March 4, 2016 04:10PM
By Molly Callahan
MERIDEN — With structural steel beginning to go up, work on a new train station on State Street is finally out of the ground and in full view.
The local station, as well as stations in Wallingford and Berlin, comprise just one section of work being done across Southern New England to upgrade 62 miles of track between New Haven and Springfield, known as the Hartford Line.
The ultimate goal of this $650 million project — for which the state of Connecticut, Amtrak and Federal Rail Administration have partnered — is to offer more frequent train stops and entice commuters to use rail travel more consistently.
The Meriden station in particular has been championed as the anchor to this new work, with updates to include elevated platforms on both sides of the track, an overhead pedestrian bridge, and ticket vending machines all under the umbrella of a new station. Work began on the site more than a year ago with the demolition of the former Stone Insurance Building, 88 State St., and the skeleton of this new station is starting to be visible.
Bruce Olmstead, project manager for the state Department of Transportation, said that crews have been working through the first phase of work.
“Work that gets the project out of the ground, including sheeting installation, footings, stem walls, and stair tower steel has been completed.”
He added, “Much of the work is on the west side of the tracks but some work is on the east side.”
Shortly, work will focus on demolishing the existing train platforms. In order to accommodate that in a functioning station, temporary platforms will be built next month farther south along State Street.
Earlier this month, the City Council voted unanimously to abandon a portion of Brooks Street, between State Street and the Amtrak right-of-way, about halfway up the street and just past the railroad tracks.
This space will house the temporary platforms while crews work on the existing platforms. Ultimately it will be combined with the 88 State St. parcel and converted into rail passenger parking.
“It’s anticipated that the closure will occur in March,” Olmstead said.
City Councilor David Lowell, who chairs the Economic Development, Housing, and Zoning subcommittee of the council, said the city would maintain access to businesses on the western half of Brooks Street.
“We’ll still preserve public access to properties on Brooks Street on the other side of the railroad tracks,” he said, adding, “From a flow of traffic and public use standpoint, it’s not going to have much of an effect — you’ll still be able to go down to Camp (Street) to cross over (to Colony Street). Plus eventually, the whole downtown flow is going to be modified.”
Lowell was referring to a plan by city officials to restore two-way traffic flow to many streets downtown. The plan includes improved pedestrian and bicycle access. The city recently received a nearly $3 million grant from the Federal Highway Administration to convert and update traffic signals in downtown junctures, something that was described as a “crucial step” in updating the traffic flow.
Collectively, the three stations in central Connecticut — Meriden, Wallingford, and Berlin — are roughly 30 percent complete, with the expectation that they’ll be done by this November, ahead of the implementation of the new train service, Olmstead said.
“The objective is to be as close to the original project completion date of November of this year,” Olmstead said in an email. “The contractor is currently exploring avenues to meet that date.” The New York-based Judlau Contracting Inc. was contracted by the state to do the work.
And though Olmstead acknowledged, “Working within an operating railroad is always a challenge,” he also said, “We are excited to see the work advance and are looking forward to using the new stations with the new service for the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield Line.”