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CT Construction Digest August 2, 2021

DOT in early stages of planning for improvements to Exit 89

Kimberly Drelich

 Mystic — While it's still in the early stages, the state Department of Transportation is proposing what Groton Public Works Director Greg Hanover considers “major intersection improvements” at the Interstate 95 north and south exit and entrance ramps with Allyn Street at Exit 89.

“The plan is to realign the entrance and exits at Allyn Street and install traffic signals at these locations as well as at Sandy Hollow Road,” a town document states.

The project is in the conceptual phase, and funding has not been allocated for it, but DOT representatives gave an overview of the project at this past week’s Town Council Committee of the Whole meeting to get initial feedback from the council.

Once the project is initiated, it would take two to three years for the design phase, said Marissa Pfaffinger, a DOT project manager. There will be public involvement and a public informational meeting as part of the design phase.

Pfaffinger said the purpose of the project is to address some of the operational and safety concerns, particularly at the northbound off-ramp where traffic backs up close to the exit.

In the three years between Jan. 1, 2018, and Dec. 30, 2020, there were 50 crashes in the area: 13 on the I-95 southbound ramps, 32 on the northbound ramps and five at the Sandy Hollow Road intersection, according to project engineer Emin Basic.

The concept to improve the interchange originally was proposed as part of a 2004 study of the east corridor of I-95 from New Haven to the Rhode Island border, Pfaffinger said.

A larger project for pavement and safety operational improvements on the main line started in the late 2000s but didn't advance to the construction phase due to funding and time limitations, she said. However, the design process did recognize the standalone benefits of improving the interchange.

DOT's Highway Management Unit began revisiting the idea last year and reviewing and updating some of the information and now has a concept in place, she said.

Pfaffinger said the potential for the redevelopment of the Mystic Education Center in the future did not factor into the decision to look at the exit, but the DOT is aware of it. She said DOT is incorporating the potential for future higher volume projections, including from a possible development, in its planning.

DOT estimates the project will cost $5 million and is expected to be funded with 80% federal funds and 20% state funds.

In addition to putting signals at the intersections, DOT is calling for further improvements.

For the I-95 southbound ramps and Allyn Street, DOT also proposes adding exclusive turn lanes on all approaches, removing the yield right turn onto I-95 southbound, and incorporating a minimum of a 4-foot shoulder throughout the eastern edge of Allyn Street.

For the northbound ramps and Allyn Street, DOT is proposing "minor geometric revisions" to the I-95 off-ramp and on-ramp and adding exclusive turn lanes to access the northbound on-ramp from Allyn Street.

For Allyn Street and Sandy Hollow Road, DOT is planning to improve the existing cross-section with minimal widening along the eastern edge of Allyn Street.

DOT also is proposing to "close the existing gaps in the sidewalk network in the immediate vicinity of Sandy Hollow Road."

At Tuesday's meeting, town councilors asked questions and offered initial feedback. The council plans to send a letter to DOT in support of the project concept.

Senate finishes $1 trillion bipartisan infrastructure proposal, setting debate in motion

Tony Romm, The Washington Post

WASHINGTON - Senate Democrats and Republicans announced on Sunday they had finished crafting a roughly $1 trillion proposal to improve the country's roads, bridges, pipes, ports and internet connections, setting in motion a long-awaited debate in the chamber to enact one of President Joe Biden's economic policy priorities. 

The package arrives after weeks of haggling among a bipartisan bloc of lawmakers, who muscled through late-night fights and near-collapses to transform their initial blueprint into a roughly 2,700-page piece of legislation. With the full text slated to be released imminently, the fate of their labor now rests in the Senate, where proponents of infrastructure reform have little margin for error as they race to adopt the sort of bill that has eluded them for years.

Virtually no part of the U.S. economy is untouched by the plan chiefly put together by Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Democratic Sen. Kyrsten Sinema, D-Ariz., a draft of which was obtained early by The Washington Post. Roughly half of its $1 trillion overall price tag constitutes new federal spending, with the rest coming from existing, planned investments in the country's roads, highways and bridges, according to details released in recent days by lawmakers and the White House, which supports the proposal.

