Construction of New Rail Stations Set to Begin in 3 Connecticut Communities

The start of construction is imminent this fall for new rail stations in Wallingford, Meriden and Berlin as part of the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield (NHHS) Rail Program.  The new, expanded commuter service, to debut in 2016, will be branded the “Hartford Line,” as a key component of an increasingly robust multi-modal regional transportation system being developed in the state and region. Improvements at the three stations include high-level platforms on both sides of the track, overhead pedestrian bridge with new elevators and stair towers, platform snow melt systems, electric vehicle charging stations, ticket vending machines and passenger information display systems,  high-resolution video surveillance systems, increased parking capacity and roadway access improvements, improved accessibility and bicycle racks.2014.10.22_Hartford_Line_s

Funded through the Passenger Rail Investment and Improvement Act (PRIIA) created under President Barack Obama in 2008, and State of Connecticut bonds proceeds, the NHHS Rail Program is aimed at providing significant new regional passenger rail service options.  Existing stations on the Hartford line are in New Haven, Wallingford, Meriden, Berlin, Hartford, Windsor Locks and Springfield.  Plans call for future stations in North Haven, Newington, West Hartford and Enfield. base_map

Officials point out that one of the primary objectives of the NHHS program is to serve as a catalyst for transit-oriented development (TOD) around the stations. The state Department of Transportation is working with towns to help leverage the investment in railroad infrastructure to capture local development benefits. TOD, in the form of compact, mixed-use districts, is pedestrian-friendly and contributes to vibrant and active communities. By promoting the use of transit, TOD also reduces reliance on automobiles, resulting in energy cost savings and improved air quality.

In June, officials from the U. S. Department of Transportation’s Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) toured parts of the NHHS Rail corridor, and state officials recently visited a proposed rail station site in Enfield.

The new NHHS rail service is expected to operate at speeds up to 110 mph, cutting travel time between Springfield and New Haven to as short as 79 minutes. Travelers  will be able to board trains every 45 minutes during the morning and evening peak hours and every 90 minutes during off-peak periods when the new system is operational.

A year ago, a West Haven rail station was added to the New Haven line.  Located midway between Milford and New Haven stations, West Haven was the first new station to open on the New Haven Line since Fairfield Metro Station was added in 2011. West Haven Station was designed by Vanasse Hangen Brustlin and built by a Connecticut company, Manafort Brothers of Plainville.

A New York City-based construction firm, Judlau Construction, has been awarded the $58.8 million contract to build the new railroad stations in Berlin, Meriden and Wallingford, the New Haven Register reported last month.  The firm specializes in large public works projects and design-build services, and currently ranks #132 on Engineering News Record’s list of the Top 400 Contractors, as well as #32 among Top Domestic Heavy Contractors. (In 2011, the company ranked #113 on the Top 400 list and #33 on the Top Domestic Heavy Contractors list.)

In June, the Chicago Tribune reported that the company was being awarded a $64 million construction contract by Illinois Tollway as low bidder for construction of new highway entrance ramps.  The Tribune also reported that Judlau “admitted improper hiring practices and paid a $7.5 million penalty in connection with an alleged minority hiring scheme” in New York, which the company said it had “self-reported” to the U.S. Attorney’s office.  The Tribune reported that “according to a 2012 civil lawsuit settlement with the U.S. attorney's office, Judlau and its partner in a Metropolitan Transportation Authority tunnel project admitted engaging in improper hiring practices involving minority- and women-owned businesses, otherwise known as disadvantaged business enterprises, or DBEs.”

A Merger, A Name Change, and A Partnership: Chambers of Commerce Realign

There’s some movement among business associations in the Land of Steady Habits, with economic realities driving a new merger, a name change, and a partnership.

The Guilford and Branford Chambers of Commerce have merged, effective on New Year’s Day.  The new merged entity is called the Shoreline Chamber of Commerce - Guilford/Branford Alliance.  The merger was approved by the Boards of Directors and membership of both organizations in recent weeks.  branford

At a Special Meeting earlier this month, the membership of the Greater Meriden Chamber of Commerce voted to change the organization’s name to Midstate Chamber of CommerceMeriden Chamber President Sean W. Moore, said that “Midstate Chamber of Commerce reflects the inclusivity of this chamber’s membership throughout the central Connecticut region and reaffirms our commitment to ALL of the businesses and communities we serve.”

