WESTBROOK – While residents approved of a land swap this past September allowing the town to receive a new train station with expanded parking, the project could be delayed due to inaction from the State Bond Commission.
The land swap allows the Department of Transportation to acquire the 2-acre town garage property on Norris Avenue, adjacent to the current train station.
In exchange, the town receives a 3.5-acre portion of the DOT garage with a maintenance facility and sand/salt storage facility on Horse Hill Road.
State Representative Brian O’Connor, 35th District and State Senator Eileen Daily, 33rd District drafted special legislation to allow Westbrook to receive a $1.5 million state grant to make necessary renovations to allow the Horse Hill Road facility to act as the new town garage.
Steve Kitowicz, Principal Budget Specialist for the Office of Policy Management, said that this grant, also known as Special Act 05-1, Section 13, Subsection N, has not passed the State Bond Commission.
Kitowicz said while the commission has no time limit to act on the grant, the Connecticut State Legislature could vote to have it eliminated.
Messages left for O’Connor and Daily, regarding lack of action by the State Bonding Commission, was not returned.
According to the Westbrook Train Station Ad Hoc Committee report, necessary renovations include constructing dog pound building, a 50×100 addition, asbestos removal, heating system and interior improvements to the building, new septic system, asphalt paving, a water main extension, new out buildings, and fencing.
Residents in September approved measures to allow the town to hire a consultant to do design work on these changes, hire a contractor to implement the changes, and then have supplies moved from Norris Avenue to Horse Hill Road.
Scott Hill, DOT’s Principal Engineer of Facilities Design, said the department has given town officials a site walk of the property to develop a more detailed plan for anticipated renovations.
While the town’s hands are tied until the bonding gets approved, the state has already started the process of making the land swap a reality.
Since the DOT is giving the town their current sand/salt storage facility, Hill said, the state will advertise bids on January 3 for the construction of a new salt/sand storage facility on a 1.6-acre state-owned parcel on Horse Hill Road.
Hill estimated construction would start in March or April and anticipated completion by October so the facility could be used next winter.
At this point, if state bonding was approved and the town moves to the Horse Hill Road site, Hill said the DOT will remediate the property by demolishing the building.
The site will be part of a 200-space parking lot with antique-style lighting, granite curbing, sidewalks, and landscaping.
The department originally created plans for a station with a south side platform only, similar to the Branford station, Hill said.
These plans changed after Governor Rell and the State Bond Commission approved a $7 million grant for design and right of way acquisition costs to improve five Shoreline East train stations.
As a result, the Westbrook station will have a similar design as the Guilford station with north and south high-level platforms, sheltered and unsheltered bench seating, and a glass walled pedestrian bridge connected to two brick towers with stairwells and elevators.
Most of Westbrook’s parking will be on the south side, the same side as the current town garage, with some parking on the north side, Hill said.
Hill said parking will not be impacted for customers of Peter Ryan’s Restaurant and Bar, located only a few hundred feet north of the train tracks.
Prior to 2001, riders were able to park and board the train on the north side with the ability to walk to the restaurant.
However, due to Amtrak safety regulations, the train stop was moved to the south side.
For safety reasons, fence was installed on both sides of the track making it impossible for riders to walk to the restaurant forcing them to drive onto Route 153 for access.
Hill declined to speak on the timeline of the new train station stating it could be further delayed if the State Bond Commission continues to fail to act on the $1.5 million grant.
Representative Marilyn Giuliano estimated, this past October, that design plans for the five stations will be complete by February 2008, construction to start in August 2008, and estimated completion in August 2009.