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CT Construction Digest Monday February 10, 2020

Ridgefield studies borrowing for road work
Macklin Reid
Borrowing for road work, anyone? A $39-million town-side budget presented to the selectmen Monday night, Feb. 3, would hold the requested spending increase to 2.99%. It increases money for road repairs by close to $1 million, but proposes to accomplish this by returning to the practice of paying for road work with borrowing.
“We need to do more roads. They’re all in bad shape,” First Selectman Rudy Marconi told the selectmen.
The total budget now proposed would require a 3.69% tax increase in 2020-21, the new fiscal year that starts July 1. That includes the more than $39 million requested for town departments and roads, combined with the $102 million school budget being reviewed by the Board of Education, and $11 million in debt service.
Road work and how to pay for it was the major topic during an opening overview discussion Monday as the Board of Selectmen began four nights of budget meetings the first week of February. The selectmen have another week-long marathon of budget meetings scheduled for the first week of March, and expected to end in a vote to approve a budget to be sent on to the Board of Finance.

After the selectmen and school board have both adopted their versions of the budgets presented by the town and school administrations, the combined town-and-school budget — currently projecting to over $140 million — would be reviewed and possibly amended by the Board of Finance.
The finance board will sent its proposed budget and a new tax rate on to town voters in May.
Borrowing?
Marconi presented the selectmen with the idea of borrowing to pay for about $1 million of some $2.8 million in road repairs that Public Works Director Peter Hill has asked to do.
Both town departments and the school system have operating budgets that are paid for directly from each year’s taxes, and capital budgets made up of construction projects and equipment purchases that are more expensive and usually paid for with borrowing in the bond market.
The informal cut-off point for the capital budget has long been about $10,000 in cost and at least 10 years of useful life — items over that are considered appropriate to be financed with borrowing, but items below either of those markers generally go in that year’s operating budget.
For the coming 2020-21 year, capital budget requests currently total $8.4 million — $3,275,000 of that from the schools.

But those are the requests. Usually, some cutting is done before the budgets get to voters.
Over the years, the way road repairs and repaving is paid for has changed in Ridgefield.
Road work had long been in capital budget, paid for with borrowing every year. About a decade back town officials undertook to move the $1-or-$2 million in annual road work from the capital to the operating budget. This was difficult and painful, budget-wise, as the change bumped up the operating budget and increased the next year’s tax rate considerably.
Now, under the plan before the selectmen, a substantial portion of road work — though not all of it —would be moved back into the capital budget. That means it would be financed with borrowing, and wouldn’t affect next year’s tax rate. It would, however, be felt in future years’ taxes as the borrowing is paid off.
39 roads
The proposed 2020-21 budget has a list of 39 public roads in need of work. The budget also proposes work on one of five private roads that are on the list.
The cost of repaving all those 40 roads is projected at almost $2,634,000. The annual roads budget also includes $250,000 for drainage work, which pushes the total request for road work to over $2.8 million. Marconi spoke of different categories of roads.
State highways, like Route 7 or Route 35 (including Main Street), aren’t in the town budget because the state is responsible for maintaining them. There are major town roads that get a lot of use and need be repaved more frequently — Farmingville Road is an example. And then there are less-traveled neighborhood roads that don’t get as much use — and where repaving tends to last longer.
Some of these less-used roads are the ones Marconi and Public Works director Peter Hill suggest might go in the capital budget, to be paid for with borrowing. Part of the argument is that the less-traveled roads last longer.
“I asked Pete ‘What’s the life?’ He said ‘14 to 16 years,’ ” Marconi said of the less-traveled road.
 That could help justifying the borrowing.
“If a road lasts 15 to 18 years, you’re spreading that cost out longer, so more people share in the debt service,” Marconi argued.
The distinction between the two types of roads touches on the rule of thumb that only projects expected to last 10 or more years should go in the capital budget and be financed through the bond market.
The length of time repaving jobs last was part of the discussion, dating back several years to when the finance board led the effort to move the annual repaving work from the capital budget into the operating budget.
“Part of it was the roads being worked on weren’t even lasting 10 years,” said Selectwoman Barbara Manners.
“My recollection is roads went into operating because the Board of Finance felt it was more of a maintenance expense — we’re not building new roads,” Marconi said.
Creating the two categories of roads and moving some of them into the capital budget is a way to substantially increase the amount of road work without a commensurate increase in the tax rate.
“They all need to be done,” Marconi said of the roads listed. “The suggestion is to move them out of operating and include them in capital.”
Ambitious
The selectmen weren’t necessarily sold.“It’s so ambitious,” Selectwoman Maureen Kozlark said.
“It is ambitious. A lot of our roads aren’t good,” Marconi replied.
“How do we minimize the impact on the mill rate, minimize the impact on the taxpayer?” Marconi said.
“We could probably spend $10 million a year on roads — but we can’t spend $10 million, so we pick and prioritize,” said Selectman Sean Connelly.
Marconi defended the proposal as way to hold down the 2020-21 operating budget and the related tax increase.
“I have a job to do,” Marconi said. “You can’t just accept the budget and do nothing about it.”

