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CT Construction Digest Wednesday January 22, 2020

No hearing on truck tolls or CT2030 before

House and Senate Democratic leaders said they hope to finalize a tractor trailer tolls bill at a meeting Tuesday afternoon with the administration of Gov. Ned Lamont, then schedule a public hearing for next week on Lamont’s 10-year, $19 billion infrastructure plan.
The leaders originally said they planned to make the legislation public Tuesday, but they expect some revisions after the meeting, meaning the bill’s public release is unlikely before Wednesday.
“We have a meeting this afternoon to hammer out the details,” Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, said Tuesday morning.
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said in a separate interview he is unaware of major sticking points on draft language that has been negotiated by the co-chairs of the Transportation Committee, reflecting the concerns of their caucus members.
“It’s been going through the chairs.This is our first time getting together,” Aresimowicz said. “I think it’s just a matter of us getting in the room as leaders.”
Aresimowicz said he expected a draft to become public Wednesday. Looney hedged on a date for a vote, saying it would be depend on the availability of lawmakers at a time of year when they are not normally in session.
“I think both chambers have to do a careful head count,” Looney said.
The leaders have committed to a five-day public notice before a hearing on the much-revised plan to use some form of tolls as a major element of financing CT2030, the governor’s plan to restore highways and bridges to a state of good repair and improve commuter rail.
Max Reiss, the governor’s communications director, said there is a consensus on truck tolls in both chambers, but few details remaining.“We look forward to getting over the goal line,” he said.
One of the concerns raised by some rank-and-file Democrats is legislative language barring the Department of Transportation from subjecting passenger cars to tolls, as Lamont first proposed in February as part of a broader tolling scheme. Some Democrats want language that makes clear to voters that car tolls would not be permitted.
The revised version would charge tolls only on tractor trailers at a dozen highway bridges in Connecticut.

Public Hearing On Tolls Next Week? Maybe

Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said a Tuesday afternoon meeting between legislative leaders and the chairs of the Transportation Committee would help nail down ideas that existed in concept, “but need to be reduced to statutory language.”
There will be a five-day public notice period before a public hearing is held, according to the rules of the General Assembly. No final bill has been drafted yet, but it’s expected to be ready in time for a public hearing next week.
“The thing that we are worried about since we are not in regular session and we are a part-time legislature – there are people who have other plans and a vote of this kind is one we don’t want anyone to miss,” Looney said Tuesday.
There are 22 Democratic Senators, which means 18 of them would need to vote in favor of the legislation for it to pass.
“We have to schedule it at a time when we can get everyone here,” Looney said.
He said both chambers will have to do a “careful headcount” in order to schedule a vote.
Looney declined to commit to pulling together a special session before the start of the regular session on Feb. 5.
Asked if he was concerned about Rhode Island’s recent revision to its spending from truck-only tolls, Looney said their plan is still only to have tolls on large trucks on bridges.
Connecticut’s plan is exactly the same as Rhode Island’s when it comes to the size of the trucks it would toll and the number of gantries it expects to erect.
On Monday, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo’s new budget reduced the amount of toll revenue it planned to use from $25 million to just $8.5 million.
As of last month, five of the 12 planned toll gantries in Rhode Island were in operation. That’s half the number the Rhode Island Department of Transportation had expected under a schedule released back in May.
Connecticut legislative leaders have said they expect Connecticut’s truck-only tolls to raise about $150 million to $175 million per year. That toll revenue is then expected to help Connecticut leverage federal loans.
“Federal loans – if they are even granted – are going to have to be repaid,” said Joe Sculley, president of the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut. “If truck toll revenue is not there, it will have to come from car tolls, or increased income taxes, or sales taxes, or gas taxes, or all of the above.”
Democratic lawmakers have vowed to include language in the legislation that would make it clear they have no intention of tolling passenger vehicles.

