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State Moves Nowhere Fast On Station Parking

by Paul Bass | May 6, 2014 4:44 pm

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Posted to: State, Transportation

Paul Bass Photo A long-needed second parking garage may open at Union Station in 2017. Maybe. But who knows?

That not-so-definitive word came Tuesday from the state’s transportation chief—the latest in two decades of maybes and vague promises about a project that state and officials agree needs to happen in order to enable more people to travel by train rather drive on the highway.

Department of Transportation Commissioner James Redeker offered that assessment in a conversation sandwiched between two train-related press conferences at Union Station, neither of them touching on the garage.

The state has been promising to build a second garage at the train station since the 1990s, to encourage more commuters to avoid further clogging highways and polluting the air. Union Station’s existing 1,140-car garage often fills up; drivers need to park either at a private lot at the old Coliseum site and walk over; or at the Temple Street Garage and catch a separate shuttle to the train station. The Coliseum site is on track for a new development project, meaning the parking crunch will worsen as the surface lots disappears.

The quest to build the garage succumbed to arguments between the DeStefano and Rowland administrations, then delays and the departure of two governors and numerous state transit chiefs. Then Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced last July that he was 60 days away from issuing a request for proposals to get the garage project started. (Read about that here. Read more about the saga of the planned parking garage here, here and here.)

On Tuesday Redeker said his department has not issued any RFPs. It has none scheduled. His staff is “preparing some concept plans about the type of facility that we might like.” He anticipates “working through” those initial ideas in “a very engaged stakeholder process within the city of New Haven, with residents, with businesses, with the schools and the hospitals, to get everybody’s opinions.”

After that process, for which he did not have a timetable, the state will decide whether to build the garage itself or enlist a private builder, according to Redeker. Once the state awards a contract with a builder—another time-consuming process—it usually takes another two to three years to complete the job, he said. He noted that the his department selected a developer last July to build a new garage at the Stamford train station; the two sides have yet to sign a final contract. Then Redeker expects it would take another three years to complete the job, including demolition.

“Do you think it’s possible that in five years there will be a [new] garage” in New Haven? Redeker was asked.

“Oh, sure,” he responded.

Four years?

“Maybe.”

Three?

“Could be.”

Redeker did not offer an estimate of the new garage’s cost, either.

Malloy, who’s running for reelection, Tuesday called it “an open question” when the garage will be built. He said he’s “very committed to getting [it] done.” (Click on the video at the top of this story to watch him address the matter.)

“There’s a new mayor in New Haven,” Malloy said, referring to Toni Harp, with whom he has a close working relationship. “We’re having frank and positive discussions on how to manage this facility and how to move it along, and how to meet additional parking needs. ...

“There are differences of opinion, but they’re narrowing rapidly. Let me say that we’re making more progress in a relatively short period of time than was probably made in 15 years.”

WZHA The second garage, originally envisioned to fill the surface lot at the station’s southern end, is now expected to be built (if it’s ever built) on the north side, on a surface lot next to the existing garage, based on a broader vision of the train station’s future unveiled last December by state and city development officials. The plan called for the new garage (at far left in drawing) to have 645 spaces, replacing 186 surface spots. Officials agree the garage should include storefronts, and maybe a second related building with apartments, as a form of “transit-oriented development” to tie into the emerging Hill-Downtown district.

Meanwhile, back in reality, the state and city have taken some steps in recent years to ease the Union Station parking crunch. The state added surface parking at the West Haven station. New Haven’s parking authority, which manages the station and the existing garage, added valet service. So even if the garage is full, you can pay $20 for the day, and a parking attendant will find space in another city lot to stash your car.

The station lot doesn’t usually fill up now until between 9:30 and 10:30 a.m. on busiest days, according to acting authority chief David Panagore. He said that only twice in the past four months has the garage been full by 9 a.m.

City economic development chief Matthew Nemerson Tuesday said he can picture the new garage getting built quickly. He said the loss of the Coliseum site lot increases the urgency; the city is asking the state for permission to fast-track hiring a developer.

“I’d like to see if there’s some miracle way we can build it in the next 18 months,” Nemerson said. “Developers have told me they can put it up in a year and a half start to finish. The Stamford project is much more complicated. This is much simpler,” partly because it doesn’t involve demolition.

Malloy (pictured with Redeker) came to Union Station at noon Tuesday not to discuss the garage, but to announce the completion of a power upgrade on the New Haven Metro-North commuter line. The state has replaced 80 percent of the overhead power lines between Southport and Bridgeport. That work is part of a $386.5 million repair project scheduled to be completed in 2017, when a “state-of-the-art constant tension system” will fully replace a circa-1907 “fixed-termination catenary system” of wires that “can sag or contract due to changes in temperature, resulting in wire damage.” That work will enable Metro-North to run peak-hour trains on four tracks in a problematic seven-mile stretch in Fairfield County—enabling the line in general to run more smoothly.

After a series of accidents and breakdowns over the past year, Malloy has been pushing Metro-North for improvements. “For too long, we have deferred our problems with temporary fixes to a later date” in Connecticut, he said. “But no longer.” He promised that when work is completed, commuters will be able to expect “a safe and reliable commute” on the New Haven line.