Those thoroughfares are expected to see major expansions and repairs under the bill, along with additional investments in the nation's transit system. The measure is also expected to call for $66 billion targeting passenger railways, which the White House says is the largest such investment since the creation of Amtrak nearly a half-century ago.

Lawmakers plan to set aside $55 billion to improve the country's drinking water, including a program that seeks to replace every lead pipe in America. There's expected to be an additional $65 billion to expand broadband internet access nationwide and ensure those who do have connectivity can afford their monthly payments. And Senate lawmakers pursued additional sums to upgrade key commercial hubs, including potentially $25 billion for repairs at major airports.

The proposal, called the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, further seeks a significant amount of funding to combat the threat of climate change, aiming to reduce emissions and respond to the deadly consequences of a fast-warming planet. Lawmakers have called for $73 billion to modernize the nation's energy grid and $21 billion to respond to environmental concerns, including pollution. And they propose allocating new sums to advance clean-energy technologies, including a $7.5 billion initiative for a first-ever national network of electric vehicle charging stations.

"It takes our aging and outdated [infrastructure] in this country and modernizes it, and that's good for everybody," Portman said in a late-night Sunday speech.

Democrats and Republicans say they have covered the full cost of their new spending, one of the thorniest fights among the lawmakers who helped construct the deal. Democrats, led by Biden, initially sought this spring to fund infrastructure investments through tax increases on corporations and wealthy Americans, unwinding the tax cuts that Republicans adopted under Donald Trump. But GOP lawmakers fiercely rejected the idea, preferring instead to raise some of the money through new fees on those who use infrastructure - an idea Democrats rejected out of a fear that it would hurt average Americans.

Their bipartisan compromise, as a result, omits both new taxes as well as user fees. Instead, it recovers its costs through a pastiche of financing mechanisms - from reclaiming past coronavirus aid dollars to collecting unpaid taxes on cryptocurrencies. But there nonetheless remains concern in both parties that some of the math is fuzzy, raising the potential that the package still could add to the federal deficit - and bring about significant fighting on the Senate floor.

That debate was supposed to begin this weekend, under the fast-track timeline laid out by Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., though last-minute haggling over the specifics in the 2,700-page legislation kept the Senate from acting into Sunday night. From here, though, Senate leaders hope to finish their work by the end of the week. The chamber then plans to begin work on a second, roughly $3.5 trillion economic package sought by Democrats, underscoring the significant lift awaiting lawmakers in the days before they are set to depart for their planned summer recess.

"I have said for weeks that the Senate is going to move forward on both tracks of infrastructure before the beginning of the August recess," Schumer said Saturday, days after he promised to keep the chamber in session during nights and weekends to meet his goal.

"The longer it takes to finish, the longer we'll be here," he said. "But we're going to get the job done."

Only five days ago did Portman, Sinema and other negotiators announce they had reached a deal, setting in motion a rocky sprint to turn their roughly $1 trillion blueprint into legislative text. The Senate voted overwhelmingly on Tuesday night to start debate on the measure, even before lawmakers had an actual bill in hand, though the chief backers of infrastructure reform saw the development as a positive sign of their political prospects.

"I know it has been difficult, and I know it has been long. And what I'm proud to say is that is what our fore founders intended," Sinema said.

From here, the bipartisan group of 10 senators faces a delicate task. The lawmakers must keep together their fragile coalition, avoiding the sort of policy disputes that nearly doomed their efforts multiple times since they first announced their ambitions for new public-works spending in June. And they must remain open to changes while not allowing any that could undermine support for the legislation, since any bill ultimately must garner 60 votes in the Senate, where Democrats possess only a razor-thin majority, with Vice President Kamala Harris holding the tiebreaking vote.

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, one of the chief negotiators of the infrastructure deal, sounded a note of optimism about the path forward on Sunday. Appearing on CNN's "State of the Union," she said it remains "my expectation and my hope" that the $1 trillion proposal could pass the Senate this week.

With every Democrat voting for the deal, the party still would need 10 Republican votes to advance infrastructure investments through the chamber. Collins predicted that those votes ultimately would be there as senators from both parties realize "the very concrete benefits, no pun intended, of this legislation."

Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., another negotiator, predicted that final passage could come as soon as Thursday - an ambitious timeline that may hinge on lawmakers deftly navigating what might be a difficult amendment process over the days ahead.

