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CT Construction Digest Thursday December 1, 2022

Infrastructure Bill … One Year Later


Mid-November marked the end of year one of the bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA), and ARTBA reviewed U.S. Treasury Department data on new project starts spawned by the bill. The road and bridge construction association reports that 29,000 new projects were supported by $53.5 billion in highway and bridge formula funds leveraged at the state level.

"A key takeaway from the Treasury data is that the bipartisan infrastructure law is working in year-one as intended," said Dr. Alison Premo Black, ARTBA chief economist. State transportation departments are "disbursing their funds and projects breaking ground."

The numbers represent nearly 90 percent of IIJA's highway funds, dispersed by existing formula to states.

The remainder, according to ARTBA, are distributed through discretionary grant awards and other allocated programs.

Tracking Progress, Projects

"The economic and quality of life benefits of the infrastructure law will become even more apparent as funding continues in coming years," the association said.

ARTBA is tracking the number and location of these construction projects on its Highway Dashboard, launched at the IIJA one-year mark.

The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) also is tracking IIJA projects, in partnership with Accelerator for America.

The map features projects getting under way with IIJA funding, which the associations reports has been steadily making its way to state and local agencies across the nation.

"The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law is improving communities large and small," said Maria Lehman, ASCE president. "But many Americans aren't aware of how this law will impact their day-to-day lives."

She said the mapping tool will show families how traffic along their morning commutes is going to be alleviated, why they're experiencing less interruptions in energy services, or why their tap water will be safer to drink.

"Not only will these projects improve our quality of life, but we hope they also inspire the next generation of civil engineers to be a part of solving some of society's most complex problems."

All 17 infrastructure categories in ASCE's Report Card for America's Infrastructure are touched by the IIJA, according to the association.

The report card, which gave U.S. infrastructure a grade of ‘C-', and the map are part of ASCE's efforts to track all infrastructure investments and rulemakings by sector.

White House's Perspective

At the IIJA one-year mark, President Joe Biden's White House called it "a once-in-a-generation investment in our nation's infrastructure and competitiveness."

The Biden-Harris Administration "is already following through on its promise to deliver results by rebuilding our roads, bridges, ports and airports."

Touting IIJA's historic progress, the White House claims it is the largest and most significant investment in rebuilding our roads and bridges since President Eisenhower's Interstate Highway System. It represents the largest investment in public transit and transit accessibility in American history and the biggest investment in passenger rail since Amtrak's inception, as well as the greatest investment in clean water, affordable internet, environmental justice, clean energy and resistance to climate change.

It also claims clean, electric buses for school and transit fleets; an EV charging grid and the largest investment in domestic manufacture of batteries.

Specifically, almost 3,000 bridge repair and replacement projects have launched across the country.

The bill spawned funding for more than 5,000 new clean transit and school buses, according to the Biden administration.

The DOT and FHWA announced some $120 billion in federal highway apportionments for highways and bridges for fiscal years 2022 and 2023.

The Federal Railroad Administration outlined major backlog projects that will get funding.

The DOT awarded $1.5 billion in 26 highway, multimodal freight and rail projects to shore up the nation's transportation systems, eliminate supply chain bottlenecks and improve critical freight movements.

USDOT also announced $2.2 billion in Rebuilding American Infrastructure with Sustainability and Equity (RAISE) grants for 166 projects.

These projects will allow urban and rural communities to move forward on projects that modernize roads, bridges, transit, rail, ports and intermodal transportation.

They'll also make U.S. transportation systems "safer, more accessible, more affordable, and more sustainable," according to the White House.

More than $20.4 billion in Fiscal Year 2022 is earmarked for transit funding, and another $4.45 billion recommended through the Capital Investment Grants program.

Almost $2 billion in awards is set to help transit agencies, states and territories purchase low- and no-emission transit buses and upgrade facilities.

"These awards will help communities across the country purchase more than 1,800 new buses and double the number of clean transit buses on America's roads," said the Biden administration.

The EPA awarded about $1 billion in clean school bus rebates to nearly 400 school districts.

The grants will help school districts purchase more than 2,400 clean school buses.

