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CT Construction Digest Thursday January 23, 2020

Gov. Lamont not concerned about lower-than-expected toll revenues for trucks in Rhode Island

With no date set yet, the vote on controversial tolls in Connecticut could be held as late as February 4 - the day before the regular legislative session begins.Gov. Ned Lamont said Wednesday that he doesn’t particularly mind which day the vote is held, adding, “Hurry up. What are you waiting for?’’ Lawmakers and the Lamont administration are scrambling to hold the vote before the regular session starts on February 5 because legislators will become immediately distracted with a wide variety of issues that includes the state budget, health care, vaping, and sports betting, among others. With no final language released yet on the bill, lawmakers have yet to schedule a public hearing on tolls - a key component of the process. Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney, a New Haven Democrat, said top lawmakers held a meeting Tuesday concerning items that have raised concerns in both the House and Senate caucuses as they prepare the final draft. Among those are concerns about improving bus transportation in the cities for those who do not have cars and exactly who would have the "rate-setting power'' for tolls in the future.
Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz would break an expected 18-18 tie in the Senate, which would ensure that the Lamont administration would have "skin in the game'' on a controversial issue.
"I think I’ve been right in the middle of it for a while,'' Lamont told two reporters Wednesday outside his Capitol office. As projections of truck-only toll collections in Rhode Island have recently been lower than expected, Lamont told reporters that Connecticut would construct all 12 gantries simultaneously and start charging tolls at the same time. In Rhode Island, two gantries were initially constructed, and the state started collecting tolls as the other gantries were still not operational. Today, Rhode Island has only five gantries operating out of the 12 that are planned. Lamont says Connecticut will avoid that problem. "Our intention is to build them all simultaneously,'' Lamont said when asked by The Courant. "Start them all on the same day. The good news is with the Trump TIFIA money, we can start putting that money to work, even before the gantries are up - provided they know they have an independent, reliable revenue stream they can count on for the next 30 years.'' Lamont said he is confident in Connecticut’s projections, even with the problems in Rhode Island. "We have really good, exact numbers on the number of trucks that go over each and every one of those 12 locations,'' Lamont said. "Rhode Island has been a little slower at getting their electronic gantries up. I think that’s probably impacted a little bit their revenues. But they are very confident on their case. Talk to [Rhode Island Gov.] Gina Raimondo. She wouldn’t have it any other way.''

‘We’re ready’: Truck only toll bill being drafted; Democratic leaders say they will be able to line up the votes to approve
HARTFORD — Legislation is being drafted after Democratic majority leaders and Gov. Ned Lamont nailed down final details of a transportation funding plan that will propose truck-only bridge tolls.
Lamont and top Democratic lawmakers said Wednesday the plan is to schedule a hearing on the transportation bill sometime next week and then recall the legislature in a special session to approve the long-awaited compromise.
“We’re ready,” Lamont said.
Democratic leaders continued to express confidence Wednesday that they will be able to line up the necessary votes to approve the transportation funding plan, and Lamont said he is prepared to sign the legislation into law.
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides, R-Derby, remained skeptical Wednesday that Democrats under Lamont can pull off what they have been unable to get done in the last three years — pass a transportation funding plan that relies on highway tolls.
“I don’t know if they are anywhere know what is going on. We’ve heard this so many times yet they never call a bill,” she said.
The legislation will propose to charge heavy commercial trucks tolls to cross 12 bridges across Connecticut. Passenger cars and lighter trucks will be exempted.
As planned, the toll revenue will be used to secure low-interest federal loans to finance bridge improvement projects. Toll rates will vary based on construction costs. The Lamont administration had been proposing rates of $6.40 to $12.80 for trucks with a Connecticut-issued electronic pass.
The list of bridge projects includes the Mixmaster interchange of Interstate 84 and Route 8 in Waterbury, four bridges on Route 8 south of the I-84 interchange in Waterbury, and the Rochambeau Bridge over the Housatonic River on I-84 in Newtown and Southbury.
As proposed, an independent state board of gubernatorial and legislative appointees would set toll rates based on a formula that takes inflation and other factors into account. The legislation locks in the initial rates for five years.
“Look, I’ve never been a fan of layers of bureaucracy, but people feel more confident with this commission that has got legislative appointments, and I’ve got appointments on there,” Lamont said. “Let’s go with it. Let’s just get going.”
Changes could be made in the transportation funding bill based on the testimony that is received at next week’s hearing, said House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin.
“I am comfortable with how we wrote it going into the hearing,” he said.
Senate President Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, had tentative commitments of 18 of the 22 Senate Democrats to support the latest truck-only tolling plan provided certain conditions were satisfied. House Democrats also made similar demands.
“We think we have resolved all of that in theory. Now, we are waiting on the bill to be drafted to reflect that and make sure that it does, in fact, say what we all agreed to in concept,” Looney said.
If 18 Democratic senators support the bill, then Lt. Gov. Susan Bysiewicz would be positioned to cast the deciding vote in the 36-seat Senate. If necessary, Bysiewicz said she is prepared to make that tie-breaking vote.
Klarides said Republicans continue to maintain highway tolls are unnecessary. The GOP caucuses are recommending a combination of borrowing and tapping the budget reserve fund as an alternative to tolls.
“We have proposals that we believe are fiscally responsible that allow for the same significant amount of transportation funding, and we are not sticking our hands in people’s pockets any more,” she said.
The passage of a transportation funding bill would clear the way to finally enacting a two-year bonding package. Lamont has refused to agree to a bonding bill until he gets a deal on transportation financing.

