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CT Construction Digest Friday September 16, 2022

Officials: Redesign of Mixmaster likely more sustainable


WATERBURY — State transportation officials say they prefer to fully reconstruct the Mixmaster on different road alignments and connections between the Interstate 84-Route 8 interchange than replace the stacked decks with new ones.

Officials reiterated the project dubbed the “New Mix” is looking at the long-term future of the interchange and surrounding areas unlike the ongoing Mixmaster rehabilitation project, which will extend the interchange’s serviceable life another 20 to 25 years.

Informational forums held Thursday by the state Department of Transportation and engineering firm HNTB Corp. provided the public insight on the long-term vision.

The stacked structures, which opened to travel in 1968, are aging and don’t meet current safety standards, officials say. Factoring in the local roadway network surrounding the interchange is essential to its long-term viability, said Jacob Argiro, HNTB’s project manager.

“To effectively replace those decks, we were looking at major, major lane closures over a very long period of time – something like 16-hour days over four to five years,” Argiro said. “This kind of impact obviously could not be sustained by the city, by the region and by the state.”

Improving the interchange’s safety and functionality, reducing traffic and complementing Waterbury’s economic development goals while meeting Connecticut’s long-term transportation needs are the priorities driving the New Mix project.

David Schweitzer, HNTB’s deputy project manager, presented options DOT could pursue, including replacing the Mixmaster with a full system built about a half-mile east of its current location, according to the project’s website. That would provide additional space for a north and south frontage road system to improve access to Route 8 from downtown Waterbury, the website states.

Under that proposal, the Route 8 alignment would run through an area on Freight Street that city officials are looking to redevelop.

“We’ll have new connections between these roadways,” Schweitzer said. “As far as meeting our goals and our objectives, our opportunities to meet these are greatly increased.”

The public can provide feedback on Thursday’s presentations by Sept. 30 and review project alternatives at newmixwaterbury.com.

New Haven plans transformation of State Street

Mary E. O'Leary

NEW HAVEN —State Street, the old Route 5 car-centric workhorse, will be put on a "road diet" and transformed downtown, with a large portion made safe for cyclists and land freed up for green space and development.

More than 50 people showed enthusiasm at a recent hearing for the proposed transformation that builds on previous studies and will use a $5.3 million state grant to redesign the infrastructure of this section of the major corridor.

"This is about building a street that connects our neighborhoods — Wooster Square, downtown, East Rock and the Hill — and brings folks in the city together," Alder Eli Sabin, D-7, said.

Development Administrator Michael Piscitelli said over the years the road has been beautified, but has failed to function in the manner it was intended to support the growth of downtown with its explosion of apartments and bioscience startups, while enhancing biking and pedestrian connections to the area and the rail stations.

This revision, which extends from Water Street north to Trumbull Street, used the Toole Design Group as its traffic consultant with the original direction to make better use of all the parking lots along the Metro-North rail line reviewed by the Wooster Square Study Group and consultant Utile in 2016.

City Engineer Giovanni Zinn said the plan is to shift all the motor vehicle traffic to the west side of the State Street median with the east side dedicated to a  two-way protected cycling corridor and an expansion of the narrow lots for a higher and better use.

"It creates a large amount of valuable space on the east side of the median  ..reminiscent of the promenades you see in Europe," Zinn said.  "We believe it will create a roadway that is a lot safer for all the different users.

"The proposed concept will transform an automobile-oriented corridor to a truly multimodal street, with high quality walking and biking infrastructure, more efficient and convenient transit operations, and greatly improved safety for all users," the Toole Group wrote.

One of the major goals is to connect the  Farmington Canal Greenway to both the State Street Station and Union Station.

Zinn said the new configuration will create some 4.4 acres of space on State Street and another 0.9 acre on George Street.  He said the State Street portion makes sure the lots are wide enough up against the railroad tracks to allow for double-loaded corridors where housing units could be on either side.

Dean Mack, a city economic development officer, said there could be a total of three building sites with some 130 apartments at 417 State St., which would be closest to the State Street Station area on almost an acre of land.

The conceptual apartment could be cantilevered over surface parking with similar designs for two more sites, one at 253 State St. and another at 183 State St.

The plan estimates space for some 450 apartments and 20,000 square feet of commercial space. The structures were estimated at 6 stories, but Mack said these are just conceptual.