The DOT announced $1.75 billion to improve transit accessibility across the country as part of the department's new All Stations Accessibility Program (ASAP). The program will help transit agencies update subway and rail stations built before passage of the ADA.

The first $343 million to make subway and rail stations more accessible was released this summer.

The FAA earmarked $3 billion for 3,075 to upgrade critical airport infrastructure nationwide. The agency also announced a $1 billion in awards to 85 airports across the country to modernize airport terminals.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) set almost $4 billion to strengthen supply chains and improve waterways.

The Maritime Administration (MARAD) also announced more than $700 million to fund 41 port projects to improve our nation's port infrastructure.

The GSA awarded more than $3 billion to modernize 26 land ports of entry across the northern and southern borders.

The investments will improve commerce and trade; enhance border security; create good-paying construction jobs; incorporate new and innovative sustainability features; and provide for improved climate resilience, the agency said.

Work has begun, and GSA also has completed seven port paving projects using low-carbon asphalt and concrete specifications.

The contracts for these paving projects were awarded to and completed by women-owned, small or disadvantaged businesses.

Electric vehicle infrastructure deployment plans have been deployed for all 50 States, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico.

All states now have access to funding totaling more than $1.5 billion to help build EV chargers covering approximately 75,000 miles of highway across the country.

The Joint Office of Energy & Transportation was formed to focus on building the national charging network.

The EPA announced more than $9 billion to upgrade aging water infrastructure, sewerage systems, pipes and service lines. The EPA's State Revolving Fund programs include targeting resources to disadvantaged communities, making rapid progress on lead-free water for all and tackling dangerous chemicals

The USACE earmarked $200 million for environmental infrastructure projects.

The Department of the Interior (DOI) set $20 million in IIJA funds to build climate resilience in Tribal communities. The DOI announced nearly $2 billion to fulfill Indian Water Rights Settlements, $10 million for tribal water systems and another $10 million for irrigation and power.

Tribal sanitation projects will receive $700 million in support for clean water and sanitation systems.

The DOI set aside $1.4 billion for 129 projects to boost water infrastructure and tackle drought.

The Department of Agriculture (USDA) earmarked nearly $800 million for projects that improve watersheds dams and flood prevention.

The USACE received $64 million to fund safety projects to maintain, upgrade and repair dams owned by non-federal entities.

The DOI, USDA, and DOD announced a $1 billion America the Beautiful Challenge combining federal funding with private and philanthropic contributions for conservation and restoration.

The USACE set aside almost $2 billion to restore ecosystems across the nation.

The USDA announced $131 million in wildfire mitigation investments to begin work on the Forest Service 10-year wildfire risk mitigation strategy.

The DOI announced $103 million for wildfire mitigation and resilience efforts in 39 states, to support nearly 2 million acres of fuels management work.

FEMA earmarked $60 million for a federal grant initiative that will help with hurricane flooding resilience.

The USACE announced $3.7 billion in flood and coastal resilience construction projects to reduce community flood risks.

The DOI launched a nearly $5 billion program to cap and plug abandoned oil and gas wells to reduce methane emissions and create jobs.

The agency also announced that nearly $725 million is available for jobs reclaiming abandoned mines, eliminating pollution from past coal mining and providing opportunities for current and former coal workers.

The IIJA reauthorized existing distributions and provided more than $11 billion over the next 15 years.

The EPA earmarked $1 billion to address the backlog of unfunded Superfund sites and accelerate cleanup at dozens of other sites. The agency also awarded $254.5 million in brownfield clean up grants to 265 communities. The EPA announced $1 billion to advance the clean-up and restoration of the Great Lakes' most environmentally degraded sites.

The DOE awarded nearly $3 billion to boost domestic production of advanced battery components and the processing of critical materials that power them.

The DOI announced more than $167 million to fund a new facility for the U.S. Geological Survey, working on critical energy and mineral programs.

The DOE announced $2.3 billion to strengthen and modernize America's power grid.

The agency also launched a $10.5 billion program to enhance the resilience and reliability of the power grid. The DOE launched a program to help jump-start America's clean hydrogen economy, opening applications for $7 billion in funding.

