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CT Construction Digest Thursday July 29, 2021

Opinion: Tweed Airport plan will create 1,000 jobs

Christopher Cozzi

In May, Tweed New Haven Airport announced plans to expand to allow for flights to more destinations, which would grow the economy of southern Connecticut. It’s significant that they were joined at the announcement by local and state officials, members of the business community, and working men and women like myself, all excited at the prospect of a more dynamic airport.

As the president of the New Haven Building and Construction Trades, I view this cross-section of support as impressive because I’ve watched for years as New Haven, East Haven and the rest of this region have struggled to build consensus around a common vision for the future of the airport. Finally, there is a plan for Tweed-New Haven Airport that makes sense for our economy, for our taxpayers and for working families. It’s critically important that we seize this moment and make this plan a reality.

Recently, the New Haven Board of Alders began their important role in this process. The alders are now considering a renewal of the existing airport lease as well as updates to local ordinances. Their approval will extend Tweed’s runway, update the West terminal and, in the long run, create a new, environmentally friendly East Terminal. Once a new lease is signed, the project will eliminate taxpayer subsidies for the airport, saving money and allowing scarce resources to go to other important areas of New Haven’s city budget.

We hear all the time that politicians are fighting to create jobs: The Board of Alders now has the chance to do it. This plan will create up to 1,000 direct jobs, many of which will be union jobs. Avelo Airlines, a new airline that is making Tweed Airport its East Coast base, will employ more than 100 crewmembers, including pilots, flight attendants and technicians. And beyond those direct jobs, the plan will increase economic activity — whether it’s local hotels playing host to visitors, local restaurants being patronized by travelers, or a local mechanic making sure that an airport employee is able to get to work.

The expansion of Tweed Airport will be built using a project labor agreement. The project labor agreement sets the terms and conditions for the project including fair wages, fringe benefits such as health insurance and other incentives for the community. This project will contain many benefits for the community such as local hiring and apprenticeship requirements. These provisions will create opportunities for those interested in not just a job, but a career in the construction trades. The PLA establishes a pathway for disadvantaged community members and veterans to get trained at no cost to them or to taxpayers through the training programs run by the organizations. Whether it’s interested high school graduates or our unemployed neighbors, this project has the potential to help people obtain a career while having the highest quality product built by our local tradesmen and women.

Using a PLA for the Tweed expansion is critically important to the employees I represent with New Haven Building Trades. We’re not just union members, we’re residents of New Haven and East Haven. We’re neighbors to Tweed Airport, and we are looking to work hard, help improve our community and make our slice of Connecticut a better, more affordable place to live and work. This is how major construction projects should operate — in a way that creates good-paying jobs for local community members at the same time they are benefiting the broader economy and region.

We have stood alongside our local elected officials as they ran for public office, and we are proud of their hard work and advocacy for organized labor and for a fairer economy. Now we are proud to stand alongside the New Haven Board of Alders as they work to realize the potential of this historic opportunity at Tweed New Haven Airport. Our union brothers and sisters are ready. Let’s get to work!

Chris Cozzi is the president of the New Haven Building and Construction Trades.

Borrowing to build: Tweed New Haven expansion deal comes with financial risk

Jim Haddadin Walter Smith-Randolph

It’s been a tough stretch for the travel industry, but Tweed New Haven Airport could be poised for a comeback.

A new budget airline will begin flights from New Haven this fall, and the company that manages Tweed, Avports, is offering to spend millions to expand the airport. But records obtained by Connecticut Public show the airport is also facing new financial risks.

With $100 million in private investment money on the table, tiny Tweed airport has a huge opportunity.

“I’m a big fan of small airports like Tweed. To me, small is the new big,” said analyst Henry Harteveldt. He adds that passengers today want convenience and shorter lines.

Tweed’s management company also sees untapped potential. Avports is proposing a major expansion, including a new terminal on the East Haven side. But there’s a long road ahead, and if the deal hits a snag, Tweed could be saddled with debt.

Documents obtained by Connecticut Public show the airport will borrow $4 million from the company to renovate the existing terminal. That’s according to agreements signed in May with Avports.

That means the publicly owned, privately operated airport has borrowed money from its long-time management company, the same company angling for a 43-year lease to run the airport.

Avports’ CEO, Jorge Roberts, told Connecticut Public he believes strongly in Tweed’s future. So much so, if officials accept the 43-year lease deal, Avports will forgive that $4 million loan.

“None of these things are easy,” said Sean Scanlon, executive director of the airport authority. But he believes the risk is worth it. “If we can finally get this airport to be self-sustainable, we no longer have to ask the taxpayers of New Haven and Connecticut to help us keep chugging along.”

