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East side train station plans halted

January 23, 2019

Plans for a new East Side train station in Bridgeport have been derailed.

In a letter to the Council on Environmental Quality, the state Department of Transportation announced Tuesday that it was tabling the long-awaited project which would have produced the third Bridgeport rail station between Seaview Avenue and Pembroke Street.

“CTDOT has since determined that it is not in a financial position to undertake the proposed project, and has decided to defer the project in CTDOT’s Capital Plan 2019-2023” the letter read, confirming that the state ultimately could not afford to make the project happen in the next few years.

The price tag to build the Barnum Avenue Railroad Station was around $300 million, a spike from its original estimate of $48 million. The increase was required, in part, to accommodate Metro North and Amtrak trains.

There are two train stations in the state that have access to both Metro-North and Amtrak trains —Stamford and New Haven. The proposed Bridgeport station would have been the third and a mid-way point for a local and express railway service.

Proponents of the new train station were surprised to hear the DOT opted out of the project.

“To be honest, I feel blindsided by this,” said State Rep. Christopher Rosario, D-Bridgeport, who said he had been talking with Gov. Ned Lamont and Lieutenant Gov. Susan Bysiewicz about the potentially new station.

“As of 48 hours ago, we were planning on doing a visit of the site, so that’s kind of surprising that the Department of Transportation decided to move so quickly on that, considering the current commissioner championing rails and this project make a lot of sense for Fairfield County,” Rosario added.

An email sent to Hearst Connecticut Media from Rosario said that the Bridgeport Delegation is seeking a meeting with Lamont and the DOT Commissioner.

The project was first announced by former Governor Dannel P. Malloy in 2014, to many in the CTDOT’s surprise. It had sparked interest in then-Mayor Bill Finch’s administration and local business leaders and carried over into the second Ganim era, as an economic driver that would lure new development to the East Side.

Despite the DOT’s decision to table the project, Bridgeport officials said they have no intention of letting it fall by the wayside.

“It’s critical to the long-term future and the economic sustainability of the city,” said Lynn Haig, director of Bridgeport planning and zoning. “We can grow significantly more with the train station than we can without one.”

In the past, city officials have weighed the options of incorporating private investors into the station’s funding. Haig said that effort has continued in recent months as they look to finance the project through public and private partnerships.

Though developers haven’t rallied to contribute to that cause, the potential for a new station has been a marketing chip to attract interested parties, Haig said.

On multiple occasions, officials have talked about the importance of adding the Barnum Station to spruce up the East Side and East End development.

“We’re exploring every source,” Haig said. “That doesn’t mean that the DOT may never contribute money towards it, but we are looking to bring additional revenue to the table so it’s not such a large contribution that the state has to make in the end.”

There are no plans to scale down the project, she added.

From a regional perspective, development of the Barnum Avenue Railroad Station was a plus, according to Matt Fulda, Executive Director of the state Metro Council of Governments.

“We think this is an important project for the city of Bridgeport and for the region in terms of access of the train station at a different level and some development around the train station that doesn’t exist currently,” he said.

Gov. Lamont’s office could not immediately be reached for comment.

Jordan.grice@hearstmediact.com

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