"These investments will help advance President Biden's goal of a net-zero carbon economy by 2050, improve energy security, and create good-paying jobs," said the White House.

The DOI invested more than $74 million to map critical minerals that power everything from household appliances and electronics to clean energy technology like batteries and wind turbines.

The FCC launched the Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), which lowers the cost of Internet service for eligible households. The program also provides up to $100 toward the purchase of a desktop, laptop or tablet computer.

The Biden administration secured commitments from 20 leading Internet providers to offer ACP-eligible households fully covered high-speed Internet plans.

"As a result, millions of Americans can now get high-speed internet for free," said the White House.

John Drake, vice president, transportation, infrastructure and supply chain policy, for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, had high praise for the bill.

"It will unfurl changes that will improve how we deliver critical infrastructure while also increasing investments in the roads, bridges, utilities and other critical infrastructure that benefit our economic competitiveness and our communities," he said. "It is important to note that this investment is long-term – the funding will take time to move from Washington to project sites."

Guidelines, rules, and application procedures for disbursements must first be crafted before funding and projects can progress across the country, he added.

"While we celebrate the one-year anniversary of IIJA, the U.S. Chamber continues to urge policymakers to take additional steps to bolster the investments made.

Taking these steps, he said, "will ensure the promise of investment is able to turn into action."CEG

Stamford's inability to decide how to fix the West Main Street Bridge has cost the city $850,000

Brianna Gurciullo

STAMFORD — Years of dithering about the West Main Street bridge has cost the city $850,000. 

While city leaders have again and again debated what should be done with the run-down bridge, a federal grant awarded to Stamford in 2012 to replace the structure has expired.

City officials spoke about the $850,000 grant’s expiration during a meeting of the Board of Representatives’ Fiscal Committee Monday.

“How did that happen?” asked Democratic Rep. Kindrea Walston of District 9, which includes part of the city’s West Side. Walston joined the board in April to fill the seat vacated by Rodney Pratt, who died the same month after a battle with brain cancer.

“Grants have an eligibility period, and we did not expend those funds for eligible project costs within the time provided by the grant terms and conditions,” city Director of Administration Sandy Dennies said. 

“That’s really disappointing,” Walston said. “I’m just flabbergasted right now.”

“I agree with you,” said Tony Romano from the city’s Office of Policy and Management. “Between the administration and the boards, we couldn’t come up with a decision in time to use these funds.”

The more than 130-year-old bridge, which is listed in the National Register of Historic Places and also called the Purple Bridge, closed to motor vehicles in 2002. A debate has raged in the years since, including over whether the link between the city’s downtown and West Side should be open to cars once more, become a pedestrian-only bridge or a combination of the two.

When the city was awarded the $850,000 federal grant in 2012, U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., said it was meant for a new pedestrian bridge. But he said that could change if there was a strong desire from the city to construct a span for cars as well as pedestrians.

“Though this grant envisions a pedestrian bridge, this is the very start of the process and grants can be repurposed and renegotiated,” Himes said at the time. “My view is that I (have) always been very deferential to the desires of the elected officials of a city if they tell me what is right for their city.”

On Monday, District 9 co-Rep. Jeff Stella, a Democrat, said he didn’t understand why the money went untouched.

“It could have still been used to prep some of the work that was needed,” Stella said. “It could have been used for a temporary bridge. It could have been used for a lot of things.”

Dennies said she would follow up with Stella on what kinds of costs the city could have used the federal funding to cover. 

When he was mayor, David Martin mentioned the expiration of the federal grant during a presentation to a Board of Representatives committee in June 2021.

After the city won the grant under then-Mayor Michael Pavia, “little progress was made on either a pedestrian or vehicular bridge,” according to Martin’s presentation. “This grant was eventually rescinded due to (a) sunset clause ... and delays by the administration and extensive approval delays by ConnDOT.“

At the time of his presentation, Martin was pushing to build a prefabricated span for pedestrians and emergency vehicles alongside the West Main Street bridge.

