Rest area water fountains open at a trickle pace

After The Day reported and then complained in an editorial last summer about the lack of water fountains at the state's new highway rest areas, a reader wrote to Gov. Dannel Malloy to request that something be done.

An official of the state Department of Transportation, responding on behalf of the governor, wrote back to the reader to say that a change in plans was made and that water fountains would be installed.

"After much consideration, we have decided to include, as part of the redevelopment program, the installation of drinking fountains on all of the larger service plazas," a DOT property director responded to the newspaper reader last August.

"Smaller plazas on I-95, Route 15 and I-395 will get self service soda stations with complimentary cups and a sign clearly informing patrons that it is available."

So imagine my surprise on a recent trip to New York to learn that there are still no water fountains, almost a year later, in the new service plazas in Milford, which opened in the spring of 2012.

I also stopped in one of the newly remodeled smaller plazas on the Merritt Parkway, Route 15, and saw no obvious stack of free cups or any notification signs that water is free at the soda fountain.

Not only did the governor, through the DOT, promise fountains last summer, but the state building official, responding to an observation from another reader, confirmed that fountains are required by the building code.

It is interesting, if you like news trivia, to note that a major investor in the company that got the lucrative contract to run Connecticut's new service plazas, some of the most well-traveled commercial real estate in the state, is the Carlyle Group, also a majority shareholder in Booz Allen Hamilton, that company that has been keeping track of all our phone calls for the National Security Agency.

Carlyle has reportedly made billions of dollars off its investment in Booz Allen, the spying contractor. It is only going to score hundreds of millions of dollars off its rest area deal with Connecticut, which also includes the Subway restaurant chain.

Maybe the state decided Carlyle is too big to be made to comply with building codes?

When I asked the DOT about the rollout of water fountains, a spokesperson for the agency said one service plaza, in Darien on the northbound side of I-95, has opened with them. The new Darien plaza on the south side of the highway will also have them when it opens in August.

Evidently, they are expected to be included in other new large plazas on I-95, as they open later this year and next year.

The new plazas in Milford, which have been open more than a year, will get fountains within the next 90 days, the DOT spokesman wrote back in an email, when I pressed for a specific schedule.

The spokesman was vague when it came to a question about whether any of the new smaller rest areas have the free cups and notifications signs, after I had been to one that didn't. He suggested that the signs "have been or will be installed" at the smaller plazas, but declined to answer subsequent questions about specifically where they have been installed or provide a schedule for when they will be put up.

Is it just me, or do others get the impression that Connecticut, among the last of states in job creation and near the top in per-capita debt, is broken?

How could it take more than a year to install some water fountains, in compliance with the state's own building code?

This is the opinion of David Collins.

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