Last week, Gov. Jodi Rell stood at a rest area along the Wilbur Cross Parkway in North Haven to mark the start of construction in the overhaul of the state’s 23 highway rest areas. But amidst the fanfare are questions about the rest area deal, the total value of the which, including the investment to revamp the plazas and the royalties that the stores would generate, was estimated at about a half billion dollars over 35 years.

The winning bidders for the deal includes Paul Landino Sr., who owns SubCon of North Haven which builds Subway restaurants in Connecticut and New York. Doctors Associates is the Milford-based company that owns Subway. The Carlyle Group is putting up the money for the venture. Landino’s brother, Robert Landino, a former state legislator who owns CenterPlan Development LLC, is doing the construction work.

But state Sen. Andrew McDonald (D-Stamford) and others are troubled by the Landino group’s lack of experience in highway rest area construction as well as the fact that negotiations for the deal were secret. The other group that competed for the contact, HMS Host, has worked on such projects in 17 states. The Landino group has worked on none.

Further, the Rell administration wouldn’t disclose information during the bidding process. McDonald and Transportation Committee Co-Chair Sen. Donald DeFronzo (D-New Britain) were kept in the dark. “If this was truly the best deal the state could get, they [Rell administration] ought to disclose it and defend it,” McDonald said.

McDonald also worries that the state may lose tens of millions of dollars over the length of the contract. “This is extraordinarily valuable real estate that Connecticut is putting in the hands of these operators,” said McDonald. He also said taxpayers should know “what, if any, real revenue gains they are going to see over the next three decades.”

Not happy with a secret, 35-year contract in this case, McDonald sought legislation that would subject any state contract over 10 years to legislative approval. But after strong opposition from the Rell administration, the bill died.

Rell spokesman Adam Liegeot says the proper people were informed of the deal. “The attorney general’s office was involved every step of the way and approved the final agreement. Attorney General Richard Blumenthal approved and personally signed the contract…We believe this is a good deal for the state and for the traveling public.”

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