi-public agency's financial operations and management.
Those issues led to two marathon hearings convened by the General Assembly's Transportation Committee in August and December of 2019. The hearings followed an order from Gov. Ned Lamont directing the Office of Policy and Management to take a "direct and active" role in the financial decisions and direction of the port authority, which receives about $400,000 in state appropriations annually in addition to revenue from State Pier, which it controls. Among other actions, the office has hired an independent firm to evaluate the port authority's financial and management operations and practices. The firm prepared a report with its recommendations, which will be presented to the board at its Jan. 21 meeting.
State Sen. Carlo Leone, D-Stamford, who heads the transportation committee with state Rep. Roland Lemar, D-New Haven, said the committee will ensure the oversight put in place by the Lamont administration continues to be effective, and that there wouldn't be any further action until the new legislative session, which starts on Feb. 5.
"The Lamont administration has the correct measures in place to correct all the things that went wrong," Leone said by phone this week.
If those efforts fall short, then there would be an opportunity for the committee to intervene with additional oversight or new legislation, Leone said.
But state Sen. Henri Martin of Bristol, one of the committee's two Republican ranking members, said he hopes the committee introduces a bipartisan bill to help guide any future quasi-public agencies that are established in the state.
"I don't want to go through this again," Martin said.
Meanwhile, the Office of Policy and Management is compiling recommendations that will be included as part of Lamont's mid-term budget proposal to "enhance accountability and transparency" by the port authority.
The Lamont administration also is contemplating changes to the makeup of the board. Paul Mounds, chief operating officer for the state, said the governor's office is reviewing the status of all board members whose terms are currently up, but no determination has been made yet on what to do with those seats. The terms of two of four governor appointees on the board expired on Dec. 17, 2019. By statute, board members can serve until a replacement is named.
Kooris, who recently left his job as deputy commissioner of the state's Department of Community and Economic Development to head Stamford's Downtown Special Services District, was nominated this week by the governor to fill a seat vacated by Pam Elkow.
Elkow, an attorney based in Stamford who was appointed by former Gov. Dannel Malloy, resigned from the board on Jan. 1, due to her schedule not allowing her to fully participate as a member.
Kooris previously had served as an ex-officio member as the official designee of the DECD commissioner. He took over as chair in late July following the resignation of Bonnie Reemsnyder, who'd taken over for Scott Bates, who resigned from the board about a month later. Both of their seats remain vacant.
A spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, said Duff has picked someone to replace Bates but is not announcing who it is yet until the necessary paperwork is complete. Duff expects to announce his appointee next week.
A message left for a spokesman for House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Harford, who is responsible for appointing a replacement for Reemsnyder, was not returned by publication time.

Judge finds fault with zoning permits for tribes’ East Windsor casino project
Brian Hallenbeck
A Superior Court judge in Hartford has sustained a property owner’s appeal of the issuance of zoning permits for the East Windsor casino the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes have proposed.
In a 36-page decision issued Wednesday, Judge Marshall Berger found that the East Windsor Planning and Zoning Commission “abused its discretion” in approving a site plan and granting a special permit “as to the sale of alcohol,” and lacked jurisdiction to consider the sale of alcohol because it failed to properly publish notice of public hearings on the matter.
The decision dismisses claims that the approvals constitute “contract zoning,” in which a local government “extracts” a promise from a developer.
“While we disagree with the ruling, the decision is not entirely unexpected and affects only one aspect of our application,” Andrew Doba, a spokesman for the tribes, said in a statement. "We still have a path forward and remain committed to our ultimate goal of preserving Connecticut jobs and revenue.”
The tribes have pursued the East Windsor casino project in a bid to protect their southeastern Connecticut casinos from the competitive impact of MGM Springfield, a western Massachusetts casino about 13 miles north of East Windsor. MGM Resorts International, the Springfield casino’s owner, has sought for years to block the tribes' project, most recently through a pending lawsuit against the U.S. Department of the Interior for approving the tribes’ gaming agreements with the state.
The zoning appeal, filed by Sofia’s Plazas LLC, owner of a retail area located across the street from the proposed East Windsor casino site, claimed the town’s agreement with the tribes “colored” the Planning and Zoning Commission’s “processing of the applications at every stage of the proceedings in favor of approval.”
The tribes have agreed to pay East Windsor an estimated $5.5 million a year in property taxes and another $3 million annually in payments aimed at offsetting the casino-related costs the town would incur.
David Sherwood, the Glastonbury attorney representing Sofia's Plazas, could not be reached for comment.