Westport bridge project gets final OK from zoning commission
DJ Simmons
WESTPORT — The Kings Highway North Bridge replacement project got its final approval Thursday from the Planning and Zoning Commission.
In January, the Representative Town Meeting approved $2.47 million to replace the bridge. The project is eligible for funding under the state local bridge program, which allows a 50 percent reimbursement.
“Back in 2016 the Connecticut DOT decided to go out for the first time in about 20 years and do a screening for all the bridges in the state that are under 20 feet,” Director of Public Works Pete Ratkiewich said. “When they came to this bridge they found the bridge was in very poor condition.”
Since then a 4-ton weight limit has been imposed on the bridge due to deterioration. The current limit prohibits school buses, fire trucks and plow trucks from crossing.

Ratkiewich noted after conversations with the Historic District Commission, the original proposed 42-inch parapets would be lowered.“Mainly the bridge would be 36 inches on either side, which also cut costs,” he said. “We view that as a minimal change.”
The project is estimated to start in June and the road over the bridge will be temporarily closed during construction. Residents will be notified of the closure and additional detour routes in news releases.
In other business, the commission gave cautious approval to review of a text amendment that would allow retail use on the second floor of buildings on Main Street.
“We, as a landlord, want to have as much flexibility, obviously within certain parameters, to allow success,” Ryan McClay, of Forstone Capital, said at Thursday’s meeting. “To have a restriction on the second floor to prohibit uses that tenants want is difficult to deal with.”
Traditional retail is currently the only commercial use not allowed on the second floor. Similar proposals have come before the commission in past years but failed.
He surmised there were four main reasons for previous denials — parking, traffic, narrow benefits and a fear of prohibiting mixed-use development. However, McClay said most retail users now would have low parking requirements.
Commissioner Cathy Walsh said she was partially open to the proposal, but wanted more information.
“My concerns really revolve around what the overall effect is going to be in the area,” she said, adding she wants to see from the town’s assessor how the grand list could be impacted.

Commissioner Chip Stephens said he was hesitant to push for more retail downtown.“I would like to see some new ideas and fresh ideas,” Stephens said, suggesting opportunities like housing or even a movie theater.
Commissioners were generally supportive of the proposal, but pushed for ADA compliance in any building that falls under a potential text amendment.
McClay noted tenants have been priced out in recent years and the second floor provides an opportunity to attract retail businesses. While there are not many two-story buildings downtown, other businesses could benefit from the change.
“What we’ve seen, speaking for this property specifically, is users are out there,” McClay said. “They just want a smaller place and they don’t want to pay the premium.”

