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August 29, 2008

Parking Chaos Coming to Stamford

If you are one of the thousands of commuters who use the Stamford station, either for Metro-North or Amtrak, get ready for two years of parking headaches: the old garage at the railroad station is coming down.

We’ve known about the pending demolition of the garage for two years now. And the deteriorated condition of the structure has been known for a decade. To blame is its shoddy original construction plus the wear and tear of water and salt corrosion. Believe it or not, parking garages only have a 40-year “life expectancy”. This one won’t have lasted half that time.

A CDOT study in 2006 estimated that repair of the garage would take nine years and cost $35 million. But demolition and new construction would cost $30 million (now up to $35 with price hikes and inflation) and take at least two years.

For the past two years CDOT has been trying to negotiate with an adjacent private land owner to do a swap: allow CDOT to build a new garage on the developer’s land, then tear down the old garage and allow the private developer to build an office / residence on the site of the old garage.

This plan would have made the parking transition seamless. While construction and demolition would have been messy, there would be no loss of station parking.

For over a year the Commuter Council has been asking CDOT to see the designs for this proposed swap and offer its input, but the agency refused. Negotiations with the private developer were, well, private. When the deal was done, then we could have a look.

Now, all that is moot. The private-public partnership deal has fallen through and we’re back to the worst case scenario: demolish the old garage then build a new one in its place on the same site.

In breaking this bad news to the Commuter Council this month, CDOT’s Deputy Commissioner stressed that, when finished, the new garage would be a perfect aesthetic match to the private developer’s building. However, he seemed less concerned about the impending chaos for commuters.

What does this mean to rail riders? Well, the loss of 800 daily parking spaces at Stamford for more than two years. And an ungodly mess during demo and construction on the confined site and its narrow roads.

Worst of all, the garage replacement project will probably start in 2010, just as the long awaited Transit Way road project is finished… and as the new M8 cars come into service, expanding potential ridership.

But if it’s any consolation, the new garage will have 200 additional spaces. And it should be pretty.

CDOT says that talks are underway with private developer Antares to use a new surface parking lot on the west side of Washington Blvd. with a walkway being built to the rail platform, but that site is far short of 800 spaces.

Stamford officials have previously talked of running shuttles from the Target and Bell Street Garages, the latter still filled with cars from an auto dealership. While this may make up for lost spaces, who wants to park so far from the station?

What can a Stamford commuter do?

First, start thinking about commuting from stations other than Stamford! Call town hall in Darien, Stamford and Greenwich and get on their 4+ year waiting list for parking permits. You do not need to be a resident of these towns to park at their rail stations.

Second, consider alternative ways to get to your station: car pooling, “kiss-N-ride” spousal drop-offs and bikes would all work (bike racks are plentiful at stations, according to a recent SWRPA audit).

Lastly, stay involved with this issue. Two years ago CDOT promised they would make sure enough parking was available during construction. And they pledged public informational hearings on their plans. The Commuter Council will hold them to their word.

After a decade of reconstruction of the Stamford train station, now we have this. It’s all necessary and when it’s done we’ll have a spectacular transportation center. But it’s going to be a painful few years getting there.