Appearing on CNN, Manchin also stressed the bill's ubiquitous political appeal, calling the new investments "something every state, every area of every state, needs."

Yet serious political schisms still loom large over the bipartisan measure. Chief among them are concerns about its costs, given lingering doubts that the $1 trillion in new public-works spending is not actually covered by new revenue - and could add to the deficit.

In an early sign of the bickering to come, Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., took his criticisms to the chamber floor on Friday. He lambasted the "lofty and unrealistic revenue estimates" of the package, which he said would result in government spending that increased the risks of inflation.

Liberal Democrats harbor their own fears about the package: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York told CNN that she had some initial doubts about the financing mechanisms essentially being a boon for corporate America.

Ocasio-Cortez and other House lawmakers previously have questioned the scope of the Senate's infrastructure investments, believing that Democrats should have sought more as part of the deal, given their narrow but powerful majorities in both chambers of Congress. They have insisted that any new bipartisan deal on public-works spending must move in tandem with the second, roughly $3.5 trillion package, which includes many of Biden's other economic priorities, including an expansion of federal safety-net programs and other initiatives to fight climate change. Democrats intend to advance the package on their own - bypassing likely GOP opposition - using a legislative maneuver known as reconciliation that is reserved for budget measures.

Long-awaited Norwich sewage treatment plant upgrade moving forward

Claire Bessette

Norwich — One of the biggest construction projects slated to start next summer should be a game-changer for economic growth, bring cleaner water to Norwich Harbor and hundreds of workers downtown for five to seven years.

And the offensive odor of sewage that sometimes permeates the city’s waterfront on humid days should be a thing of the past.

The long-awaited sewage treatment upgrade — now tagged at $167 million — is in the final design stages, with the first bids advertised in winter and construction to begin next summer, Norwich Public Utilities officials said.

Already plant operators are moving out of a three-story brick administration building into temporary trailers. The building will be demolished to make way for a new single-story administration and testing laboratory building.

The project has been in the works for decades, as NPU negotiated with state environmental officials on how best to comply with state orders to correct the city's persistent water pollution issues.

The state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection in June approved NPU's “Basis of Design Report” for the project. A complex grant and loan package is in place for NPU to move forward.

“It took an awful lot of time and effort, but after a lot of delay for a variety of reasons, it’s moving along very, very well,” NPU spokesman Chris Riley said. “It’s an enormous challenge, but it’s also enormously exciting as well.”

Upgrades to the sewage treatment plant are estimated at $80 million. Building a new wet weather treatment facility, to capture and treat rainwater overflows, is pegged at $53 million. And a new high-capacity pump station at Rose Alley is estimated to cost $34 million.

Once final designs are completed, NPU will apply to DEEP for approval and go out to bid to finalize the costs. Work to eliminate sewer-rainwater overflow qualifies for 50% grant funding, 50% low-interest loan; work to remove nitrogen from the Thames River qualifies for 30% grant and other work, 20% grants and 80% loan.

The loans will be paid through the three years of 6% sewer rate increases the utilities commission enacted. But NPU also hopes that Congress approves a federal infrastructure package that could make at least part of the upgrade project "shovel ready" eligible.

NPU General Manager Chris LaRose said the project is an investment in economic development for Norwich and surrounding towns. NPU has agreements with Bozrah and Franklin to use the system, and is talking to Sprague, Preston and Lisbon.

“When you look at what a sewer brings to the city of Norwich, this is economic development,” he said. “You can’t grow anything in town without an excellent sewer system. Nobody wants to be in the sewer business, but it is a necessary requirement for business.”

Larry Sullivan, NPU wastewater integrity manager, said the funding isn’t the only complexity.

The plan will replace the antiquated digester system under the big gray dome with a liquid waste system. New screens will filter material to a quarter-inch size. No more will raw sewage sit in open-air pools.

But there’s a catch.

All the new construction will take place on the cramped, manmade Hollyhock Island that splits the Yantic River where the current plant stands. The old plant must remain in operation without pause throughout construction.

“These all have to stay in operation, while the new plant gets built around it," Sullivan said. "They’re still working on the construction sequence. ... It’s going to be an interesting five years.”