A contractor was expected to begin installing the prefabricated bridge in October. Matthew Quinones, Stamford's director of operations, said the start of construction has been delayed because of supply-chain issues, but work should begin in the coming weeks.

What will happen to the existing bridge remains unclear.

Romano said other funding remains available, including most of a $2 million state grant originally secured by the Mill River Park Collaborative in 2018. At that time, the city planned to use the money to fix up the bridge for pedestrians. But the bids it received for the project were significantly more than $2 million.

Rep. Bonnie Kim Campbell, D-5, who represents another portion of the West Side, said after Monday’s meeting that she was “disgusted” by the expiration of the federal grant. Campbell advocated for the bridge to be restored as a crossing for cars for years before she was elected to the board in 2021.

“This letting money expire for the Purple Bridge is just another example of what omission in depressed neighborhoods looks like,” Campbell said. “If people had the right thing in mind — and they know how people on the West Side felt, and other people throughout the city, about that bridge being vehicular and it being fixed — we would not be in this position.”

Fellow Democratic District 5 Rep. Melinda Baxter said a plan for the bridge “should have been resolved years ago.” Like Campbell, she supports a vehicular bridge that pedestrians and bicyclists could also use. 

“This bridge needs to be repaired and be done with,” Baxter said. “We don’t need to drag this out another 20 years.”

Redevelopment of deteriorating MLK Apartments near Hartford Colt complex hits another snag in delays, climbing price tag

Kenneth R. Gosselin

A redevelopment of the deteriorating Martin Luther King Apartments near downtown has won key public funding but construction isn’t likely to get started until next summer, more than a year later than first anticipated.

The cost to demolish and rebuild the low- and moderate-income rentals in the Sheldon/Charter Oak neighborhood and blend them with market-rate units in a larger, redesigned complex also has now climbed to $63 million.

Higher interest rates and increased cost of construction materials that have arisen in the pandemic pushed up the project’s cost nearly 9% from an estimated $58 million earlier this year. The new price tag forced changes in the balance of market-rate and “affordable” rentals tied to income restrictions. There will now be more affordable than market-rate units, allowing the developers to tap into other sources of funding.

The redevelopment of the aging complex on Van Block Avenue would represent the final major piece of a revitalization puzzle envisioned in the 1990s to strengthen Sheldon/Charter Oak, just a short walk from downtown.

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“It’s going to be a huge leg up for the neighborhood in terms of density and reintegrating MLK back into the neighborhood,” said Emily Wolfe, executive director of the complex’s owner and developer Sheldon Oak Central, a Hartford-based housing nonprofit. “It will be greener, more trees, shadier, and it’s really important that it’s going to be truly mixed income.”

Physical barriers between MLK and another neighboring housing complex will be removed, encouraging a more inviting neighborhood atmosphere that’s designed with pedestrians and bicycles in mind, Wolfe said.

The location of the complex also makes it walkable to downtown for future renters, Wolfe said.

At a meeting earlier this month, the board of directors of the Capital Region Development Authority approved a low-cost loan of nearly $5 million. The funds were a combination of CRDA housing funds and funds from the city set aside for housing from Hartford’s share of proceeds from the American Rescue Plan Act.

Sheldon Oak, which is partnering on the project with Vesta Corp of Simsbury, an owner and developer of affordable housing, still must secure major portions of the project financing. Those include a $25.5 million mortgage from the Connecticut Housing Finance Authority and $14 million in low-income housing credits.

The neighborhood surrounding MLK has been transformed by the revitalization of the once-decaying Colt manufacturing complex, the Capewell Horse Nail Co. factory, the Dutch Point housing complex, Dillon — now Trinity Health — Stadium and the Sports and Medical Sciences Academy, a magnet middle and high school.

Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin said the late 1960s-era MLK Apartments needs to be renovated, much like the on-going replacement the former Westbrook Village and Bowles Park housing complexes in the city’s North End.

“This project gives us the opportunity to replace those aging, deteriorating affordable units with new, quality modern affordable units while at the same time increasing the number of market-rate units in the Coltsville neighborhood where we have seen so much demand and so much growth,” Bronin said.

