By JEFFREY A. JOHNSON
Day Staff Writer
Norwich — A project that was nearly two decades in the making finally reached a very tangible milestone Saturday morning when state and local dignitaries and others gathered for a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the city's new intermodal transportation center.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman were on hand as the city unveiled the center's three-story parking garage and new hub for Southeast Area Transit (SEAT).
Plans for the $22 million facility on Falls Avenue date back to 1994. The long effort to make the project a reality was a theme touched upon several times on Saturday.
Malloy applauded the city's efforts to improve its transportation system, but he also suggested the wait for the center to be built was too long.
"I'm not knocking all the hard work that was done to bring this day about. The reality is we have to get moving as a state," Malloy said. "We have to be able to turn projects around not in 16 years but in 16 months. We have to understand that other states are doing this already."
Initial plans called for the center to cost $4 million and to be located on the so-called viaduct parking lot behind Main Street. After several studies, the state Department of Transportation ordered the site to be moved closer to the harbor area.
The thinking was that in the future, the center will play a role in ferry and rail service. For example, the city has expressed its support for a Central Corridor Rail project that would have a stop at the new center while creating passenger rail service between New London and Brattleboro, Vt.
In all, 16 different funding sources — at the city, state and federal levels — were needed to pay for the center, according to the Norwich Community Development Corp., which played a large role in the planning.
Mayor Peter Nystrom said the new center will help set the stage for the city's future. Kent Baker, president of NCDC, also stressed the need to incorporate other transportation options.
"It's very important to know this is just phase one," Baker said.
SEAT plans to use the center as its main bus transfer site. It will slightly alter local bus routes because of the change in location. The center will also be a destination for taxi and limousine service.
The ribbon-cutting ceremony included a performance by the Rose City Chorus. U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, and U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, also spoke briefly. A number of other local lawmakers, including state Sen. Edith Prague, D-Columbia, who recently announced her intent to retire, were in attendance.
Malloy and Wyman jumped in a Chevy Volt along with Nystrom to drive through a red ribbon that crossed the transportation center's main bus lane.
Shortly before, Nystrom opened his remarks to those in attendance with some words that gave a sense for how many who worked on the project were feeling.
"Let's all take a deep breath now that this day is finally here," he said.