And those five years will bring dozens of workers to Hollyhock Island each day. Contractors and subcontractors, suppliers and workers needing lunches.

NPU officials said people only have to recall Tropical Storm Elsa to realize the need for the upgrade. The city received 4 inches of rain in eight hours, dumping 8.3 million gallons of untreated sewage and rainwater into Norwich Harbor. The system saw 20 million gallons of flow for six straight hours, Sullivan said, when a normal dry summer day might get 3 million, and a normal wet weather day 5 million to 7 million gallons.

The Rose Alley pump station now can handle 9 million to 10 million gallons. The new station will be capable of sending 60 million gallons of flow to the treatment plant, and the new wet weather system will treat it.

“That first inch of rainfall from the streets is going to have nitrogen from lawns and oil,” Sullivan said. “Why not treat that stuff? Now, Rose Alley is not capable of transporting it, and our plant is not capable of handling it.”

Courtney talks infrastructure, budget

Sten Spinella

While "it's a good thing for the country that we get a bipartisan package through in terms of people's confidence in the government," U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney prefers the House's infrastructure plan over the Senate's.

The 2nd District Democrat discussed Congress's effort to pass an infrastructure bill on Wednesday, when it became clear that the Senate would vote in favor of starting debate on its version of the $1 trillion bipartisan deal.

He said he felt a lot of House members were concerned that the Senate’s package didn’t go far enough in allocating money for rail, waterways, public transit, ports, bridges and roads.

“There’s no question that there’s much needed upgrades and improvements in the package being negotiated. (New York Democrat and Senate Majority Leader Chuck) Schumer is determined to get it done and over to the House. We passed our own version of infrastructure, which, if you line them up side by side, ours is better,” Courtney said. “It boils down to one basic distinction in terms of the challenge of climate change. Given the fact that our transportation sector is the biggest emitter of carbon gas, we have to move away from the traditional formula of infrastructure bills in the past that were built around the automobile and large ground vehicles.”

He went on to say that the House bill has a larger investment in transit to try to make it more consistent and affordable, and to convince people to shift away from traditional car travel. He praised the House bill for its “huge investment” in rail and high-speed rail as well, while saying the Senate bill was “skimpier and more focused on repairs and upgrades.”

Courtney liked other aspects of the Senate bill, noting there’s good investment in broadband.

“Bringing this all back to eastern Connecticut, the need to aggressively upgrade broadband is an economic development issue for some of these small towns," he said. "They cannot entice commercial growth if they don’t have adequate internet availability, and there are definitely dead zones or weak zones all across the district.”

Democratic lawmakers also are trying to push through a more than $3 trillion budget resolution, which House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has said needs to clear the Senate before the House calls the Senate’s infrastructure bill. Senate Budget Chairman Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., said there will be no bipartisan infrastructure bill without the broader budget resolution.

But Courtney doesn’t believe the two measures are seriously affecting each other.

“I don’t think the notion that us taking up a budget resolution is going to inherently undermine Republican support for the infrastructure bill,” he said. “It has been well understood for weeks and weeks now that there’s going to be a budget resolution that will include the president’s agenda.”

As far as deciding between the competing infrastructure bills, Courtney isn’t yet sure how the House is going to work it out.

“Whether there’s a decision made to conference those two bills to try and come up with a conference report that would find a sweet spot of compromise, or whether we just go forward with the Senate infrastructure bill as is with the understanding that politically this is probably as good as it’s going to get, hasn’t been decided yet,” he said.

Lawmakers still are determining what the funding sources will be for the infrastructure deal.

Courtney said it would be paid for with a “hodgepodge of different savings and areas in the government.” He mentioned that the Congressional Budget Office affirmed that the spending plan would offset the price.

He said he feels Joe Biden is focusing on infrastructure in an attempt at his first signature policy achievement as president because it’s an achievable goal that can appeal to both parties.

Then, the congressman again brought the conversation back to eastern Connecticut.

“The state is going to get a 40% increase in federal money for (its) service transportation account, which will allow for things like fixing the Gold Star Bridge and dealing with the 395-95 interchange,” he said. “You don’t think of eastern Connecticut as a big transit place, but if all goes well and we get the funding I’m describing, we’re going to make this a real option for people to get to work and move around.”

