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CT Construction Digest Wednesday February 19, 2020

The tolls saga continues as Democrats postpone vote

Faced with the threat of a 30-hour debate by the Republican minority and a less-than-certain game plan by the Democratic majority, lawmakers have put off tentative plans for a Thursday vote on tolls legislation until at least next week, the top Senate leader said Tuesday night.
Both House and Senate Democrats remain unwilling to go first in debating the bill that would authorize truck tolls on a dozen highway bridges — an extraordinary acknowledgement of the continued distrust by members of each chamber that the other has the votes for passage.
Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, said the latest scenario for attempting passage is to split the bill in two, each authorizing tolls on six bridges — one bill beginning  in the House and the other in the Senate. The bills would be exchanged by each chamber like hostages.
“Both chambers would have to pass both bills,” Looney said.
The Republican minority leaders, Sen. Len Fasano of North Haven and Rep. Themis Klarides of Derby, said the machinations by the Democratic majority are an affront to the General Assembly.
“I thought last week’s flimflam was bad,” Klarides said, referring an earlier plan to attempt synchronized votes and debates of identical bills. “It was a miscarriage of the process. But this one is just beyond.”
 Fasano said Republicans not only will debate the bills at length, but withhold typical courtesies that lubricate the machinery of legislating — such as waiving a reading the bill.
“They have a right to run any bill they want as the majority, but they don’t have a right to bastardize the system,” Fasano said. “I’m going to challenge them. They are going to read the bill [aloud]. They are going to read the amendments. They are not going to get away with this easily.”
Looney said the promise of a 30-hour filibuster will require preparation by both chambers. Senate Democrats will caucus on Thursday to talk about what may come next.
“We have to figure out a time next week to set aside 30 hours, if need be,” Looney said.
“The House will be begging for a 30-hour vote by the time this debate is said and done,” Klarides said.
Democrats control the Senate, 22-14, and the House, 91-60. Looney has told the governor he can produce 18 votes, enough for passage with the help of a tie-breaking vote by Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz.
Republicans said Democrats have no grounds to accuse the GOP of dilatory tactics, since they are turning the process on its head.
“If you are not going to respect the institution, don’t ask me for respect,” Fasano said.
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, could not be reached Tuesday.
The governor’s office declined to comment beyond Gov. Ned Lamont’s statement earlier Tuesday that his last communication with the leadership left him under the impression the vote would be Thursday.
 Lamont and Looney spoke on Saturday.
The debate over tolls has turned into a saga.
A year ago, Lamont proposed a comprehensive system of tolls on cars and trucks at more than 50 locations on Interstates 84, 91 and 94, as well as the Merritt and Wilbur Cross parkways. It would have raised as much as $800 million annually.
When lawmakers refused to bring the measure to a vote, the administration countered with a downsized version of tolls on cars and trucks on 13 bridges. Legislative leaders could not find the votes for passage.
House Democratic leaders proposed a compromise accepted by Lamont and Senate Democratic leaders: tolls at 12 bridges, but only on tractor trailers. That would raise about $175 million annually.
“We had assumed the House would go first when we compromised. The compromise was offered by the House,” Looney said. “They declined to go first.”
The current plan is getting squeezed from both sides. Every Republican in the General Assembly promises to vote against any form of tolls — or new transportation revenue, for that matter. Some supporters of Lamont’s ambitions for a plan to spend more than $19 billion on transportation over 10 years grumble that the compromise raises too little money.