If the deal falls through, payments on the $4 million loan to renovate the existing terminal will start in six months — although that’s only if the airport is generating revenue. Avports will charge 6% interest, plus 5% in management fees.

“When I saw that amount of money, I thought, ‘Wow, what’s this about?’ said Susan Campion, who lives near the airport.

She was surprised to learn about the loan.

The airport isn’t required to use subsidies for its monthly payments. But Campion worries taxpayers could still get stuck with the bill.

“The very people that are subsidizing this, it’s not a private corporation, it is a community of residents,” said Campion.

New Haven’s Board of Alders will consider the deal in early August.

Here's how the bipartisan infrastructure deal would invest $280 billion in transportation

Ian Duncan

WASHINGTON - A bipartisan infrastructure deal that advanced Wednesday in the Senate would invest about $280 billion into transportation over five years, a sum the White House said represents some of the largest spending on bridges, transit and other projects in the nation's history.

The money would be split between existing programs that fund highways, transit agencies and airports, and other initiatives designed to tackle goals such as repairing aging bridges and improving the accessibility of buses, according to a detailed summary of the deal circulated to senators and obtained by The Washington Post.

Transit spending, which proved to be one of the final obstacles to sealing a deal, was negotiated down $10 billion from the figure announced in a framework for the package that was unveiled in June. But in terms of overall spending, other transportation provisions appear to have emerged from five weeks of dealmaking mostly unscathed.

Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg called the deal "historic."

The funds in the bipartisan agreement would come on top of existing road and transit spending set to expire at the end of September. The deal allocates about half the new funding to those core programs.

The American Road & Transportation Builders Association praised the agreement, saying in a letter to senators urging its support that ensuring long-term funding would lift the uncertainty the industry is facing.

"The bipartisan infrastructure framework between Senate negotiators and the Biden administration would facilitate long overdue repairs and improvements to our roads, bridges, public transit, airports and ports, and [create] good-paying jobs," wrote David Bauer, the group's chief executive.

But left-leaning groups and environmental activists said the deal would do too little to rein in carbon emissions from transportation. They favor a bill written by House Democrats that would put new conditions on widening highways and includes rules designed to hold states accountable for driving down emissions.

Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del., played a key role in crafting many of the details in the bipartisan agreement in his role as the chairman of the Environment and Public Works Committee. He issued a statement Wednesday saying the deal did not do enough to address climate change or promote environmental justice.

"I fought tirelessly for improvements in the bipartisan package to get us to this point, and not all of what I sought was realized," he wrote. "While there was progress on some fronts, sadly, important changes were not made on others."

- Roads, bridges and major projects: This is the biggest category of transportation spending in the package, and it would receive $110 billion in new funding. It includes $37 billion to fund the repair of bridges and $17.5 billion in funds to help cities and states tackle large projects by competing for grants. The deal builds on a bill the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee unanimously agreed to earlier this year - legislation that adds new environmental measures to federal road-building policy and aims to streamline the approval process for new projects.

- Transit: This sector is in line to get $39 billion in new funding, money that is designed to modernize bus and rail networks. A grant program that agencies can use to build light-rail lines, subways and bus rapid transit routes would get $8 billion, and a program to help them buy electric or low-emissions buses would receive $5.25 billion.

The final disputes over transit came down to whether it would receive 20% of long-term funding from the Highway Trust Fund. The deal appears to set the figure at about 19%. In all, the deal would boost transit spending by 83% compared to the last transportation bill passed in 2015, according to the summary senators received.

- Rail: The deal calls for $66 billion in new funding for rail, much of which would go to Amtrak to boost its core service between Washington and Boston. Of the total, $8 billion would be split between safety grant programs. Amtrak would get $16 billion to support its long-distance routes, and another $12 billion could be used to jump-start high-speed rail projects.

- Safety: Federal car, truck and safety agencies would get about $4.8 billion. A new $5 billion "safe streets for all" program would help fund Vision Zero projects that aim to eliminate crash deaths. The fund would put an emphasis on pedestrian and cyclist safety, according to the summary.

- Aviation: This sector would get $25 billion, with $20 billion allocated to airports and the rest going to upgrades to the Federal Aviation Administration's air traffic control facilities.

- Seaports, border crossings and inland waterways: These would receive $17 billion, split among the Army Corps of Engineers, the Transportation Department and the Department of Homeland Security.

- Other items: The White House says the deal also includes $7.5 billion to support a national network of electric-vehicle charging stations, aiming to make drivers more confident to take electric cars on long road trips. Another $5 billion would promote low-emission or no-emission school buses, the White House says, and $1 billion would be set aside to help reconnect communities divided by the construction of highways.