New Connecticut River boardwalk nears completion in Middletown

Cassandra Day

MIDDLETOWN — By late September, visitors to Harbor Park, which offers sweeping views of the Connecticut River and Arrigoni Bridge, will be able to stroll along a brand new boardwalk.

The former port, which bustled during the 18th century with the West Indies sugar trade, lies at the “big bend” in the river, which stretches 406 miles from Long Island to Quebec, Canada.

Since the spring, the entire walkway has been cordoned off with fencing — from the old canoe club to near the pedestrian tunnel at the park’s west entrance. The pavilion between the now-closed waterfront restaurant and boathouse was removed some time ago.

It’s part of the city’s recent push to redevelop its portion of the riverfront, which includes the purchase of the former Jackson Corrugated property on River Road, where apartments and retail are proposed.

It will complement the new restaurant/ice cream and coffee bar/snack shack and brewery proposed by Eli Cannon’s Tap Room co-owners Rocco and Aubrey Lamonica. The city has tentatively accepted the couple’s proposal and is drawing up a lease while negotiating with the Lamonicas.

The 16,000-square-foot wooden boardwalk and substructure, as well as the 1,600-foot aluminum railing system, is being removed. The total cost of the project is $1.05 million, Middletown Public Works Director William Russo has said.

The boardwalk planks are being replaced with stamped concrete, which is easier to clean, officials have said. “It really looks like it’s wood,” Deputy Director of Public Works Chris Holden said.

The railings were destroyed during the January 2018 ice jam on the Connecticut River. The new design is intended to ensure the safety of those walking close to the water, particularly children, Russo has said.

The replacement project is on hold due to worldwide shipping delays caused by the pandemic, Holden said, causing the completion of that portion to be pushed to late September.

“It should tie in very nicely with all the new activities down at Harbor Park,” Holden said.

Stratford inches closer to selling two properties

Ethan Fry

STRATFORD — As the process for the town to sell one long-owned piece of municipal property nears its conclusion, officials are finalizing plans to offer up another one to developers.

The two properties are the former Center School off Sutton Avenue and East Broadway and the former Contract Plating off Longbrook Avenue.

Last week four companies pitched various concepts for residential developments at the Center School property to a selection committee of town officials.

At a July 27 meeting of the town’s Redevelopment Agency, Chairman George Perham said the selection committee has chosen to “shortlist” two of the potential developers.

He did not identify which ones, but said the committee would be reaching out to the companies to see if they would be receptive to further refining their plans.

“The idea now is that we take each one of the proposals, send them a list of comments and requests, ask them to go back to the drawing board, so to speak, then come back with their absolute best shot,” Perham said.

From there, Perham said the committee could either select one of the candidates to present to the Town Council, which has the final say-so on what happens to the property, or perhaps have both make presentations to the council.

The property has been vacant since the former school was demolished in late 2018, attracting lukewarm interest from developers when the town has issued requests for proposals in the past.

The agency brought a “preferred developer” to the council last year, but the town walked away after the developer’s plans for a 132-unit apartment development were widely panned. A renewed effort to sell the land attracted more interest this year.

As that process wraps up, town officials are readying a request for proposals on the former Contract Plating property off Longbrook Avenue, Economic Development Director Mary Dean told Redevelopment Agency members.

Millions of dollars have been spent to clean up the contaminated property, but millions more are still needed.

The chances of getting state or federal grants to do so would be better if the town has a developer lined up for the land, Dean said.

“The town has an opportunity to get funding for additional assessment and remediation that is conditional if we meet certain criteria, such as having a chosen developer for the property,” she said, without going into more specifics. “Because we have this opportunity, we need to go out for an RFP for Contract Plating as soon as we can.”

She said town officials could do so more easily because more is known about contamination at the property than when the town tried to sell it in years past, and the town also has a previous marketing report and grant application with other information.

“We have a ready source to put an RFP together,” she said. “This is a great opportunity for us. we’re very excited about it.”

The site was originally developed around 1918 by the Bridgeport Motor Company, a truck assembly and repair business, according to an engineering report on the property.

Contract Plating operated at the property from about 1936 to 1995 for metal finishing, electroplating and anodizing. The blighted former factory was demolished in October 2015.