Derby officials pleased with developers’ vision for downtown
Jean Falbo-Sosnovich
DERBY — A proposal to bring more than 200-market rate apartments downtown, along with some commercial space, got its first formal airing before the Planning and Zoning Commission this week, and members liked what they saw.
Plans to breathe life to the barren downtown comes courtesy of Downtown Derby LLC, headed by brothers Jim and Steve Lepore, owners of the design/construction firm Lepore and Sons of West Hartford, and the property owners of 23 Factory St., Jena Bonazolli-Barretta and Christopher M. Barretta.
The commission opened a public hearing on the proposal Tuesday, and continued it until next month. Only a handful of people were in attendance, and commission members were the only ones to speak about the proposal.
Commission Chairman Ted Estwan, serving on the commission for 22 years, said he was excited.
“We’ve seen two other major projects come and go before us (over the years). ... What you brought us is good,” Estwan told the developers. “I’d like to see a shovel go in the ground and I hope we can work together and bring this to fruition.”
Estwan was referring to two previous proposals by other developers geared to give downtown development a much needed spark, but those never left the conceptual stages. The latest to come across the commission’s desk is the first “solid” proposal, with actual site plans, that the city has seen in more than a decade.
“In my last 14 years on this commission I have watched development happen across the river (in Shelton) and wish we had that here in Derby,” said Commissioner Glen Stevens. “I hope we can move forward with this.”
Commissioner Steve Jalowiec concurred.
“We’ve got to do something with the downtown,” he said. “You have a solid development proposal, with a developer with an excellent track record here, and there is nothing like this in the city.”
The proposal aims to bring two full-service residential buildings to a 2.8-acre parcel at 23 Factory St. It would feature 203 one- and two-bedroom apartments with various amenities, including a pool, health club, library, dog-walking and grooming services, fire pits, bike racks, indoor golf simulator and community spaces.
The project would be complemented by 8,500 square feet of street-level commercial space and covered parking. A city-owned parking lot would provide additional parking spaces for tenants.
Attorney Chris Smith, representing the developer, said the project would “increase the economic vitality of downtown Derby,” as well as provide some needed, diverse housing opportunities that will increase use of public transportation downtown. He said the proposal also aligns with the city’s Plan of Conversation and Development. He noted the developers have been hard at work for the last two years in bringing the best possible development to downtown.
Karl Nielson of Derby, a consultant/planner representing the developer, said the project is geared toward millennials and sees the nearby train station as an attractive option for the younger crowd to get to and from work, while walking downtown for their day-to-day needs, supporting local businesses. The project is located in close proximity to Routes 8 and 34 and the Merritt Parkway, and near the Derby Greenway. Of the 203 units, 178 of them would be one-bedrooms, 21 would be two-bedrooms and there would be four, two-bedroom townhouse units.
Nielson said if the project gains approval, the developers will plan accordingly around the Route 34 widening project, which the state is handling, and will reconfigure Main Street, also known as Route 34, from a two-lane to a four-lane highway with a median divider. The construction is expected to start next year, running from Home Depot to the Derby-Shelton Bridge, which is also scheduled by the state for a face-lift.
“This has been quite a journey and we’re looking forward to the future of Factory Street ... sitting outside with a glass of wine, and making this a beautiful place for Derby,” said Steve Lepore.

Home Depot to operate $50M distribution center in South Windsor
Joe Cooper
ome Depot plans to open a major distribution center in South Windsor, adding a significant number of jobs as the nation’s largest home-improvement retailer tries to become a bigger player in online sales, precipitating a need to get closer to its stores and customers for next-day or even same-day delivery.
Indiana developer Scannell Properties is currently building the $50-million, 421,000-square-foot distribution facility on vacant land in South Windsor that will be leased long term by Home Depot upon completion, sources confirmed to HBJ.
The combined 46-acre property is officially located at 360 Ellington Road, 245 Chapel Road and R008 John Fitch Boulevard.
Town officials and design professionals representing Scannell did not name any potential tenants during the local approval process last year.
Home Depot currently operates about 30 retail stores in Connecticut. It also operates a distribution center at 74 Griffin Road South in Bloomfield.
"This [planned development] is part of our investment strategy to speed up delivery to customers and stores, eventually reaching 90% of our customers with same day/next day delivery,” the Home Depot’s spokeswoman said in a statement.
In August, the town's Planning and Zoning Commission approved a special exception for the planned development. Weeks later, the town council unanimously greenlit a seven-year tax abatement for Home Depot as an incentive for the retailer to invest approximately $50 million in the distribution center.
The abatement reduces the estimated property assessment by 50%, resulting in an estimated tax benefit of $309,925 a year, or $2.7 million over the seven-year agreement, town records show. Meantime, the town is expected to receive about $300,000 in annual tax revenue from the building, according to Town Manager Michael Maniscalco. The vacant property in recent years has generated just $19,000 annually in tax revenue for the town, Maniscalco said.
“It’s very helpful for us as we consider delivering services to our community,” he said. “The service demand for a facility like this will create a fair amount of revenue. I think it’s a huge benefit for the community.”
Construction crews broke ground on the Home Depot site in recent weeks, and are expected to complete the project by year-end, Maniscalco said. The property sits across the street from another Scannell project -- a $42.4 million Coca-Cola office and distribution facility at 329-359 Ellington Road. The town also approved a tax abatement for that project.
Officials have said the Home Depot facility will likely mirror a warehouse-distribution facility Scannell built in Cromwell. It’s not yet clear how many jobs the facility is expected to create.
The Home Depot distribution hub is different from the 182,000-square-foot distribution and accompanying 69,5000-square-foot storage facility that Scannell is planning to build at 240 Ellington Road. The town’s zoning board in recent months approved that project, but Scannell has yet to name the incoming tenant there.
In late 2017, Home Depot announced it planned to spend $5.4 billion to integrate its brick-and-mortar stores with its digital operations.