Three Connecticut U.S. representatives—New Haven’s Rosa DeLauro, Elizabeth Esty, and Jim Himes—made a similar pitch when they appeared with Redeker at a press conference earlier Tuesday. They announced they have introduced a bill, called the Rail Safety Enforcement Act. It would require rail carriers to develop “fatigue risk plans,” give employees “predictable and defined work and rest schedules,” and have automatic devices to “sound an alarm when a train engineer seems idle while the train is in motion.” The Congress members noted that five people have died and 129 have been injured on Metro-North trains over the past year.

“We need reliability. We need safety. We can and must have both,” said Esty. She recounted a recent Amtrak ride back from D.C. in which she and other riders spent an hour and half stuck on the tracks in Delaware because of a power outage along the route.

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posted by: robn on May 6, 2014  5:52pm

It’s taking so long because Guv Malloy and Mayor Harp first need to design a teleporter to achieve Mayor Harp’s promised one hour trip to NYC.

But reality is probably more ridiculous.  Every day of the year 645 people are turned away to a remote lot swallowing an extra ½ hour of their time. If their time is conservatively worth $50/hr that’s 365x0.5x645x50 = $5.8M. Money which might be injected into the local economy. Putting aside the residential portion (which I wholeheartedly agree with but which could be adding a complexity that’s likely slowing this all down) then there’s the annual parking income of $20/day which is direct capital gain to offset the bonding…. 365x645x20 = $4.7M. The garage is 645 spaces at about 350sf/sp and $45/sf construction cost…645x350x45=$11.2M cost to build.

So we’re hemming and hawing about a $11.2M in cost for a project that annually has the potential to create (or rather the potential to not foolishly waste) $5.8M in expendable income and a project that also has the potential to generate $4.7M in hard income. If I’m 2x too optimistic about income the project still amortizes over ten years.

posted by: ChrisTheContractor on May 6, 2014  7:43pm

I would like to suggest West Haven. It is a beautiful station. Lots of parking, no tunnels, arrives 11 before New Haven. I live in Westville and I can be there in 11 minutes if there is no traffic.
I have been transporting family back and forth to New Haven for years. That whole area is a zoo.
I discovered West Haven about a month ago. Very nice.

posted by: shadesofzero on May 6, 2014  9:31pm

Interesting assumptions.

a. People “conservatively” make , on average, 100K a year.
b. People work 365 days a year.
c. It takes 30 minutes to find alternative parking. Not sure on this one… average probably 20, since not everyone will end up having to go to Temple St and take a shuttle. It’s only a 10 minute walk from the Coliseum lot.

The real answer is probably more like, let’s say, 35/hour (70K) a year and 250 days a year (5 day work week, 2 weeks vacation), giving us:

250 * 0.33 * 645 * 35 = 1.86 million in theoretical lost money per year.

Not necessarily disagreeing—I absolutely feel it should be built—but there’s no real need to juice the numbers.

posted by: DingDong on May 6, 2014  9:39pm

Robn, that’s the funniest thing I’ve read in these comments!  Thank you!

posted by: DingDong on May 6, 2014  9:46pm

But Paul, I would take it easy on the State a little bit.  West Haven train station adds a lot of parking spots.  As does ths expansion of Shore Line East—all those people can get on trains in their hometowns rather than driving to New Haven and parking here.  And the new commuter train to Hartford will also help.  I much prefer expansion of train service than expansion of parking and, though both are good, of course, it’s not like the State has been doing nothing.

I would much prefer Toni Harp’s promised 1-hour train trip to NYC than a new garage.  So come on Toni, your term is 1/4 over.  How are you going to deliver?

posted by: Threefifths on May 6, 2014  10:11pm

They do not need it.Just drive to west haven.In fact you can park at the West Haven train station is free on weekends.

posted by: new havener on May 6, 2014  10:48pm

get government out of the way and the parking station can be built in half the time at half the price, privately. just look at how fast the garage went up at 360 State, for one. 
for speed and symmetry, use the plans for the existing garage, put it on the south side, and give the north ground lot to the cops.

posted by: Stylo on May 6, 2014  10:57pm

Such a political, non-committal response from the governor. Ugh.

posted by: robn on May 6, 2014  11:44pm

SOZ,

a) Call any decent local plumber or carpenter and they’re probably billing out at 50 bucks an hour. What do you think a white collar professional training to Stamford or NYC is pulling in? I don’t think less.

b) Someone, but not necessarily the same person, is looking for that parking space 365 days a year; maybe 364, Merry Christmas.

c) Heading toward a full station garage and having to loop around church at south, park in another lot, and hoof it back to beautiful and elegant union station is easily 30 minutes unless you happen to be Carnac the Magnificent and skipped the drive around from the git go in favor of parking at the Coliseum lot.

posted by: William Kurtz on May 7, 2014  7:17am

Weekend parking at both the West Haven and Milford stations is free on the weekends which is nice for day trips.

Also, unlike at Union Station, you can ride your bicycle almost onto the platform in West Haven. There’s a fair amount of bicycle parking under the canopy and room for more as usage expands.

posted by: Elihu on May 8, 2014  11:48am

I’d like to hear more from Sarge on this.  He seems like a thoughtful canine. 

More seriously, this is an important site and I hope the building that ultimately goes there will have space for retail and flexible space for offices and/or community organizations.  Avoid slant-floor if possible to facilitate long-term flexibility.

posted by: Brian Tang on May 8, 2014  6:52pm

I’d rather see the North Haven/Hamden NHHS Rail Station and additional Shoreline East service than a new garage in New Haven.

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