Incentives, efficiency power Stratford development project

Ethan Fry

STRATFORD — A 200-kilowatt solar array atop the new self-storage facility looming over I-95 on the east end of town will help the building produce as much energy as it consumes.

The renewable energy and its high efficiency design will save the equivalent emissions of 30 of those cars driving by on the highway every year.

“I have overseen many projects, but this building stands out,” said Hammad Chaudhry, senior manager at Avangrid, the parent company of United Illuminating.

Stephan Rapaglia, the chief operating officer at Urstadt Biddle Properties Inc., which built the development called “Knotts Landing,” says that’s not the only reason the location is a gem.

The area is already highly trafficked, and Rapaglia said the company is looking forward to the completion of the nearby Exit 33 interchange to bring even more people past the site.

In addition to the ExtraSpace Storage facility, Knotts Landing tenants also include new Chipotle and Golden Krust Caribbean Bakery locations, Rapaglia said.

And another big-time lessee could still be in the offing, he said.

The development was also expected to include a new Starbucks, which was put on hold due to issues with a cellular equipment tower atop what was once a billboard there.

Rapaglia said a new location for the coffee company could still be in the works, depending on the billboard structure’s owner.

“We’re waiting for them to get an approval to move the tower or relocate the tower or relocate the tower to our shopping center property,” he said. “If and when that happens, we still hope to put a Starbucks there.”

The $10 million development, which replaced several formerly blighted properties, has been in the works for years.

The solar power and the five-story storage building’s energy efficient design will save an estimated $40,350 in energy costs annually.

But the developer said those efficiencies may have not happened if not for nearly $400,000 in incentives offered through Energize CT, a public-private initiative to encourage energy efficiency financed by a charge on energy bills.

“If we had to spend the extra $400,000, I don’t know if we would have,” Rapaglia said.

But that’s the purpose of incentives, he said.

“The reason programs like this exist is to get people to do things they wouldn’t otherwise do,” Rapaglia said. “In this case, the available incentives made it an easy decision for us to make this building as energy efficient as possible.”

Chaudhry said the building is 37 percent more efficient than the state’s building code requires — and that the incentive program helps developers overcome the “first cost barrier” that would otherwise see projects without energy efficiencies included.

Rapaglia said the company worked with energy consultant Steve Hall to incorporate technologies like energy-efficient LED lighting, heat pumps, and HVAC systems to the 130,000-square-foot building, which anchors the open air shopping center.

Chaudhry said such projects, and the Energize CT program, have helped the state become a national leader in energy efficiency.

“We’re trying to make things easier for all of our customers,” he said. “We have programs and opportunities available for everyone.”

Bristol Board of Finance discuss ongoing development of downtown

Dean wright

BRISTOL – The Bristol Board of Finance discussed the ongoing development of downtown, where officials said they felt more than $50 million of private dollars had been invested in addition to coming grant funds.

The board approved a motion for an appropriation of $4.6 million to be utilized for capital improvements in the Centre Square redevelopment project, money coming from a recent state funding transfer. This will be brought before the joint meeting of the City Council and Board of Finance for a final decision. 

“This is a great tribute to what’s going to happen in this particular area,” said Board of Finance Chair John Smith.

Economic and Community Development Director Justin Malley said that this is “the culmination of boards and administration over the years and supporting the (Bristol Economic and Community Development Office) as we plot forward on Centre Square.”

“We actually applied for this funding years ago and admittedly it was too early and (there were other) challenges,” he continued. “One of the first meetings that the mayor and I had, we talked about going after this again now that we were in a better place from a development perspective and that’s what we did.”

Malley was asked by a board member if the private investment of the Centre Square project was around $50 million and he replied it would likely be well higher than that when completed.

“With what Bristol Health invested already and what may come in the future from the Carrier project and when we see what may come from Parcel 10 and then when you look at what Wheeler is looking to do as well, we’ll easily hit that number,” said Malley. 

The director said that with ongoing work, he felt the state was impressed with what was happening in Bristol.

Malley said a parking garage slated to be built behind the Bristol Police Department would take the “lion’s share” of the awarded $4.6 million. The rest would be reserved for a potential greenspace effort in Centre Square.

“We’re going on our best estimates,” said Malley of information received from engineering firms. He said that ideally building materials will come down before any further development is made.

“I do hope people appreciate the fact that across the street is going to come to fruition in the very near future and those of us that saw what was there a long time ago may live long enough to see something grow,” said Smith.

Board of Finance member Marie O’Brien expressed approval of the parking garage plan as spaces in Centre Square will be displaced due to coming construction.