Legislators ask for highway tolls forum in Naugatuck Valley
HARTFORD — Some Republican legislators from the Lower Naugatuck Valley are asking Gov. Ned Lamont to hold an open meeting on highway tolls in the region.
Lamont is scheduled to attend a forum on transportation funding in Westport on Sunday that two local Democratic legislators who support tolls have sponsored. The governor has no other town meetings publicly scheduled at this time.
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, and five other House Republicans wrote the Democratic governor on Wednesday requesting that he schedule a public meeting somewhere in the Lower Naugatuck Valley. Three of the 12 proposed tolling locations on the table now are located in the region.
The six Valley Republicans referenced the Westport event in the request Wednesday to Lamont.
“This is an opportunity for the public to finally learn of the details on the proposed toll system that have been sorely missing up to this point,” Klarides said Thursday.
There was no immediate response from the governor’s office to the request, and it was unclear Thursday if the Republican legislators would get one.
Lamont and Democratic majority leaders are now concentrating on trying to cement support for the latest proposal for truck-only bridge tolls so they can schedule a special session to approve a transportation funding plan later this month.
They agreed on this approach after Lamont was unable to win support for using car and truck tolls to finance 14 bridge and highway projects. The proposal was part of the 10-year, $21.3 billion CT2030 transportation funding plan that the governor released in early November.
The tolling plan under development now would impose tolls on heavy commercial trucks only to help finance 12 bridge improvement projects.
Three of the proposed tolling projects are located in the Naugatuck Valley region, the Mixmaster interchange of I-84 and Route 8 in Waterbury, four bridges on Route 8 south of the I-84 interchange in Waterbury, and the Rochambeau Bridge over the Housatonic River on I-84 in Newtown and Southbury.
In addition to Klarides, three other Valley Republicans signed Wednesday’s letter to Lamont asking for a public meeting in the region — Reps. Rosa C. Rebimba of Naugatuck, David K. Labriola of Oxford, and Nicole Klarides-Ditras of Seymour.
“Not unlike Westport, our districts are concerned about Connecticut’s transportation infrastructure and we would like to give our constituents an opportunity to learn more and ask questions with regard to how CT 2030 will affect them. We believe a Town Hall could be beneficial to better understanding your proposals,” the letter said.
Reps. Charles Ferraro, R-West Haven; and Kathleen Kennedy, R-Milford, also signed the letter.
A Lamont spokesman on Thursday characterized the Westport event as a continuation of the ongoing public conversation on transportation funding that Lamont has been having with the people of Connecticut. The governor also fielded listener questions in-studio on two morning radio talk shows this week.
“I think the governor is going to continue to have these talks both publicly and privately with residents,” said Max Reiss, Lamont’s communication director.
He also continued to push back against Thursday criticisms and charges from toll opponents over the planning of the Westport forum, including toll supporters were secretly working to pack the audience.
In a related development Thursday, Patrick Sasser, the founder of No Tolls CT, announced that the anti-toll group will boycott the Westport event with Lamont
Instead, Sasser said members of No Tolls CT will focus its efforts on the upcoming special election to elect anti-toll candidates to fill three open House seats. Two of the seats were held by Republicans who resigned and the third was held by a Democrat who died.
There are special elections scheduled next Tuesday in the 48th and 132nd assembly districts. There will be a special election in the 151st Assembly District on Jan. 21.

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