The DOT's $35 Million Secret...Shhh, It's a Parking Garage

Oct 15, 2012

Commuters will have a chance to weigh in on state plans to rebuild a parking garage at the Stamford train station tonight. But since the names of potential developers and their plans will be kept a secret, no one’s sure what they’ll be able to weigh in on. WNPR’s Neena Satija reports.

The waiting list for a $70 monthly parking permit at Stamford Transportation Center is nearly two years long. So the state’s idea to spend $35 million replacing one of the station’s dilapidated garages and adding more parking spaces is long overdue. But Connecticut’s Commuter Rail Council chairman Jim Cameron says commuters are being left out of an important debate.

“This valuable piece of state land is going to be re-purposed without any input from the commuters," Cameron says.

What we know right now is that the state is talking with a group of developers about building a new garage with at least 300 new parking spaces. The final developer who’s chosen might also add in elements of what’s called “transit-oriented development,” which could include residential, office, and retail space near the station. But we won’t see the names of these developers or their proposals until the state picks a winner.

“The process is a confidential one. We haven’t done this before," says Jim Redeker, Commissioner of the State Department of Transportation.

Redeker says the DOT is trying something new this time around. Instead of spending a lot of money designing the new parking garage using its own employees or hired consultants, the agency decided to see what developers could come up with.

“Those ideas are confidential," Redeker explains. "They’re proprietary ideas, and business ideas.”

This approach could save the state tons of money, Redeker says. And it also gets the ball rolling faster on a project that’s been talked about for years. Joe McGee is Vice President of the Business Council of Fairfield Count, is thrilled the state is trying a new approach.

“After ten, fifteen years of not doing anything, now we have a major expansion of both stations and parking," McGee says.

But commuters, without access to specifics on the plan, are worried about what those expansions will entail. The new garage could be built as much as a quarter-mile away from the station, which Cameron says is too far a walk for train-riders.

He argues: “Ask the commuters what it is they think that land should be used for.”

Members of Stamford’s Board of Representatives have also expressed concern about the DOT’s plans. Because the state owns Stamford Transportation Center, it has the final say. But even officials in the city won’t know the names of developers or what their proposals look like before a decision is made.

The state plans to choose a developer for the project by the end of this year. When or if those 300 parking are added, they’ll only solve part of the problem. The waiting list for a monthly permit is more than 800 commuters long.

Read more in the Connecticut Mirror at ctmirror.org.