Lawmakers considering cutting truck-only toll bill in half and voting twice

With state legislators deeply distrustful of each other, lawmakers are considering a new plan for Gov. Ned Lamont’s proposal to toll trucks only at 12 bridges — offering two separate bills with six tolls each and force the House of Representatives and Senate to vote twice.
“That’s one of the options," Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney confirmed Tuesday. "Under that option, both chambers would have to vote on both bills.''
A vote on electronic highway tolls has been delayed repeatedly for months as Lamont and optimistic legislators thought they would vote last summer or fall. The latest version calls for tolls on a dozen bridges on six highways from Greenwich to Groton on trucks only. Since some House members question whether the Senate has the necessary votes and vice versa, some lawmakers say the best way to overcome the uncertainty is to conduct simultaneous debates.
But Looney stressed that no final decisions have been made on the process, and no date has been set for a vote.
“The speaker and I are still going back and forth on various options and logistical planning,” Looney said. “There isn’t any specific commitment to a day yet.” Regarding a potential vote this week, Looney said, “I can’t really speculate on that at all. We’re already at Tuesday here.”Legislators say that having maximum attendance is important because senators are split on truck-only tolls, with 18 in favor and 18 against, and support in the House is expected to be close to the minimum 76 votes needed in the 151-member chamber.Longtime Capitol veterans say splitting a bill into two pieces is highly unusual.
Former veteran state legislator Michael P. Lawlor burst out laughing upon hearing the scenario of having six tolls in each of two bills.
“That is great," Lawlor, an East Haven Democrat, said, adding he knew of no similar instance during more than 20 years at the Capitol. "There’s no way to write the bill [to avoid all criticism]. You’re either going to vote for tolls or not. People are trying to find a way to avoid unnecessary criticism, and you just can’t do it.'' Former state Rep. Stephen Dargan, a West Haven Democrat who co-chaired the public safety committee for 22 of his 26 years at the Capitol, recalled a somewhat similar scenario in 1995 and 1996 when Republican John G. Rowland was governor and Republicans controlled the state Senate. “The last time I remember anything similar was when the Senate was controlled by the Republicans and the House was controlled by the Democrats," he said Tuesday. “There were times when we would split the committee because there were differences of opinion. In those instances, you might be voting on the same bill twice — and it would get lost in limbo because one chamber would take it up and another chamber wouldn’t.” The two bills, obtained Tuesday by The Courant, are 28 pages each with some similar details. One bill calls for six tolls that include the Gold Star Memorial Bridge between New London and Groton, and the Byram River bridge on I-684 in Greenwich, along with bridges in West Haven, East Lyme, Plainfield and on Route 8 south of I-84 in Waterbury. The second bill includes tolls at the Charter Oak Bridge in Hartford, the so-called Mixmaster in Waterbury, the Rochambeau Bridge on I-84 between Newtown and Southbury, along with bridges in West Hartford, Stamford and Westport. Meanwhile, lobbyists and advocates are continuing to battle over the issue as lawmakers count the votes. Since the proposal calls for tolls on only trucks, drivers have been particularly interested in the issue. While owner-operators interviewed by The Courant were generally opposed to tolls, drivers in the Teamsters union support the idea. “We represent the truck drivers who live and work in Connecticut and we know better than anyone the critical state of disrepair our roads and bridges are in,” the Teamsters, which represents more than 20,000 members in nine locals across the state, said in a statement. “Our members drive these roads every day and their safety, and the safety of the entire motoring public, is at stake.”Lamont has pitched the truck-only tolls as a way to finance a significant overhaul of the state’s transportation infrastructure. He has estimated the dozen tolls would raise $172 million per year in new revenue, with a significant portion paid for by out-of-state drivers.“We must provide a reliable and effective funding program to repair our damaged roads and bridges and the truck only tolling legislation will provide our state with a historic 10-year, $19.4 billion transportation upgrade, create jobs and transform our aging infrastructure by making key investments in much needed highway road and bridge projects that will benefit all the citizens," the Teamsters said. "This legislation will create a system to ensure a consistent and reliable funding mechanism to fix our crumbling infrastructure.”Lawmakers favoring tolls have repeatedly stated that heavy trucks — weighing as much as 80,000 pounds when fully loaded — should pay tolls because they do the most damage to the highways. The Lamont administration cited a 2018 report from the state Department of Transportation that spelled out how heavy trucks do more damage to the highways than lighter vehicles."In segments where there is recurring congestion, particularly of heavy vehicles, there is the significant probability of plastic deformation from heavy loads, particularly during hot weather,'' the report said. “Slow-moving loads have been shown to induce significant strain in pavement structures. This factor would cause pavement carrying heavy vehicles in congested conditions to require more frequent functional repairs (milling and resurfacing) to eradicate rutting (resulting from plastic deformation). This should be expected even with the Superpave mix design process, but estimating the probability and magnitude of the effect is difficult.”
 
Fairfield spends $4 million on hardening project for wastewater treatment plant
Josh LaBella
FAIRFIELD — The town of Fairfield is moving forward with a project that aims to better protect its wastewater treatment plant from coastal flooding from large storms and sea level rise.
According to a press release from First Selectwoman Brenda Kupchick, the project will cost a total of $7.4 million but $3.33 million will be funded through a grant from the United States Department of Housing and Urban Developments’ (US HUD) Community Development Block Grant - Disaster Recovery.
The release said the project will project the town’s “most critical capital asset against the 500-year coastal flood event and from future projected sea level rise.”
“The proposed flood control structure consists of over 2,400 feet of cantilevered steel sheet pile walls that will surround not only the WWTP but the Regional Fire Training Facility, the Animal Control Shelter and the Conservation Workshop Building,” the release said.
Per the release, the project will also involve raising portions of Richard White Way that will be incorporated into the flood control structure. Additionally, it said two storm water pump stations will be constructed within the protected area to remove rain water buildup.
Tighe and Bond Engineers from Shelton are the design engineers and inspectors while Holzner Electric Construction Company in Bridgeport has been selected as the construction contractor for this project.
According to the release, the project is scheduled to be finished by the end of September. It said the two has been working on acquiring funding and permits for more than five years.
“Permitting for this project was received from the United States Army Corps of Engineers, the State of Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, and both the Town of Fairfield Inland Wetlands Agency and Town Plan and Zoning Commission,” the release said.
The release added that the project will also serve to protect the micro grid currently under construction on the site. It said the $2.81 million project, which aims to provide power to the plant via fuel cells, solar arrays and natural gas generators during power outages, should be completed by spring of 2021. That project is entirely funded through US HUD. Brian Carey, the interim director of public works, said the project began on Feb. 9. He said the project fulfills federal requirements.
“They are mobilizing and have started to remove vegetation in anticipation of the flood protection wall. The plant needs to be protected from the 500-year coastal storm prior or the Town would be required to upgrade the plant to make it FEMA resistant,” Carey said.
 
 

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