January 12, 2015 06:10AM
By Molly Callahan
WALLINGFORD — As work on two new train platforms in town progresses, town officials and business leaders say they’re nothing but optimistic about the changes they’ll bring.
The platforms will be built as part of a statewide expansion and update of the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield rail line, which Gov. Dannel P. Malloy Thursday dubbed the “Hartford Line.”
Though construction hasn’t begun on the platforms, the areas on North Cherry and North Colony streets where they’ll stand has been cleared of trees and debris, said Tim Ryan, the town’s economic development specialist. These platforms, as well as stations in Meriden and Berlin, are expected to be complete by late 2016, when the entire rail service will be launched.
Until then, Ryan and Town Engineer John P. Thompson, as well as other town and state officials, are working on redeveloping the area to best take advantage of the new platforms and rail service.
“We’re taking a very aggressive position on development opportunities around the railroad station,” Thompson said. He noted the Transit-Oriented District that surrounded the rails in downtown Meriden as “potential opportunity” for Wallingford — something that Ryan echoed as well.
In November, the town submitted an application to the state Office of Policy and Management for funding for a transit-oriented development study — an application about which they haven’t heard back yet, Thompson said.
The department heads, town planner and other officials are set to meet with transportation planners from the South Central Regional Council of Governments) “to see what we can do around the station to increase the business and housing opportunities,” Thompson said.
“We would likely want to see higher density housing in the area, but we need to make sure we’re balancing the increased potential at the rail station with the interests of those people who already live there,” he said.
Wallingford’s meeting will be one of the first with SCRCOG, as the organization kicks off a six-month regional transit-oriented development study. Stephen Dudley, senior transportation planner with SCRCOG said that the organization is “working with communities that have existing or proposed train stations to identify the constraints and/or benefits as well as looking at changes in zoning regulations in order to promote the development around those railroad stations.”
For now, Dudley said, municipalities like Meriden and West Haven that have already undertaken transit-oriented planning efforts could serve as “framework to every community can decide how much they want to advance” based on their own financial constraints.
“The question in each community is, ‘Is there enough housing to support economic development, and what demands would there be from people who want to use trains to commute to work?’” he said.
The new platforms are set to be built roughly a block north of the current train station. Ryan said the station building at 37 Hall Ave. will remain there, but will be repurposed.
He said Friday that its future use hadn’t yet been determined.
Though the platforms will be moving north, just outside of the immediate downtown area, neither Ryan nor Thompson said they’ve heard concerns from area business owners about the economic effect.
“I haven’t heard from a single business about the station being relocated,” Ryan said.
“It’s making me curious about just how much the businesses rely on rail traffic as it is,” Thompson added.
Ralph DeMatteo, a manager at Brothers Restaurant on 33 N. Cherry St., said that he wasn’t concerned about the relocated platforms “at all.”
“At least for me, it’s not going to make much of a difference,” he said, adding that for the most part rail passengers can buy their train tickets while they’re already on the train, making for decreased commuter foot traffic around the station.
Like Ryan and Thompson, Quinnipiac Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Dee Nesti said the chamber hadn’t been contacted by businesses regarding the change.
“We’re just looking forward to the increased travel here,” she said.