Apartment demand at the former Colt manufacturing complex has been strong. The three, former factory buildings converted to apartments have nearly 100% occupancy and more rentals are now planned.

The mix of 155 apartments planned for MLK will include 38 that are restricted to no more than 30% of the area median income, which would qualify for “Section 8″ subsidies not offered in the past at MLK; another 48 units that would be restricted to no more than 80% of area median income and 69 units would be leased at market-rate.

The mix of incomes was intended to ensure that there would be enough units and then some for tenants who have been relocated from MLK to return once 18 months of construction is completed. Sheldon Oak also sought to allay worries about gentrification and displacement.

The blending of incomes in housing redevelopments also seeks to avoid the dense concentration of lower-income households, which was a standard in the 1960s when MLK was designed and built.

Sheldon Oak’s plans call for 70 one-bedroom, 63 two-bedroom and 22 three-bedroom apartments. The design includes one large, L-shared central building with flats and an elevator with older tenants and the physically disabled in mind, something that doesn’t now exist at MLK. There would be 14 smaller buildings with six or seven apartments.

Monthly rents at MLK had ranged from $1,050 to $1,225 for two- and three-bedroom units. Projected market-rate rents for the redeveloped units — driven by strong rental demand in the market — range from $1,600 for one-bedrooms to $2,500 for three-bedroom apartments., according to Sheldon Oak. The non-subsidized affordable units are projected to range from $1,400 for one-bedrooms and up to $2,200 for 3-bedrooms, the nonprofit said.

“Some of the units are going to those who lived in the neighborhood, not just for decades but for generations,” Wolfe said. “This allows aging in place, keeping family ties, keeping neighborhood ties and, at the same time, it’s going to be a beautifully-designed walkable neighborhood.”

The buildings would be arranged around a central green with a gazebo and playscape. All ground floor apartments would have front porches open to the street.

All tenants of the existing 64-unit MLK complex were relocated as of October in preparation for the demolition, Wolfe said.

New Milford High School fire prompts new safeguards to prevent blazes at construction projects

Kaitlin Lyle

NEW MILFORD — Under the town’s new rules, any commercial project involving sparks, flames or heat will need to track its hazards and safeguards to ensure a fire won’t start.

The Town Council unanimously approved a hot work ordinance — new rules prompted by a July roof fire at New Milford High School — at its meeting on Monday. 

Fire Marshal Kevin Reynolds requested the ordinance at the Council’s Oct. 24 meeting. He said having such an ordinance would allow for better oversight of local construction projects that could be a fire risk, thereby preventing accidents, like the school fire, which caused major damage and sent six firefighters to the hospital.

“Hot work” is any activity or process that involves open flames or that generates sparks or heat. This includes (but is not limited to) welding and allied processes, heat treating, grinding, thawing pipes, powder driven fasteners, hot riveting, torch applied roofing, pipe sweating and any similar applications producing or using sparks, flames or heat. 

The ordinance only applies to construction, renovation and repair projects in commercial buildings, and is based on the National Fire Protection Association’s rules and regulations. 

Under the association's standards, every job site involving hot work requires a permit to document the hazards and safeguards in place to ensure the work doesn’t cause a fire. The permit can also serve as an on-site permit completed by the hot work contractor and posted at the work site to advise workers that hot work is being performed at the site.

There was some discussion between the council about whether or not to change part of the ordinance’s wording to read “any similar applications using sparks, flames or heat” instead of “any similar applications producing or using sparks, flames or heat.” Council Vice Chair Katy Francis said changing the wording will not change anything as far as the intent or scope are concerned.

Councilwoman Hilary Ram said the wording should be changed because the ordinance, as it stands, precludes smaller commercial projects from falling under the hot work umbrella and dissuades the projects from coming into town.

Councilwoman Alexandra Thomas suggested the council review the ordinance again in six months to see how many people applied for hot work permits, whether the ordinance is “doing the job that we need” and whether the town is getting any pushback about the ordinance.

“It’s like anything else — you introduce something new, then you go back to see if it’s getting the work done or is something wrong with it,” Thomas said.