Waterbury politicians are conflicted on tolls: Highway money versus hometown support?
Paul Hughs
WATERBURY — Rep. Larry B. Butler went from being a supporter of highway tolls to an opponent of the latest plan for 12 truck-only bridge tolls because it targets two bridges in his hometown of Waterbury.
Butler, D-72nd District, and the two other Democratic representatives from Waterbury could end up being pivotal House votes on truck-only tolls. With no Republican votes for tolls, the legislation will require the support of 76 of the 90 House Democrats to pass.
Like Butler, Rep. Geraldo Reyes, D-75th District, another toll supporter, is conflicted. He is troubled that two of the 12 proposed tolls would be in his South End district on approaches to the Mixmaster interchange on Interstate 84 and Route 8.
Rep. Ron Napoli, a first-term Democrat representing the 73rd Assembly District, remains undecided. He, too, has concerns about the proposed Waterbury tolls.
BOTH BUTLER AND REYES had supported an unsuccessful 2019 proposal to toll both cars and trucks at 50 locations across the state on five major highways, but the two Brass City legislators part company on the latest plan for 12 truck-only bridge tolls.
“We would have gotten all the revenue we needed for the Special Transportation Fund because we would have realized $800 million to $1 billion a year, but that is totally different plan than what we are looking at now,” Butler said. “The architects of this new plan who decided to put two toll gantries in Waterbury, that is a bridge too far for me. So, unless that changes, I can’t see myself supporting this.” Reyes said he is ready to vote for the more limited plan despite his misgivings about having two of the 12 proposed toll bridges in Waterbury and a third one 11 miles to the west on I-84 on the Rochambeau Bridge in Southbury and Newtown.
Reyes and Butler said they are both lobbying to eliminate the proposed tolls on an elevated stretch of Route 8 bridges south of the Mixmaster, but difference is Reyes will still be a “yes” vote if the effort fails.
As a candidate, Napoli did not take a firm stance for or against tolls, and he did not have to declare himself in the 2019 session because bipartisan opposition thwarted the 50-toll plan.
Napoli said he is still making up his mind. There are aspects of the latest tolling plan that he likes and does not like.
“I would have had an issue if passenger vehicles were in the bill, and I do have an issue with so many of the gantries being around Waterbury. So, I’m doing a lot of listening and doing a lot of research now,” Napoli said.
DECISION TIME could come within the next two weeks as Democratic majority leaders are indicating there will be House and Senate votes the week of Feb. 17.
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, and Senate President Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, continue to maintain they have the necessary Democratic votes to sending a tolling bill to Gov. Ned Lamont to sign.
“If both chambers really have the votes, it is going to be razor thin,” Reyes said. “If it passes, it is just barely going to pass.”
Looney said he has the commitment of 18 of the 22 Democratic senators. This would set up Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz to cast the deciding vote in the 36-seat Senate, and she has said she would break a tie for tolls.
Sen. Joan V. Hartley, D-15th District, said she cannot support having three of the 12 proposed toll bridges in the Waterbury region.
“Are you kidding me? Do they think we’re looking at this with blinders on? Just look at the rest of the state,” she said.
Hartley said there is a lot industry in Waterbury and the Naugatuck Valley, and the truck-only tolls will be costly to commerce in this heavily industrialized region.
“We’ve got a lot of manufacturing, and so why put the big bull’s-eye on the corridor that is primarily manufacturing,” she said.
Aresimowicz and House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, have declined to share a vote count, but they said enough House Democrats will support the truck-only tolling plan.
Reyes recalled how House Democrats came up one vote short of passing legislation in 2017 that directed the state Department of Transportation to prepare a tolling plan for the legislature’s consideration.
“That was only two and half years ago. That was with a whole lot less ‘Dems’ in the House. Now we have a huge advantage in the House, and here we are again,” Reyes said. “It just goes to show you that every year is different.”
SOME DEMOCRATIC LAWMAKERS are planning to oppose the 12 truck-only-bridge tolls because they favor wider tolls on cars and trucks.
“I am one of those guys who believes it should be everybody,” Reyes said, and Butler counts himself one, too.
Senate Democrats made clear car tolls are unacceptable when they rebuffed Lamont after he released a second tolling plan in early November that proposed only 14 tolls on cars and trucks. This led to Lamont and Democratic leaders to propose 12 bridge tolls on heavy commercial trucks only.
Butler said the proposed truck-only bridge tolls will not raise adequate revenue, and Reyes and Hartley are also dubious. The Lamont administration is projecting the 12-toll plan will raise $172 million in net revenue annually, starting in the 2023 fiscal year.
“I can’t see going through this for that amount of revenue when we will still have to come back and worry about raising more revenue to support the transportation fund and other needs of the state,” Butler said.
He recalled how the administration last year estimated that 50 to 100 truck-only bridge tolls on all major highways would take 25 years to raise $200 million annually. He said he does not see what has changed in that 2019 scenario.
Like Butler, Hartley also questioned the accuracy and adequacy of the $172 million estimate. She said she has yet to see any financial analyses that show this is a reliable revenue forecast, or the anticipated annual sum is sufficient. The 12 bridge improvement projects are estimated to cost from $1.3 billion to $1.7 billion.
REPUBLICAN LEGISLATORS AND TOLL OPPONENTS are warning approval of truck-only bridge tolls would be the first step toward tolls on cars and trucks.
Reyes said he expects to see tolling expanded to cars, too, but he believes proposed restrictions will limit tolls to heavy commercial trucks for at least 10 years.
“I am being told it is rock solid for 10 years. I think, if anything, it should make people comfortable that it is not going to affect cars for a while,” he said.
A draft of the tolling bill imposes a restriction on state transportation bonds issued from July 2020 through June 2022 that prohibits the state from authorizing tolls beyond the 12 proposed truck-only bridge tolls through June 2030. It also mandates the state treasurer provide a pledge to bondholders that the state will not enact any laws in that time to expand tolling until the bonds are paid off.
Reyes said the two conditions make voting for the 12 truck-only bridge tolls easier because his constituents in the 75th Assembly District will not have to pay tolls for 10 years.
Republicans and toll opponents said even Democratic leaders have publicly acknowledged that future legislatures and governors could decide to expand tolling. For example, the pledge to bond buyers does not apply to refunding bonds issued to pay the original bonds.
Hartley expressed concerns that cars and all trucks could end up paying tolls after 10 years.
“By the way, I don’t think 2030 is that far away,” she said.

