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CT Construction Digest Friday august 19, 2022

More federal money awarded to replace rail bridge over Connecticut River

Carrie Czerwinski

Old Lyme ― The United States Department of Transportation announced Thursday that it has awarded $65.2 million for the replacement of the 115-year old train bridge between Old Saybrook and Old Lyme.

This is the second time Amtrak’s Connecticut River Bridge replacement project has been selected for funding through the Federal-State Partnership for State of Good Repair Program to support railroad infrastructure.

An initial $65.2 million federal contribution was designated in fiscal year 2020 towards the estimated $432.4 million cost of the estimated 6-year-long project, which is slated to begin construction in 2024.

“I’m thrilled,” Jim Cameron, founder of the Commuter Action Group, a grassroots organization dedicated to empowering rail commuters on Metro-North, said by phone on Thursday.

“Kudos to the DOT. Thank you to Washington for the money. It’s obviously our money; it’s taxpayer money that’s coming back to us, but it’s a crucial investment, and I’m glad they’re getting ahead of it before it suffers some of the failures that the bridges further west have suffered.”

He added that although the work is “not sexy to commuters,” like new rail cars, it is “a crucial element of infrastructure that needs to be repaired.”

An additional $20 million was also awarded to the state to replace 2 power substations along the New Haven Line.

The bridge project will also allow trains to significantly increase their speed on the span.

Speeds over the bridge are currently restricted to 45 miles per hour, but with the bridge replacement, speeds will increase to 70 mile per hour, while delays due to bridge openings and closings are projected to decrease.

“Governor Lamont has challenged us from day one to improve services and speed up trains, and with these grants, we continue to move in that direction,” said DOT Commissioner Joe Giulietti.

Currently, according to documents on the Northeast Corridor Commission’s website, the bridge, built in 1907, opens and closes up to 3,000 times per year which stresses the aging components, increases maintenance costs and reduces reliability for both rail and maritime traffic.

In a joint statement, the state’s Congressional delegation called the Northeast Corridor one of the busiest rail lines in North America, with more than 144,000 commuters using the New Haven Line and Shore Line East daily. It said the two projects are an important investment in Connecticut as they upgrade the power supply and remove a major chokepoint along the Shore Line East line by replacing the outmoded, deteriorating bridge.

According to a press release from Gov. Ned Lamont’s office, the age and condition of the bridge pose the risk of a long-term service interruption to rail service, which is used by at least 56 trains daily, bringing Amtrak passengers from Virginia to Boston while serving commuters on the Shore Line East line and freight trains headed to Worcester and Providence.

Like the existing bridge, the new bridge will have a two-track configuration and be moveable, though the new bridge will be higher, 24 feet instead of 18. This is expected to minimize maritime delays by allowing larger boats to pass under the span when it is closed.

Amtrak and the DOT will provide a match of approximately $24.8 million for the bridge replacement. With the current match, and approximately $55 million in contributions and pledges by the DOT to match the 2020 award, the state now has $210 million in funding, which constitutes slightly less than half of the money needed for the project.

Yale’s new dorm will produce more energy than it needs

Chatwan Mongkol

NEW HAVEN — Yale University is on path to build a new, 49-unit residence hall at its Divinity School with a sustainable design that includes a green stormwater management system and a net-positive solar energy production. The City Plan Commission Wednesday night approved the site plan for the project, which will be located in the existing school’s parking lot on Division Street, eliminating nearly 100 parking spaces.

The new, three-story building will contain 49 kitchen-built-in suites with 51 beds for graduate students. It will feature typical dormitory common areas including study spaces, a fitness room and laundry rooms, according to the university’s site plan.

But the highlight of the building is that it was designed to meet the standards for a full certification of the “Living Building Challenge,” a design guide that aims at sustainability through connecting occupants to nature and being self-sufficient when it comes to resources. “The project aims to give back to the environment more than it takes,” said Kristina Chmelar, university’s associate planning administration director. Chmelar said the building will include 12- to 15-foot solar power light poles that could create 5 percent more energy than needed. These will become the main lighting for the pedestrian walkways., and are angled downward to prevent light pollution.

There will be new green infrastructure that allows substantial stormwater retention, reduces flow and improves the quality of the stormwater. Nicole Holme of Nitsch Engineering said replacing the parking lot with pedestrian pavement and roof will make it better for stormwater runoff.

“We’re really optimizing the use of widespread green infrastructure,” Holme said. “We’re designing the site very much like thinking of it as a sponge that the water will be absorbed in place.”

Wastewater from toilet flushing will be processed and reused as it flows to the vegetable garden outside, which will be supported by students who live in the building, Chmelar said.

As the project will also renovate some of the existing features of the Divinity School’s building, Chmelar said it will create more residential components and become more accessible and more inviting for both locals and Yale students.

The construction is expected to begin late this year and is expected to complete in summer 2024.

Amid recession fears, CT adds 6,500 jobs in July

Greg Bordonaro

Despite fears about a potential recession, Connecticut continued to adds jobs during the month of July. 

The state added 6,500 jobs last month, lowering its unemployment rate to 3.7%, according to the state Department of Labor.

The national unemployment rate is 3.5%.