While not “official” until March 1, members and the communities can start to see changes as soon as next week.  A new website,, will transition from the existing website in the coming weeks.  The Chamber has more than 550 members.

The Middletown-baschamber_sign_250x175pxed Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce remains by far the state’s largest, with over 2,350 members that employ over 50,000 people.  The organization, led by longtime President Larry McHugh, “strives to be the voice of business in Middlesex County and the surrounding area,” according to its website.

In the Guilford-Branford merger, the plan calls for the board of directors of the two corporations to merge into one board containing up to 37 members. As terms of directors expire, the number of directors will be reduced to no more than 21, with up to 7 selected from Branford, up to 7 selected from Guilford, and up to 7 selected from the entire membership.  The merged organization will have an office in each town.

Guilford has 320 members and Branford has about 350.  The first event of the joint organization will be a Business After Hours networking event on January 28 at Page Hardware & Appliance in Guilford.  It is co-hosted by Bailey, Murphy and Scarano, a CPA firm in Branford.  A logo for the newly merged association has yet to be unveiled.

A statement by the organization pointed out that “this proactive move will allow members to double their audience, double their market and provide enhanced networking opportunities.” The websites of the former Branford and Guilford websites are still active, and announcing the merger.  Among the advantages cited are:

  •  Increased marketing and promotional opportunities through distribution of publications, website visits and email communications
  • Better educational programs for professional development
  • More signature events to attend and potentially sponsor as each town and chamber will continue and maintain this type of event
  • Two Shoreline Locations along with a larger staff to assist business
  • Larger social media presence and website traffic to membership pages
  • Opportunity to re-brand as a member of  a larger more influential 650-member chamber
  • Eventual gain of resources through economies of scale, allowing more money to go directly to member services
  • Enhanced technology for website referrals and member servicesmeridenChamber-Logo

Janet Testa, executive director for the Guilford Chamber, told the New Haven Register that 99 percent of members wanted the merger. She said her organization is always looking for ways to serve its members by “joining forces” with others. Ed Lazarus, president of the Branford Chamber, believes combining the chambers will benefit both communities. “Businesses will be represented the way they’re used to but with a combined staff,” the Register reported.

It is not the first Chamber merger in Connecticut.  In 1989, the North Haven Chamber joined the Wallingford Chamber to form the Quinnipiac Chamber of Commerce.  That business association has grown to more than 700 members.

Last fall the Greater New Haven Chamber of Commerce (GNHCC) and The Quinnipiac Chamber of Commerce announced the formation of a strategic affiliation between the two organizations, “creating a stronger, more streamlined collaboration that will work together to move the region forward.” As of October 15, 2013, the Greater New Havenew haven chambern Chamber and the Quinnipiac Chamber began to “officially collaborate on all aspects of their respective organizations, while continuing to operate as separate business units in separate office locations.”

In 2003, the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce was formed around the Bristol Chamber of Commerce, “in an effort to expand the area it benefited and to enable the Chamber to assist more members. This allowed the Chamber to expand from covering just Bristol to the entire Central Connecticut region,” the website points out.  The Central Connecticut Chambers – with a combined membership of approximately 1800 - is composed of several affiliate chambers including those of Bristol, Bloomfield , Burlington, Farmington, Plymouth/Terryville and Wolcott.

In terms of membership numbers, after the Middlesex Chamber and Central Connecticut Chambers, the next largest are the Chamber of Commerce of Eastern Connecticut, with 1,600 members; the Northwest Connecticut Chamber of Commerce, with 730 members; and the Quinnipiac Chamber of Commerce.  The MetroHartford Alliance is #6, with 600 members (although it may now be eclipsed by the newly combined Shoreline Chamber), followed by chambers from Greater Southington  (590 members), Greater Manchester, Greater Meriden and Glastonbury (each with approximately 550 members) and West Hartford, approaching 500 member businesses.