Eversource continues construction on gas lines in New London
New London — Eversource has announced an ongoing $3 million construction project to upgrade its gas distribution system here with the replacement of two miles of existing cast iron and steel pipes with plastic pipe.
In a statement, Eversource said the new pipe is safer, more durable and better able to handle fluctuations in underground temperatures.
The project is underway, with crews working — weather permitting — Monday through Friday between 7 a.m. and 4:30 p.m. Work will be done along Cedar Grove, Connecticut and Lincoln avenues; Broad, Center, Channing, Cleveland, Dow, Elm, Georgiana, Granite, Learned, Ledyard, South Ledyard and West streets; Cape Ann Court and Ashcraft Road.
Drivers may experience delays due to alternating one-way traffic. Customers may experience a short disruption to their natural gas service when the new line is being activated and they will be notified in advance by letter, phone or an in-person visit. This gas line improvement work is expected to be complete in early May. “These investments allow us to further modernize the gas distribution system, minimizing repairs and any service interruptions,” Eversource President of Gas Operations Bill Akley said. “Proactively upgrading the system helps to ensure our customers in Connecticut have a better, stronger network for decades to come.”

Redevelopment plan for State Pier expected to be more costly than projected
Julia Bergman
New London — For the past several months, those involved in negotiating the redevelopment of State Pier have worked to incorporate public concerns into a final agreement, namely maintaining and enhancing rail access at the pier and ensuring any redevelopment does not impact Cross Sound Ferry's operations, according to the chairman of the state port authority.
The result is a substantially modified agreement between offshore wind developers Ørsted-Eversource, the Connecticut Port Authority and State Pier operator Gateway that likely will cost more than the $93 million originally projected.
The port authority's board, one of the major players in the deal, still must vote on the agreement, which is in draft form and has not been released publicly. Chairman David Kooris said at a meeting of the board Tuesday at Fort Trumbull that the pending agreement satisfies concerns raised at a public meeting in September outlining the redevelopment plan.
"We heard the importance of coexisting with the ferries and we heard of the importance of the recent improvements to the freight rail," Kooris said. "While some may think we've been working for months on some secretive aspects of this agreement, we've been working for months to try to better address and incorporate what we heard from the public."
The burgeoning offshore wind industry has presented opportunities for State Pier, which is being envisioned as one of a number of ports in the Northeast to be used by the industry.
Ørsted-Eversource are seeking to use the pier in conjunction with their Revolution Wind Farm in federal waters south of Martha's Vineyard, which will supply 300 megawatts of offshore wind power to Connecticut. But, officials say, that requires a major remaking of the facility. Gateway, selected by the port authority last year to run operations at State Pier, would provide access to the facility for redevelopment.
The resulting negotiations have been complicated by issues with how the port authority was operated and pushback from stakeholders such as Cross Sound Ferry, which has concerns over the impact of the redevelopment.
The redevelopment has largely been negotiated behind closed doors, and that has caused public concern, as well.
The port authority's board went into executive session at Tuesday's meeting to discuss the outstanding issues being negotiated, such as cost share and timing.
Kooris had hoped the board would be able to vote on the agreement Tuesday, but that will not happen until next month at the soonest. He has promised to give the board 10 days to review the final agreement, and said he "remains hopeful" that the board will be able to vote on it at its next meeting on Feb.18, or possibly at a special meeting convened before then.
Kooris told the board publicly Tuesday that aspects of the redevelopment had to be redesigned to take into consideration rail and ferry operations. That has resulted in additional costs and may require additional development time, he said.
As of now, the port authority is on the hook for seeking any additional funding beyond the $93 million, but Kooris said the quasi-public agency, which receives $400,000 annually from the state in addition to revenue from State Pier, "cannot commit to money that it doesn't have."
The parties involved reached an initial agreement on redevelopment of State Pier for use by the offshore wind industry in May of last year. Much of what is in that 25-page document, which finally was released publicly last week, is included in the renegotiated agreement, Kooris said.