WESTBROOK – The Connecticut Department of Transportation, DOT, has decided to consider expanding the scope of the new Westbrook train station.
On Sept. 15, Westbrook residents approved a land swap allowing the DOT, to receive the town’s public works 2-acre site in exchange for a 3.58 acre portion of the DOT Garage property, allowing the town’s train station to be the last shoreline station between New Haven and New London to receive a full makeover.
In the July 19 issue of the Pictorial Gazette, Keith Hall from the DOT Division of Environmental Planning said the new train station would be similar to the Branford station with a south-side platform with approximately 200 parking spaces including decorative lighting costing about $7 million.
Like Branford, Hall said, the station would be built to easily allow the construction of a north-side platform and pedestrian bridge in the future.
However, DOT Project Engineer John Burns recently said the DOT is looking to build a more expensive station costing almost $10 million based on estimates of the Madison and Guilford station renovation projects.
The DOT is considering this option, he said, because it would allow high-level platforms on the north and south sides of the tracks and the pedestrian bridge would allow parking on both sides.
“High-level platforms allow a separation of the tracks from the commuters while with low-level platforms there is more of a chance for commuters to wander over the yellow line,” Burns said.
To address this problem in the short-term, Burns said, an announcement is made over an intercom at the Westbrook station stating, “Train is approaching, Stand behind the yellow line.”
For ADA compliancy, it is expected the pedestrian bridge will have two elevators similar to the Old Saybrook station.
“The (Westbrook) station originally was on the north side with 30-some spaces and we are trying to put those back since there will be a platform there,” Burns said.
The north side of the tracks can be accessed from Route 153 across from the Tanger Outlet entrance and is next to Peter Ryan’s Restaurant.
According to the Shoreline East website, the station and parking was moved to the south side of the tracks in January 2001 along with all other Shoreline East stations “due to Amtrak safety concerns”.
Burns said allowing parking on the north side of the tracks would require a lease from Amtrak but would not require the buying of any property.
Although voters approved the land swap, Burns said, the DOT must wait for the town to renovate the current DOT garage for their use and move their public works department from the Norton Avenue site to the Route 145 site.
“We also have to build a salt shed to replace the one we have given to the town,” Burns said.
This salt shed would be built on a portion of the DOT site at Route 145 and would be used to dump salt and sand on state
roads in the Westbrook region as well as Interstate 95.
After those goals are accomplished, Burns said, the Norton Avenue garage would be demolished to create a large parking lot for train commuters while the new train station would be built where the temporary platform sits today.
“The schedule as it stands today has construction starting in August of next year but that may get pushed out,” Burns said.
It is unknown whether during the construction process commuter parking or the train platform would be temporarily relocated but it is expected that construction will not close the station.
The new station would have architectural elements more similar to the Guilford station, Burns said, featuring clapboard siding with brick and ornamental elements such as railings and a cupola.
“It’s very New Englandy and we have received no complaints on them from other towns,” Burns said.
A recent report released by the DOT based on surveys of approximately 663 passengers during November 2005, showed Madison is the most popular boarding station, followed by Old Saybrook, Guilford, Branford and Clinton.
The Westbrook station was rated as the least popular of all stations on the Shoreline East route between New Haven and New London.
Results of the survey also stated that while 40 percent of commuters reported they ride the train to avoid construction and highway congestion on the Pearl Harbor Memorial Bridge, 20 percent cited a dislike of driving during rush hour and 15 percent said they wanted to avoid the cost of driving to work.