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Wednesday, May 29, 2013

DOT’s train station plans bring out detractors

As published in the Record Journal Wednesday May 29, 2013

By Andrew Ragali
Record-Journal staff
(203) 317-2224

During a public information session Tuesday night, residents and town councilors showed displeasure with plans for a new train station proposed by the state Department of Transportation.

As part of Tuesday’s Town Council meeting, John Bernick, project manager for the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield commuter rail, presented designs for the new station, which will be near the corner of Parker and North Colony streets, about a half mile away from its current location between Hall Avenue and Quinnipiac Street.

“I’m not really agreeable to the location,” Town Councilor John Sullivan said. “I like the design of the station.”

Six residents of North Cherry Street, adjacent to the proposed station, and some residents of the surrounding area told the eight state officials present Tuesday that oppose the location.

Those who spoke said they were concerned about traffic issues on North Cherry Street. Commuter buses will shuttle rail users to and from parking lots. Residents said they felt the buses would struggle to navigate the narrow street.

They also expressed concern over lighting from the station. Plans call for the widening of a portion of North Cherry Street, as well as the planting of mature trees to help mitigate lighting issues for residents. Plans also call for the purchase of several properties in the area, including one that currently houses a business. Residents were told that properties can be taken by eminent domain.

Bernick told concerned residents that he was willing to schedule personal meetings.

“I know they probably won’t sleep soundly tonight with all this new information, but at least it’s information they have,” Sullivan said.

Construction of the three-story station will begin early next year, Bernick said. The design calls for two parking lots with about 220 parking spots. Also, a 500-foot platform will be built, as well as a pedestrian walkway to cross the tracks.

Service will launch in late 2016, with 45 minute peak-hour and hourly midday service between New Haven and Springfield, Mass. The railway will provide 17 round trips daily, with the potential for 25 round trips in the near future, Bernick said. Estimates show, Bernick said, that 250 to 300 Wallingford residents will ride the commuter trains daily.

“This is the worst place for this,” Town Councilor John LeTourneau said. “This is a mistake for Wallingford that will affect us for the next 50 to 100 years. It’s a mistake.”

“I think the train concept is a boon to the town,” Town Councilor Jason Zandri said, adding that he, too, has concerns with the stations location. “I probably would have liked to see this farther down in Judd Square.”

A station at Judd Square was one of the alternate proposals brought before the town, Bernick said, adding that it had been a decision of the Town Council to build a station at the new location.

Councilor Craig Fishbein took offense to the statement by Bernick, arguing that “we were not presented with Judd Square” the last time town councilors met with DOT officials about the project.

Bernick disagreed, and said both site plans were presented. Fishbein said he would give Bernick the benefit of the doubt, but would look back at the video from the meeting.

Security issues at the new station were also discussed. Phones that dial 911 directly are to be installed in parking lots and at the station, according to the plans. Cameras will also be installed, but Bernick said it’s impossible to stop all crime.

“Crime could happen, yes, correct,” Bernick said in response to questions from Town Council Chairman Bob Parisi. “I want to portray this as realistically as possible.”

“There should be more money put into safety,” Parisi said.

“It’s a done deal no matter what? It’s a done deal?” LeTourneau asked Bernick on the location of the station.

“Yes,” Bernick responded.