September 30, 2012
DOT CHIEF SAYS GARAGE PROJECT IS MISUNDERSTOOD
State Transportation Commissioner Jim Redeker says he wants to set the record straight.
He says he understands that commuters are suspicious of the state's plan to hire a private developer to replace the Stamford rail station's deteriorating garage and develop the site.
He acknowledges that fears may be fueled by a similar outcry over the financial details of a public-private partnership that gave a Milford-based company a 35-year deal and most of the profits of the state's 23 highway rest stops in return for an overhaul. Redeker said he hopes efforts to get input from residents of Stamford and nearby towns using the station will help squelch concerns.
"It comes down to can the state DOT be trusted to make the right decision?" Redeker said. "But unlike with the rest stops, these are my daily customers, my taxpayers, and if they feel somehow that we don't care, that's a problem."
Redeker said the project got a harsh reception due to misinformation that the DOT was willing to boost commute times for users to draw interest from developers.
Two impressions provoked much of the controversy: that the DOT had ruled out proposals to maintain commuter parking on the current Station Place site and that parking was likely to be moved a quarter-mile away to accommodate development, Redecker said. The quarter-mile is a maximum distance requested in the proposal, he clarified.
"Our goal is to have the same or a shorter commute time," Redeker said.
After a strong rebuke from Stamford commuters two weeks ago at a hearing and calls for more outreach by the DOT before moving forward, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced plans Thursday for a five-member advisory council to provide guidance to the DOT in choosing a potential development project involving the station.
Redeker said a leaflet will be distributed to Stamford commuters to dispel misinformation. He said he wants to clarify the DOT's openness to maintaining parking where it is today and other bullet points, including the DOT's intent to maintain approval of the facility's daily and monthly rates.
Stamford Mayor Michael Pavia said the DOT did not do a good job of explaining the process to residents and commuters and how to provide feedback.
"The state did not distribute the information as completely as it should have and they did not do it clearly," Pavia said.
Redeker said the state's process of choosing a private developer to deliver the work and limit the state's investment is a shift in practice. Previously, the state would first design a project and then seek public input through extensive hearings before doing the work itself or hiring a company to do so.
Under the new review process, the DOT is legally bound to keep the final pool of proposals confidential to shield the ideas of the developers which are considered proprietary, Redeker said.
"This is for the DOT a new thing and is a new thing for the state of Connecticut and really the first public-private-partnership-type deal we're doing on a project like this ... ," Redeker said. "But I want to assure commuters that my goal is that at the ribbon-cutting everyone will say `this is great.' "
Redeker said the state's decision to halt the project in 2008 and pursue a public-private partnership for transit-oriented development at or around the station was motivated by a lack of state tax funds for big infrastructure projects, and an assessment of the cost to design, bid and build the garage itself.
The DOT's analysis concluded a project led by the agency could take more than three years and cost an estimated $60 million, nearly double the currently allocated $35 million, which is considered the maximum amount the state is willing to invest, Redeker said.
"What we concluded then is that for the DOT to do that would take a very long time and not be affordable," Redeker said.
State Rep. William Tong, D-147th district, and state Sen. Carlo Leone, D-Stamford, said they both asked the state to provide a better defined process for commuters to participate in the state's decision-making while understanding the limitations imposed by the public-private contracting process.
"We've made it clear and I got a commitment from the commissioner that he felt the same way -- that the commuters are paramount and a priority," Tong said.
Leone said involving private developers will help finance a plan to address a wider scope of improvements to the station than the state could fund alone, but that local input is necessary to ensure the project is done correctly to accommodate future growth and be in step with the city's vision.
"It's hugely important that we do it right," Leone said. "It has to meet the needs of the commuters and the city, and we have communicated with the commissioner and the DOT that if it doesn't it is a deal-breaker."
Residents can send their opinions on the garage project to DOT.Stamford.TOD@ct.gov to be considered by the agency.