June 19, 2014 10:01AM
By Dan Brechlin
MERIDEN — Residents can expect a quieter city by the time the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield rail project is completed in late 2016. State Department of Transportation officials during a public meeting Wednesday night outlined proposed changes for the rail project and how improvements will impact the areas near street crossings.
Among the most noticeable changes will be the absence of train whistles. Conductors now are required to blow the whistle while crossing over streets. Instead, wayside horns will be installed and blow when trains are passing through, said DOT project engineer Eric Bergeron.
“Instead of the horn being blown from the engine, it will be blown from a pedestal-mounted speaker so we can focus the noise right on the roadway rather than it blasting through the whole downtown,” Bergeron said.
Train whistles in Meriden typically echo throughout much of the city, but the change, Bergeron said, would focus nearly all of the noise on the roadway area where the train is passing over. Bergeron said municipalities could also apply for “quiet zones” where there is no whistle at all, which city officials have in the past expressed an interest in, but there is often difficulty in getting approvals.
One of the first wayside horns will be installed on Cooper Street this summer as a pilot test. Future improvements for Cooper Street, Bergeron said, include pedestrian gates to ensure people in the area are not walking over the tracks while trains are passing.
North of Cooper Street, at the railroad’s intersection with Hanover Street and then East Main Street, Bergeron said the area should function similar to the way it does now. He noted that gates could be lowered for a shortened period of time due to the installation of a double platform and the upgraded technology, which could help a better traffic flow.
Former state Sen. Leonard F. Suzio questioned the downtown intersections, stating that he would expect increased traffic with an increased number of trains, a higher number of housing units, more students at Middlesex Community College and with additional events being held in downtown, all of which are discussed downtown improvements.
Bergeron noted that it is expected that traffic should remain similar, but DOT officials will consider looking further into the situation. City Public Works Director Robert Bass added that the city is working on streetscape changes, in addition to traffic pattern changes, which could have an impact, but plans “haven’t gotten far enough” to address the “fine tuning.”
Just north of the current train station, Brooks Street will be closed off in the new plan between the tracks and State Street. The street will be turned into a parking area. Just west of the tracks, Bergeron said the end of the road will be blocked with a barrier, but people can still access the area from a parking lot on the west side of the train tracks. Pedestrians, however, will not be allowed to cross the tracks. Cross Street, which runs parallel to Brooks Street, will remain open and only see minor changes. State Sen. Dante Bartolomeo said she hoped the area near Brooks Street was aesthetically pleasing, especially if the concrete barrier was going to be large.
Construction on the rail stations is expected to begin in the fall and to go on for about two years, Bergeron said. During that time, it is expected that rail improvements will continue at grade crossings, although Bergeron said he did not foresee any street closures in Meriden during the process, unlike in Wallingford.
Nearly 20 minutes of the 35-minute meeting involved a presentation on the project, while only a handful of questions followed.
The full rail line project is expected to cost $750 million. So far $366 million in state and federal funds have been obtained for work from New Haven to Windsor. The stretch of track seeing upgrades, including multiple new stations, stretches 62 miles and also involves bridge and culvert work.