As published in the Record Journal, Wednesday September 14, 2011
By Robert Cyr
WALLINGFORD — After much concern and public input from a meeting last month, a state transportation official returned Tuesday to present another possible location for a train station that will be part of a multi-million- dollar railway upgrade, connecting New Haven and Springfield, Mass.
Town councilors worried about increased automobile traffic and problems involving development around proposed train station sites at Judd Square and a newly proposed Parker Street location.
“I think this could be a real winner, for not only the state of Connecticut but for points up north as well,” said Councilor John Sullivan. “But my real concern is that we don’t have a long-term plan for the downtown.”
Plans call for upgrading signals along the track, which is slated to start as early as next spring. The first proposed station at Judd Square has raised concerns over an elevated platform and parking for 200 cars. The proposed Parker Street station, farther from downtown and higher-density population areas, was drafted on public input, said DOT Project Manager John Bernick.
Wallingford has the most crossings of track over road of any municipality along the corridor — 10, eight with signals and two gates without signals. The most heavily trafficked areas are Parker, Hall, Ward and Quinnipiac streets. The town now has five or six trains passing through every day. The rail project calls for 25 cars running every half-hour during peak morning and evening commutes and once an hour in between, Bernick said.
Springfield will become a central connector, with service to Boston, Vermont and finally to Montreal. The $647 million project consists of double-tracking 62 miles of track, upgrading the signals, building new stations in North Haven, Newington and Enfield, relocating Wallingford’s station and building new elevated platforms, walkways and parking garages in each town.
“This service promotes transit-related development, and allows the downtown to grow without creating traffic congestion that normally goes with it,” Bernick said. “We’re here to make sure that no matter what site comes out in the end, it’s buildable and the impacts aren’t any more than what we anticipated.”
An environmental impact study, with a public comment period, is expected to be completed and ready for presentation in November. Once the studies are done, the project will be eligible for $121 million in federal funding, he said. Full service could begin by 2016.
Public officials have said they are concerned that more trains, which can go as fast as 110 mph, would pose a safety threat to residents and disrupt nearby businesses. A traffic study previously conducted by Wilbur Smith & Associates gave several crossings poor ratings for the proposed project without altering streets and traffic flow.
Some residents, however, disagreed with the DOT’s philosophy and cost benefit studies that say the upgraded railway would create economic growth along the commuter corridor. Public Utilities Commissioner David Gessert told Bernick that the transit system would benefit few and be a financial burden to many.
“I think it’s a beautiful fairy tale, but I don’t think all of these things are relay going to happen,” he said. “It’s hard to see in my mind how this high speed train is going to be of any tremendous value.”