City officials stressed that any potential apartments here would all fall under the new inclusionary zoning requirement with a 20 percent affordable housing minimum.

Zinn said traffic volumes have been going down in the past 15 years and they expect the trend to continue, but if they were to increase, Toole said the proposed changes for State Street still hold up.

He said this is the case because there will be improvements to signalization with standardized cycle lengths and more time for pedestrians and cyclists to cross the street.

Some of the intersection changes include:

Water Street: Drivers could turn north onto State Street to the west of the Knights of Columbus Museum rather than going across a railroad bridge and rejoining State Street farther up.  The Farmington Canal Trail would come down the back side of the Knights of Columbus building and then come down Fair Street.

Zinn said they are looking for public space ideas for the bridge over the rail.  "There is an opportunity for a really unique public space back here," Zinn said.

George Street: Stays relatively similar with the addition of northbound traffic on State. Zinn said generally speaking, a lot of the intersections will become more regular and more compact.

Crown Street: The existing State Street north roadway is here with a lot of the former roadway now part of a development opportunity.  It will not have a traffic signal, but rather rectangular rapid flashing lights similar to those on Olive Street for pedestrian safety.

Chapel Street: All of the crossings on the side streets will be on raised crosswalks. Zinn said they took inspiration from Boston where bikes and pedestrians will have the same amount of time as vehicles and will be protected from vehicles making right and left turns.

Grand Avenue: There will be a turn to allow drivers to make a left off State Street onto Grand Avenue.  There will be a raised crossing for walkers and some dedicated bus space. The city still wants to make Elm Street, which starts on Grand,  two-way, and has reserved space for that to happen in the future.

Grove Street: Traffic still remains on the west side of the median on State Street. There will, however, be a one-block stretch of the Farmington Canal Trail on Grove Street so the entirety of the canal in New Haven will be off-street protected infrastructure. There will also be one block of a one-directional bike lane on the west side to allow cyclists coming south on State Street who want to use the new Wall Street bike lane.

Interstate 91 and Trumbull Street: There will be a raised crosswalk and rapid flashing beacons for pedestrians from anyone accessing the northern part of downtown from the State and Trumbull parking lot. The project ends just shy of the overpass for the Exit 3 on-ramp for I-91.

Piscitelli said they want to lock in the roadway design before making any decisions on the development components. He said this week's discussion is the first of many on the project.

He said the city has 10 years to build out the corridor in its agreement with the state and wants to take its time to "get it right," including thinking of design elements beyond the podium construction flooding New Haven, such as the more sustainable mass timber method.

"It is an opportunity for us to do something a little bit more creative here, dive deeper on climate," he said.

Chris Ozyck, an active environmentalist, said the Rose Kennedy Greenway in Boston could be a model to follow. He said it will be important to get right  how the frontages of the new developments interrelate with the bike lanes. "That takes a lot of discussion," he said.

He also suggested that the city look at the old Farmington Canal Line that is still exists near the rail line and try to get an easement  and air rights for another potential trail, which would eliminate any at-grade crossings.

"The interaction of a new development and the public space is very much on our minds, as well," Zinn said.

He feels the people who move into these spaces will appreciate having this public space in front of them. "I think that's why we want to have something ambitious developers will recognize as ambitious," Zinn said.

Anstress Farwell, president of the New Haven Urban Design League, suggested the city think about some small lots be used by live-work opportunities for residents. She also supported thinking about mass timber design for the buildings.

Another resident talked about the need for amenities that will attract people to the public spaces in the new developments, beyond just using the cycle tracks, such as trees, benches, lighting and parklets to make it a destination.

Zinn said the city hasn't gotten to that level of detail, but that it is along the lines they were considering, particularly since they are making the radical move to essentially cut the road in half.

$21 million expansion of Rich's Foods in New Britain to begin this fall

Erica Drzewiecki

NEW BRITAIN – A $21 million expansion of Rich’s Foods is set to begin later this fall.

Headquartered at 263 Myrtle St. the company, also known as Rich’s Products Corporation, is set to begin the expansion project in the fourth quarter of 2022, according to Mayor Erin Stewart.

“New Britain is a prime location for business to come to and thrive,” Stewart said. “The fact that Rich’s Foods chose to stay here after conducting a nationwide search for a location to expand operations is proof of that, and we look forward to having them as a part of our community for many more years to come.”

