Malloy: Developers’ interests matter more than yours

Sometimes, when you’re tight for cash, you think about hawking the family jewels. That’s what the state Department of Transportation is doing, turning over to private developers a most precious piece of real estate and leaving 1,000-plus daily rail commuters in the lurch.

After years of debate, the DOT has finally issued a request for proposal for the demolition and replacement of the old parking garage at the Stamford train station. While the plan calls for a replacement garage with more parking spaces (1,000 vs the current 727), it also allows the new garage to be built up to a quarter mile from the train station — not the 200 feet away the current garage is now.

The “jewel” of this project is the state-owned land where the old garage now sits. And the DOT seems ready to entertain bids for its use for offices, condos, shopping — everything but parking.

If you read the 139-page request for proposals (as I have, thoroughly), you see that the winning bidder will be decided weighing two considerations: one-third of the weighting going to proposed design and operation of the new garage, but two-thirds of the weighting goes to maximizing income (profit) for the DOT from rents or sale of the land.

In other words, the DOT is twice as interested in making a buck off this land as in serving commuters with a safe, convenient, close-in parking facility.

Bids are due in two months — an extraordinary “fast track” for such a once-in-a-lifetime proposal. Then the negotiations begin with a final decision due by the end of the year. Ground could be broken by January 2013.

But before the old garage can be demolished (a near impossible task in those tight quarters), replacement parking must be found for the 727 daily parkers within that quarter-mile walking distance of the station.

What that probably means is this: build a new, permanent 1,000-space garage a quarter mile from the station, then demolish the old garage and replace it with condos. The DOT makes a ton of cash, there are 3 years of construction mayhem and commuters get screwed, hiking to their trains in snow, sleet and rain.

All this in the name of “TOD” — or, Transit Oriented Development. What can be done to stop this plan? Nothing.

Until the Connecticut Rail Commuter Council brought pressure on the DOT, it was not even going to release the details of the request for proposal, keeping it all a big secret! Who’s bidding on the proposal, what their plans are, who’s paying who — all of that is kept from the public. So much for transparency.

What will the parking rates be at the new state-owned garage? Nobody knows. How will Amtrak passengers schlep their bags a quarter-mile to the train? No details. How will the neighboring towns of Darien, Greenwich and New Canaan handle the “commuter diaspora” during the three years of this project? Sorry, that’s their problem. Why not build the offices / condos a quarter mile from the train station and rebuild a new garage at the station where it belongs? Nah, that wouldn’t make the DOT any money.

The Connecticut Rail Commuter Council has been studying this garage plan for six years, always asking the DOT to replace the old parking structure with a new one on the same location. Those appeals have been heard, politely, but ignored.

At the very least the request for proposals could have given priority to the bidder promising to keep commuter parking on-site, but the DOT refused.

Sure, there will be some pro forma public hearings this summer on the environmental impact of this project, but the rants of angry commuters will mean nothing. The deal is done. The Malloy administration and its DOT have told us very clearly that developers’ interests matter more than those of taxpaying commuters.

 

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Jim Cameron  is Chairman of the CT Metro-North / Shore Line East Rail Commuter Council, and a member of the Coastal Corridor TIA and the Darien RTM. You can reach him at CTRailCommuterCouncil@gmail.com or trainweb.org/ct . For a full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, click here click here.

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