Train station easement: Selectmen set to vote

A major renovation project is headed to Old Greenwich’s train tracks and the Board of Selectmen is poised to vote on a key step to advance it.

The board is considering granting municipal improvement (MI) status for the renovation and improvement of the bridge for train tracks that crosses over Sound Beach Avenue and Tomac Avenue. This is not a project being handled by the town but rather by the state’s Department of Transportation, but since it involves an easement onto town property, it needs to be granted by the selectmen and then examined by the Planning and Zoning Commission.

This item was first discussed earlier this month and is on the agenda for the meeting today, July 25, starting at 10 a.m. at Town Hall.

Under the proposal, part of the project would include the construction of a retaining wall on the south side of the Old Greenwich train station. Both the state and the public utility companies would need to be able to access the property. Granting the MI status would allow for the two permanent easements. This would affect two areas, according to town Senior Civil Engineer Frank Petise. The first is a three-foot wide by 514-foot long area to build the wall and the second is a 15-foot wide area between the post office on Arcadia Road and the King’s Market to be able to bury the power lines underground.

This project involves not just the replacement of the train bridges that are over Sound Beach and Tomac avenues but also improvements to the train station itself. The wall would be built along the property lines for the state and the town.

This was first presented to the board at its July 11 meeting and is expected to be voted upon at today’s meeting after public comment has been heard. If the MI status is granted then the project would go before the zoning commission on July 30. Approval from the Representative Town Meeting (RTM) is also likely to be needed since the town would be giving up a permanent right to property by granting the easement. If the selectmen and zoning commission sign off, it could be brought before the RTM at its September meeting.

While the selectmen did not indicate specifically how they would vote they did indicate their support, asking detailed questions about what the MI would do while praising the state’s project.

“This is something that’s long overdue,” First Selectman Peter Tesei said.

Work on the bridges is set to happen simultaneously by the state and is expected to take years to complete. Mr. Petise said that this part of the project, where the wall is constructed, is scheduled to go out to bid in the fall or winter with construction beginning in the spring of 2014. It’s estimated that this will take six months to complete but Mr. Petise said that the total construction for the whole project is not slated to be finished until the summer of 2017.

The overall project has been in the planning stages for several years and Mr. Tesei said there had been a lot of interaction between the state and the Old Greenwich and Riverside neighborhood associations about what was going to happen and how it would impact the area.

“We were very adamant about being able to have emergency access to the areas,” Mr. Tesei said, noting one of the big challenges the construction and detours will provide in the future. “That’s not before us today, but it is something that people need to be aware of. This is going to be an extremely disruptive project.”

“It’s going to be a nightmare,” Selectman Drew Marzullo added. “But it’s a needed nightmare.”

One benefit would be that renovations to the train station and addition of the wall would result in the gain of close to 89 additional parking spaces. Town Parking Services Director Allen Corry appeared at the meeting and said this would provide new revenue to the town because the town would be able to sell permits for commuters using those spaces. In light of the upcoming construction and the space that will be needed as a staging area, the town has issued fewer permits for the Old Greenwich lot.

Mr. Petise said the state would also be repaving the entire parking lot, putting in new lighting, providing new bike racks and building a sidewalk under the Tomac Avenue bridge. Additionally, with power lines in the area buried, there may be fewer outages. Mr. Petise estimated that overall there could be a $2-million benefit to the town from all the improvements.

Another gain that merchants are already supporting would be the elimination of the center pier under the bridge on Sound Beach Avenue. This will be done as part of the overall bridge construction. Merchants at the beginning of Sound Beach Avenue have long complained about the traffic backup the pier caused. It will be replaced by a turning lane, which is expected to be a benefit to traffic flow.

“That will be a great improvement,” Mr. Tesei said.

Mr. Tesei added that there had also been long-running complaints about how ugly the existing bridge is and how it needs to look better, since as “the gateway to the village of Old Greenwich” Sound Beach Avenue and the bridge above it are critical parts of town. Mr. Petise said an improvement in the look of the bridge was something that would be addressed during the project.

 

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