New Boombridge Road Bridge to be built in North Stonington
Sten Spinella
North Stonington — Twelve years after the Boombridge Road Bridge closed, a new bridge is set to be built.
After several of the bridge's steel beams were found to be severely deteriorated, the state Department of Transportation closed the approximately 120-foot-long bridge, which spans the Pawcatuck River, in July 2008. The closure of the bridge has forced residents to take at least a six-mile detour to get to the other side. The defunct bridge, which connects the town with Westerly, was built in the 1960s.
The primary reason it took so long to begin construction is because the bridge is owned by both towns, and both Connecticut and Rhode Island are involved with granting permits.
Connecticut DOT spokesman Kevin Nursick said that with the administrative and federal requirements, permitting, oversight, execution of construction and administration of funding, it became clear that it would be best if one state handled the project. After discussions, it was agreed the Connecticut DOT would oversee the project.
First Selectman Michael Urgo said it took a concerted collaboration between various parties to bring the project to fruition.
"I think the challenge of it was that you had two states, two towns, two environmental agencies, just a lot of people to coordinate," Urgo said. "That in and of itself has its challenges, but I'm thankful that a lot of people came together in both states to get this done."
Before a new bridge can go up, the old bridge must come down.
The project involves removing the existing span, reconstructing the bridge approaches on both sides and then building a new bridge that would be 24 feet wide and 122 feet long. The project is scheduled to be completed Nov. 20. Nursick noted that when complete, the new bridge should last at least 50 years.
The project is estimated to cost $2.66 million, and the work will be done by the Brunalli Construction Co. of Southington. Past cost estimates hovered around $3 million, but Urgo said bids came in lower than projected.
Bridge construction is being funded by federal and local funds. The Connecticut DOT will contribute $1,066,300 of federal dollars; the Rhode Island DOT will pitch in $600,000 in federal money; North Stonington will pay $266,575 and Westerly the remaining $732,875.
Nursick said that although the bridge carried very little traffic on a daily basis, the detour route was not efficient and a burden for local traffic.
Last week, Urgo mentioned the effect the closure has had on the large Beriah Lewis Farm on Boombridge Road while extolling the benefits of the new bridge.
 "The bridge has an economic benefit to Rhode Island and Connecticut; it provides much easier access to both towns, and businesses in both towns should benefit," Urgo said. "We have Lewis Farm, an invaluable member of our community, that owns land on both sides of this thing. I'm sure it's been an incredible challenge for them over the past years."
In 2015, The Day spoke with Rosalind Lewis, co-owner of the Beriah Lewis Farm, and she expressed her frustration with the holdup.
"We're a pretty big business ... and we're pretty big taxpayers," Lewis said at the time. "And yet this bridge cost us, this past harvesting season, $200 to $275 a day."
With land, crops and livestock on either side of the bridge, the commute for the farm and its staff proved especially frustrating.
"You'd think they were building the George Washington Bridge," said Lewis at the time. She could not be reached to comment last week.

