Future Design

A couple of depressing items in the paper this morning, both having to do with hypertexuality. The first has to do with I-84 in Connecticut and the corruption of road building. The FHA will be withholding 5m in highway aid until CT comes up with a plan to fix whatever problem needs fixing near Waterbury. Here’s some gist:

Although transportation officials have said nothing to indicate that there is any immediate hazard, the Federal Highway Administration is concerned that what experts call “stunning” failures in the highway drainage system may be creating underground washouts that could lead to road collapses.

“The type of things that might be worthy of immediate action are any cavities being developed underneath the pavement due to the drainage deficiencies,” Bradley Keazer, administrator of the Federal Highway Administration’s Connecticut office, said in an interview. “We need to have those identified and fixed so that we don’t have pavement subsidence on the interstate facility or the ramps.”

Judd Everhart, spokesperson of ConnDOT, responded this way:

“The department was surprised to receive this document, and Commissioner Carpenter will be in touch with the [Federal Highway Administration] regarding it,” spokesman Judd Everhart said. “We were puzzled by the request for a `comprehensive risk assessment’ for this project because we believe that the safety issues of immediate concern have been identified and corrected.”

Not much help here. What does ” . . . we believe that the safety issues of immediate concern have been identified and corrected” mean? But there’s more context, in terms of the legal and criminal proportions orbiting around the business:

Some industry experts say Keazer’s letter may be a sign of growing federal impatience over contracting irregularities at the state Department of Transportation, an agency that receives $400 million a year in federal subsidies for highway projects.

Last year, state prosecutors accused a half-dozen state transportation employees in connection with an alleged scheme to rig contracts to repair highway cracks. So far, one employee has been acquitted, one returned to his $135,000-a-year job after getting a special form of probation on reduced charges, another was convicted and three more are awaiting trial.

The Federal Highway Administration also has demanded the return of $9 million of the $12 million it agreed to give the state to subsidize the crack sealing.

In a separate case, later in 2006, two more transportation employees were convicted in federal court of rigging a contract to renovate part of New Haven’s train station, a program that involved federal mass transit, rather than highway, subsidies.

On the I-84 project, government and industry sources are complaining about delays in correcting the problems – delays they say are at least partly attributable to Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s promise to fix the highway at no additional cost to state taxpayers. Rell has said she wants to pay for I-84 repairs with money obtained from the parties she believes to be responsible – the state’s highway contractors and the insurance companies that guaranteed their work.

The targets here are insurance companies, the Maguire Group, and the original contractor DeFelice. The article also informs of further lawsuits to come. The questions about the I-84 project get stickier and more complicated. Last I checked, if you are coming from New York, I-84 is a pretty good way of doing it. The fix-it project has been a bang-up job.

But there’s more, too, this having to do with energy and power contracts. Mark Peters reports on some new power plants slated to beautify the CT landscape:

Power plant projects in Middletown, Stamford and Waterbury were selected to receive contracts worth more than $300 million through a ratepayer-funded program designed to promote construction of new plants.

A 620-megawatt plant proposed for Middletown was the largest of four projects awarded contracts Monday by the state Department of Public Utility Control. The natural gas-fired generator planned along the Connecticut River by Kleen Energy Systems would produce enough electricity for 550,000 typical homes.

Here people are not referred to as consumers or taxpayers, but “ratepayers” involved in public service. Here are arguments for:

Regulators and power plant developers have said the capacity contracts will ensure that badly needed new plants are built. The new generation facilities would help keep up with rising demand for electricity on the hottest days of the year and displace older, inefficient plants, which are dirtier and more expensive to operate. They also would reduce the penalties the state faces for not having enough generation to meet federal standards, the DPUC said.

“This is a significant and concrete step in transforming Connecticut generation facilities from old, expensive and dirty generation to new, clean and efficient facilities that will help to drive down electric prices,” said Donald Downes, the DPUC’s chairman.

He estimated the cost to ratepayers for the new contracts, which run for 15 years, at more than $340 million. However, the savings during that time would average more than $500 million, according to DPUC estimates.

I read those last few bits above and just had to chuckle. Part of the problem has to do with objections to these arguments on the part of Blumenthal and others, that energy upgrades provide no guarantee of reducing or providing “reasonable” rates to “ratepayers.” This is trivial because, of course, “ratepayers,” a special breed of consumer, will not be provided with “reasonable” anything, not even roads. It’s an odd formula. An agency or group can begin building a redundant machine, ignoring alternative sources for spinning or riding, and have the “ratepayer” pay for it without any guarantee that the thing will even spin or that the roads will even ride.

Public works. Poor design. This is a fantastic way to sell Connecticut.

P.S. This is all written with fond memories of Palo Verde, the “hypertext” part.