Labor officials also said they revised June’s job gains upward by 1,300 positions to 3,000 new jobs. 

The private sector added 2,600 jobs in July across a wide range of industries, while the government sector added 3,900 jobs, according to DOL.

Despite the growth, Connecticut still has only recovered 86.1% of the 289,400 jobs lost during March and April 2020, when the pandemic temporarily shut down significant parts of the state’s economy. The private sector is 88.3% recovered from the April 2020 COVID employment trough.

And Connecticut’s labor market still lags behind national trends.

Nationally, July of this year marked the full recovery of all jobs lost during the pandemic, nearly two and a half years after it began. U.S. payrolls surged by 528,000 to meet and just surpass the February 2020 level of 152.5 million jobs.

Connecticut has steadily added jobs over the last two and a half years, but residents’ participation in the labor force has waned in the face of the pandemic. Today’s labor force in the state — that is, people who are either working or looking for work — is 51,600 smaller than it was in February of 2020.

That has presented difficulties for employers looking to fill openings, and it has strained the economic comeback.

Chris DiPentima, head of the Connecticut Business and Industry Association, said in a statement Thursday that he was “encouraged” by the steady addition of jobs, particularly in the construction sector. But, he added, “it’s critical that we sustain this momentum as the state continues its slow recovery from the pandemic.”

 In July, six of the 10 major industry supersectors generated employment gains, while four declined.

The sectors that gained jobs included:

Government: +3,900, 1.7%, 227,700

Construction and Mining: +1,500, 2.5%, 61,200

Trade, Transportation & Utilities: +800, 0.3%, 297,600

Manufacturing: +700, 0.4%, 159,700

Professional and Business Services: +500, 0.2%, 219,000

Educational and Health Services: +400, 0.1%, 337,500

The sectors that lost jobs included: 

Leisure and Hospitality: -600, -0.4%, 147,500

Other Services: -400, -0.7%, 59,900

Information: -200, -0.7%, 30,000

Financial Activities: -100, -0.1%, 118,700

A CT Mirror report was used in this story. 

The most recession-proof sectors for construction

Sebastian Obando

Whether a recession hits the economy in the near term remains under debate, but industry experts suggest now is the time for construction firms to prepare to weather a slowdown.

That means contractors should know which sectors are expected to fare the best during a downturn and to make sure they have plenty of recession-resistant work on the books.

Construction leaders “ought to look at what are the segments of work that are more likely to be reliable in an economic downturn and are their firms well positioned to take advantage of that work,” said Brian Turmail, vice president of public affairs and strategic initiatives at the Associated General Contractors of America.

Publicly funded or subsidized construction projects will remain the safest bet for contractors in a downturn, said Turmail. Public buildings like schools and healthcare facilities should also be insulated from a downturn, said Richard Branch, chief economist for Dodge Data & Analytics.

For example, California is set to receive $9.2 billion from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, with 250 specific projects identified for funding. That includes $8 billion for investment in roads, bridges, public transit, ports and airports. Texas will receive $8 billion, with 260 specific projects identified for funding.

The White House released fact sheets earlier this month detailing the rest of the progress of the IIJA. By next year, those funds should be dispersed to contractors, said Nick Grandy, construction and real estate senior analyst at RSM US, a Chicago-based audit, tax and consulting firm.

“IIJA funds are slated to flow to the majority of programs by the end of 2022,” said Grandy. “Meaning the valve will open up to infrastructure contractors in 2023.”

Turmail added contractors could consider targeting areas of the country where electric vehicle plant construction is booming, especially off the back of the passage of the $52 billion CHIPS Act and the Inflation Reduction Act.

“It’s safe to assume that there will be a lot of economic activity around the places where electric vehicles and their components are being manufactured,” said Turmail. “Places like Tennessee, Kentucky, Georgia [and] Texas are places that have a lot of EV activity. Those markets are likely to still have strong demand for a range of related construction activities even in a downturn.”

Less-resilient sectors

On the flip side, non-infrastructure related work, particularly private construction, will sustain the brunt of any economic slowdown. Some sectors are already struggling due to lingering effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Spending on office and hotel projects, for instance, has gone down significantly since the start of the pandemic, according to the U.S. Census Bureau data. For example, Amazon paused construction in July on five office tower projects and will hold off on plans for a sixth in Bellevue, Washington.

Indeed, while the question of whether and when a recession will take place is still unanswered, if it does happen, “the pain point will come from the private sector,” said Turmail. Commercial contractors that work in the private sector will be at the mercy of their client’s budgets, added Grandy.

“The largest pain points for contractors, if we entered a sustained recession, would likely be dependent on how diversified their projects are across various sectors,” said Grandy. “Nonresidential, aside from infrastructure, will again be dependent on allocation of the contractor’s portfolio.”

Branch said most commercial segments could see an outright decline in construction.But one potential bright spot on the private side is manufacturing, which should continue its solid performance.

Branch said the manufacturing sector is “likely to not see significant deterioration” in its current growth trajectory. Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, manufacturing building has grown 21.6%, according to the U.S. Census Bureau data.

For this reason, he said construction firms should “find those spaces where you can ride out the storm.”