Rich’s will be adding a new production line, new manufacturing equipment, cold storage and an innovative palletizing and shipping addition to its facility.

The building expansion will match its current height, dimensions and facade materials.

The project is expected to bring over 300 construction and project support jobs to the City, along with close to 100 new manufacturing jobs.

The Buffalo- N.Y.-based Rich Products purchased the property at 1 Celebration Way from Celebration Foods over a decade ago.

Hartford’s Batterson Park renovation delayed; targeted mid-2023 reopening at risk

Ted Glanzer

Hartford — A city official has confirmed that work to renovate 15 acres of Batterson Park will not begin this fall, contrary to initial plans to rehabilitate the once-popular summertime swimming spot.

But the city remains committed to the project, according to Thea Montanez, the city’s chief operating officer.

“The City of Hartford has engaged Construction Solutions Group to serve as project coordinator, and they are currently in the planning process, prioritizing elements of the project and preparing to issue bids for design and construction,” she wrote in response to a series of email questions from The Courant.

“While the planning and design work is moving forward, construction will not begin this fall,” she wrote.

The delay could push back the targeted mid-2023 reopening of the park, which is owned and operated by Hartford, but is located between New Britain and Farmington.

In June 2021, officials from Hartford, New Britain and Farmington announced that the long-neglected park would be receiving $10 million from the state — largely due to the efforts of House Speaker Matt Ritter — for a significant makeover. The funding was available to clean up the park’s 165-acre pond, remove invasive plants, truck in more sand for the beach and replace the decrepit and vandalized concession building and bath house.

Ritter on said he was disappointed the construction on the project won’t begin this fall.

“Securing the funds for the park is one of the things I’m most proud of in my time as speaker and as a legislator,” Ritter said.

“It’s a huge financial commitment from the state of Connecticut to restore that park so that it’s usable for families who otherwise might not have beach access anywhere close to home,” he said. “It’s a park that has served so many families for so many years.”

Indeed, decades ago, Batterson was one of Hartford’s main parks. With Long Island Sound more than an hour away, Batterson’s pond served as a beach venue for city residents.

In the ‘60s and ‘70s, thousands of people, for a small fee, used the park every day in summertime. But budget constraints ultimately led the city to shut down the park by 2015.

The confirmed construction delay comes on the heels of the summertime dissolution of the Batterson Park Conservancy, a group composed of neighbors of the park and volunteers, that planned to preserve the park’s upkeep once the renovations and improvements were complete.

The effort to create the Batterson Park Conservancy was spearheaded four years ago by Connors, an attorney, and his wife, Allison Cappuccio.

Montanez said the city would work with the two towns as well as other potential groups concerning the care of the park.

“Mayor Bronin looks forward to working with his counterparts in New Britain and Farmington to establish an effective mechanism for ensuring coordination and collaboration among the three municipalities,” Montanez wrote.

C.J. Thomas, the chairman of the Farmington Town Council, said “My concern is the long-term upkeep of the property.”

Thomas added that he was unaware if the city has visited the park since the June 2021 announcement.

New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart said her city is also committed to the project in cooperating with Farmington and Hartford.

“I’m looking forward to productive conversations with the mayors’ offices in each respective town to come together on a maintenance agreement to ensure the parks success for decades to come,” Stewart said. “It benefits all communities that we get it right from the start.

The decision to dissolve the original conservancy still troubles Connors.

“The volunteers and board members of Batterson Park Conservancy, myself included, are deeply saddened and hurt by this decision to terminate the Conservancy for what could only be personal or retaliatory reasons,” he said. “I just hope that the successor organization Hartford creates will fulfill the purpose that was intended of transparency, long-term sustainability and community involvement.”

With the dissolution of the conservancy, the Avon crew team being barred from using the park as a practice facility and the delay in construction, some residents expressed their concern over how committed the city is to the rehabilitation of Batterson.

Montanez said, however, that the city is moving forward with the project.

“The City of Hartford is determined to see Batterson Park restored as a recreation area and a regional asset,” she said.

Ritter, for his part, also confirmed that the state funding was still secure.

“I’m disappointed it may not be open when we thought it was going to be open, but I can assure everybody that the state funding is still there,” he said.

“[As for any alleged] plans to not go ahead and renovate that park, I would be very vocal in my opposition to not using these funds for the purpose that they were allocated,” Ritter said. “The state is not going to financially support anything but that park.”