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.”

Fifth Time A Charm? Vulnerable User Bill Back Before Legislature

“Study after study reveals that more people would be willing to make more trips by bike or on foot if they felt they could do so without taking their lives in their hands.”  That comment at a legislative hearing by Kelly Kennedy, Executive Director of Bike Walk Connecticut, highlights the reason behind proposed legislation that would “help hold accountable careless drives who injure or kill non-motorized users of the road.”

Dubbed the “don’t hit me” bill, it is baambulance_ck for a fifth consecutive year at the State Capitol, endorsed by an array of 23 organizations.  In each of the past two years, it passed the Senate but was not considered by the House.  It recognizes that “vulnerable road users,” such as pedestrians, bicyclists, first responders, and highway workers need additional legal protections, and provides enhanced penalties for careless driving resulting in injury or death of a vulnerable road user.

The "Vulnerable User" bill:

  • Provides for a fine of up to $1,000 for injuring or killing a vulnerable user due to careless driving; and
  • Defines a vulnerable user as a pedestrian; cyclist; animal rider or driver; highway worker; farm tractor driver; user of a skateboard, roller or inline skates; user of a wheelchair or motorized chair; or blind person and his or her service animal.

The statistics behind the effort are clear:

  • Careless drivers injure hundreds of people every year in Connecticut--130 pedestrians and cyclists were killed between 2010 and 2012 and approximately 1,400 pedestrians and cyclists are injured every year, according to Bike Walk Connecticut.  Between 2006 and 2012, there were more than 10,000 deaths or injuries.
  • The League of American Bicyclists' top recommendation for Connecticut in its Bike Friendly State Report Card calls for Connecticut to "Adopt a vulnerable road user law that increases penalties for a motorist that injures or kills a bicyclist or pedestrian."  (CT's Bike Friendly State ranking was #18 in 2013.)

Nora Duncan, State Director of the Connecticut AARP, testified in support of the bill, noting that “an older pedestrian is 61 percent more likely to die from a crash than a younger pedestrian.”  The bill, she said, “could improve pedestrian safety by deterring negligent behavior that puts vulnerable uses at risk of injury or death.”  In a survey, 47 percent of people over age 50 in Connecticut said they felt they could not safely cross main roads close to their home.

share the roadThe proposal was also supported by the State Department of Transportation, which suggested that the definition “be all encompassing to include all users such as persons on a legal non-motorized device” such as scooters and skateboards.  Transit for Connecticut, a statewide coalition of 33 business, social service, environmental, planning and civic organizations advocating the benefits of mass transit, supported a vulnerable user law indicating that “with emphasis on energy conversation and healthy lifestyles, the number of walkers and bicyclists is growing.  These residents, along with residents living in close proximity to bus stops and transit services need proper access if they want to use public transit.”

Kirsten Bechtel of the Yale School of Medicine’s Department of Pediatric Emergency Medicine, called for individuals who commit an infraction under the proposed law to “attend driver retraining and perform community service.”  In written testimony, she said that “vulnerable user laws in Oregon, Washington and Delaware include these requirements to ensure that drivers are held accountable and operate their vehicles safely in the future.”  Others, including the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, supported that idea.

Clinton resident Debbie Lundgren, in an email to the Transportation Committee, said succinctly, “pass the Vulnerable User Bill this year.  We have waited long enough!”

The  Committee is expected to consider SB 336 later this month.  If approved there, it would go on to the Senate for consideration.  A road well traveled.