Water line project scheduled to begin Wednesday in Mystic
Mystic -- The Aquarion Water Company has announced a water main replacement project is scheduled to begin Wednesday on Mistuxet Avenue.
The company said the project, which will replace 9,120 feet of water main, is part of a program to improve its water distribution system and ensure the highest quality water. The upgrade is also designed to help reduce leaks and water main breaks.
Customers should expect minor traffic delays and possible detours between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m.
To keep its customers informed about scheduled/unscheduled work, Aquarion uses a CodeRED notification system to call affected customers. Customers can sign up for the free service at www.aquarionwater.com/codered.

$30M redevelopment would bring apartments, upgrades to South Windsor’s Geissler’s plaza
Joe Cooper
armington developer Prospect Enterprises LLC acquired South Windsor’s Geissler’s plaza almost a decade ago with aspirations of recasting the property into a mixed-use development.
Now, after a wave of support from residents and town officials, Prospect is eyeing a $30-million investment to expand and modernize the popular Geissler’s Supermarket and add new apartment buildings at the Sullivan Avenue property.
The town’s Planning and Zoning Commission recently approved a zoning amendment that would allow Prospect to revamp 55,000 square feet of retail space and erect six, three-story buildings containing 125 studio, one- and two-bedroom apartments. The housing would also be complemented by a separate “clubhouse” building.
Prospect still needs other local and state approvals before it can break ground on the redevelopment in the next year, said Prospect General Manager Gregg Nanni. Construction could take up to two years to complete.
“The apartment buildings add some economic vitality to the project overall,” said Nanni, whose firm owns and manages several grocery-anchored community shopping centers. “That makes the expansion and renovation of Geissler’s more viable.”
The luxury apartment complex is expected to feature 15 studio and 70 one- and 42 two-bedroom units on vacant land adjacent to Geissler’s Supermarket. The housing development will cost about $20 million.
Nanni said the studio and one-bedroom units would be targeted at young professionals and the two-bedroom units geared toward empty nesters looking to downsize.
The 28,000- square-foot Geissler’s Supermarket has agreed to remain the shopping center’s flagship tenant and is slated to benefit from $3 million in interior renovations. The grocery store was last renovated in 1998, town officials say. (The family owned supermarket also operates locations in East Windsor, Windsor, Bloomfield and Somers, among others.) Prospect is looking to spend another $7 million to upgrade the exterior and interior of the roughly 27,000 square feet of adjoining vacant retail space. The hope is that the improvements will lure new retail and residential tenants to the 17-acre property, Nanni said.
A gas station is also being considered for the project, but a user has not yet been identified.
Planners, meantime, are drawing potential blueprints to reconfigure the parking area with new paved surfaces, islands, landscaping and lighting, he said.
Prospect has been steadily working its way through the town approval process over the last year. At a public hearing on the proposal in November, town officials said 70 or so residents spoke in favor of the project with only one citizen in opposition.
Town Manager Michael Maniscalco said the redevelopment will provide a significant amount of property tax revenue for South Windsor. He said he hopes it also spurs other private-sector investments on the Sullivan Avenue corridor.
“My hope with the redevelopment of the Geissler’s plaza is that it will set off a chain reaction of other redevelopment projects in the area that will enhance our Sullivan Avenue trade area,” he said.

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