Hartford could get $900,000 for riverfront park work from federal appropriations bill

Zachry Vasile

Plans to construct a park linking Hartford’s North End with the Connecticut River could get a boost in the form of nearly $1 million in federal funding.

In a statement released Monday, U.S. Rep. John B. Larson, D-Conn., said his request to steer $900,000 to the City of Hartford to support the park’s development has been included in a House transportation, housing and economic development appropriations bill.

“The I-84 and I-91 interchange has divided the City of Hartford and cut off its residents from the Connecticut River,” Larson said. “I have long been an advocate of efforts to recapture the riverfront and reconnect the city, so I’m proud to announce that funding to continue these efforts has been included in the [fiscal year] 2022 appropriations package.”

The public green space in northern Hartford expected to be known as Riverfront Park will include a trail linking the Hartford and Windsor riverwalks, as well as a new cove for swimming and recreation, according to Hartford Mayor Luke Bronin. Once completed, it would be the fifth riverside park established in the area, alongside Charter Oak Landing, Mortensen Riverfront Plaza and Riverside Park in Hartford and Great River Park in East Hartford.

Those parks are overseen by Riverfront Recapture, which was formed to revitalize what had been vacant or industrialized stretches of waterfront property in and around the capital city.

“We are so grateful for this funding, which will allow us to build a beautiful new park, expand access to the Connecticut River and reconnect Hartford’s North End neighborhood to the river, and ultimately, to the region,” said Riverfront Recapture President and CEO Michael Zaleski. “It’s time for transformation, and we are proud to be a part of it.”

Plans to overhaul Mixmaster underway

Andrew Lasron

WATERBURY — A consultant is studying options for replacing the Interstate 84 and Route 8 interchange, a four-story stacked network of bridges known as the Mixmaster that carries roughly 190,000 vehicles a day.

The project would improve the safety of the highway junction, which is prone to crashes, and upgrade the design to meet modern construction standards.

Built between 1962 and 1967, the Mixmaster was expected to accommodate a maximum volume of 100,000 vehicles a day. Today, it carries nearly twice that number, according to the state Department of Transportation.

While the stacked, compact design was innovative at the time, today the left-lane entrances and exits, abrupt merges and weaves make the stretch notoriously difficult to navigate. On top of that, the structures themselves are wearing out.

In 2018, the DOT began a rehabilitation of the Mixmaster, including full deck replacement of Route 8 in both directions, along with repairs to the decks of I-84, and steel repairs. The project, set to be finished in the fall of 2022, will extend the Mixmaster’s life for 25 years, until it can be replaced.

The DOT’s consultant, Rocky Hill-based HNTB, is soliciting feedback from a variety of stakeholders, which it will use to develop viable options for the design.

“Everything’s on the table, so we’re really taking a broad approach to looking at what can be done,” said David Schweitzer, a consultant with HNTB, during a virtual meeting of stakeholders Tuesday.

As part of the study, the consultant will consider assets such as Riverside Cemetery, which is in the National Register of Historic Places, and the planned Naugatuck River Greenway.

During the public comment portion of Tuesday’ meeting, Martin Begnal, president of Friends of Riverside Cemetery, said he’d support moving Route 8 to the east of the Naugatuck River, similar to the location of a temporary bypass for Route 8 northbound during the rehabilitation, which remains in effect.

Moving the highway would open space in front of the 36-acre cemetery, which features winding paths, diverse flora and fauna, two ponds and extravagant monuments for Waterbury’s captains of industry.

“Riverside has been in that spot since 1853,” said Begnal, who is the Republican-American’s assistant managing editor of local news. “We expect to be there long after the Mixmaster is gone.”

HNTB has created a 3,980-page “analysis, needs and deficiencies report” assessing the project. It states the project’s goals are to replace structurally and operationally deficient bridges; correct highway geometric deficiencies; address deficiencies with traffic operations and improve access to highways; improve safety and reduce the high crash rate; improve the local roadway network; encourage residents to use local roads for traversing the city; minimize construction impacts to the city and traveling public; provide for multimodal opportunities and support long-term economic opportunities by considering planned developments.

HNTB will assemble a Public Advisory Council and solicit feedback from neighborhood groups and other stakeholders. The consultant will evaluate the options, including how they align with the city’s “economic development and community goals” to shrink the possibilities down to a “reasonable range of solutions,” said Christopher Fagan, a project engineer at HNTB. The options will undergo an extensive environmental review process.

Early stages of the project may include improvements to local roads to help reduce the amount of local traffic using the highways to get from one part of the city to another, the consultant said. According to HNTB’s data, about 35% of traffic in the Mixmaster study area gets on and off in Waterbury.