As published in the Record Journal Thursday August 23, 2012
WALLINGFORD - The state Department of Transportation has received federal approval to move forward with designing and planning a new train station near the intersection of Parker and North Cherry streets, part of a $647 million project to revamp rail lines from New Haven to Springfield, Mass.
John Bernick, project manager, said the Federal Railroad Administration recently approved the site. The Town Council backed the location in June, 5-2, over Ward Street near Judd Square.
To build the new station, the state will need to acquire land from Cerrito’s Auto Sales, at 180 N. Colony St. Bernick said the state was already in discussions with the property owner. “It’s a lengthy process, so we’re starting it now,” he said. “We have to purchase the property and the business owner has to look at relocation options.”
Final designs are expected to be completed in August 2013, with construction beginning as soon as October. Bernick said the DOT would be back before the public in Wallingford once design plans were near completion to seek input.
But some in town still have concerns, including Republican Town Councilor John Le-Tourneau, who cast one of the two votes against the site.
“It’s not going to work,” Le-Tourneau said. “I hope I’m wrong, but I don’t think so.”
LeTourneau said he’s concerned about handicapped access to the site, as well as that there’s no room for expansion. “I think there was some long-term planning that wasn’t done,” he said.
The Parker Street station would be a split site with two parking lots, one on each side of the tracks, totaling 210 spaces. One of the lots would be at the intersection of Parker and North Cherry Streets on the south side of Parker and the west side of the tracks, with entrances on North Cherry. The second lot would be placed on North Colony Street, on the site of Cerrito’s used car lot.
Town Engineer John Thompson said the Ward Street site posed public safety risks because trains stopping there would tie up Ward Street, a main east-west artery through town, preventing emergency vehicles from getting to their destination.
“The Parker site afforded us a greater degree of assurance that the fire trucks would have the opportunity to get across the tracks,” Thompson said. “That was the compelling factor.”
A parking garage had also been proposed for the Ward Street location, a plan that town staff and some councilors opposed.
With all the parking on one side of the tracks at the Ward Street site, congestion would have been worse, Thompson said.
Republican Town Councilor Craig Fishbein, who supported the Parker site, said it “seemed to make a lot more sense.”
“I preferred the surface parking to the parking garage,” he said. “And I had concerns about the roadway in the area.”
LeTourneau said he is worried about buses having difficulty exiting on Route 5 from the Parker Street site and that he wishes councilors had been included in discussions between Mayor William W. Dickinson Jr., Police Chief Douglas Dortenzio, Fire Chief Peter Struble and Thompson that preceded the council vote.
“The process we went through, in my opinion, was a terrible process,” he said. “I think some councilors were not informed.”
The Federal Railroad Administration approval of the Wallingford site was part of a larger “Finding of No Significant Impact” report, which freed $121 million in federal funds for the New Haven-to-Springfield rail project.
“That was a big step,” Bernick said. “We hope to have that grant obligated shortly and gain access to the money.” Construction of the entire rail project, which also includes a new station in Meriden, is targeted for completion in 2016.