Officials from the Rell administration’s Department of Transportation are defending the 35-year, half a billion dollar contract to refurbish and make-over the state’s 23 highway rest areas saying it “was the best deal for the state.” The lead negotiator for the state, Charlene Casamento, also says key state legislators got status updates during the negotiations. State Sen. Andrew McDonald (D-Stamford) calls the last claim, “insulting.”

After a report by The Hanging Shad last month, state DOT spokesman Judd Everhart and Casamento wanted to provide further information defending the deal. Casamento answered criticism that the winning bidder had no experience in rest area renovation or operation while the competitor did similar work in 17 states. She said Connecticut’s was a unique model that required “one point-person” for all aspects of the project. She added that a third-party company, “Matrix,” deemed the deal the best possible for the state after a diligent process.

But it was Casamento’s claim that key state lawmakers were briefed during the process (although not with details that had to be kept secret) that didn’t sit well with McDonald. “If they’re saying there was a meeting, there was,” McDonald said. “However, there was no significant information provided beyond what was already available to the public. They didn’t tell us who the bidders were or any significant economic information on the deal. To say we were ‘briefed’ is insulting.”

McDonald went on to say that he fully understands the need for confidentiality in negotiating a deal, but didn’t understand the degree of secrecy to which the administration was going. “It wouldn’t have hurt to brief—with some real information—the Senate president or the Speaker of the House or certainly the chairman of the transportation committee [Sen. Don DeFronzo].”

And then there is the issue of the 35-year deal with the winning bidder, a group that 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.

“Why 35 years?” asked McDonald. “Why not a hundred years?” The point being that currently, the governor can cut a deal of any length she or he sees fit. McDonald introduced a measure that would require that a state contract of more than 10 years be subject to legislative approval.

But Rell budget chief Robert Genuario opposed the measure. In his testimony to the Government, Elections and Administration committee, Genuario said, in part, “…the bill raises constitutional separation of powers issues since it intrudes on the administration or execution of statutes and programs…The executive branch is duly authorized to carry out the laws. If the law authorizes a contract of this type, then the executive is well within its constitutional powers to carry it out without a ‘legislative veto’, which upends the normal policy-making process.”

McDonald said he plans to reintroduce the legislation.