Norwich - The history and future of transportation will be celebrated Saturday with the long-awaited dedication of the $22 million intermodal transportation center on Falls Avenue, a project that dates back to the mid-1990s.
But as Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, Lt. Gov. Nancy Wyman and other federal, state and local dignitaries stand surrounded by antique cars, new high-tech electric cars and even a horse and buggy rig Saturday morning, they won't be able to park their own cars there.
The three-story parking garage and new main hub for Southeast Area Transit (SEAT) commuter buses likely won't be ready for occupation in time for the 11 a.m. dedication ceremony, City Manager Alan Bergren said.
City and SEAT officials hope to open the new center officially on Monday. On that day, SEAT plans to start using the new transportation center as its main bus transfer site, switching from the downtown viaduct parking lot behind Main Street. The interior lobby, ticket office and bathrooms - first ever for SEAT customers - might not be open by Monday, however.
SEAT has implemented slight modifications to regional and local Norwich routes with the change in location. More information is available at www.seatbus.com.
The center also is expected to be used by the city's two taxi services, Rose City Cab and Norwich Taxi, and both companies are expected to send representatives to the dedication. Local limousine services also have been invited to participate.
Members of the Dream Machine Classic Auto Club and the Yesteryear of Oakdale Auto Club are expected to be on hand. (Editor's note: This corrects an earlier version of this article.) A horse and buggy from Cedar Knoll Farm of Lisbon also will make its way to the harbor area. The DATTCO charter bus company will bring an antique bus. Mallon Chevrolet and Nissan of Norwich will bring new electric cars for display.
The event will open with the U.S. Coast Guard and Norwich police color guards and performances by the Rose City Chorus. It will end with an hourlong concert scheduled to start at noon by the Heartland Dixieland Jazz Band.
Bergren said organizers of the dedication ceremony wanted to celebrate the different forms of transportation throughout Norwich history on Saturday.
But there won't be any passenger train whistles heard that day.
The location of the transportation center has been controversial for years - on the outskirts of downtown, disruptive to the adjacent Thayer's Marine & RV business - but state Department of Transportation officials several years ago insisted that the center be near the harbor for possible future passenger rail and ferry boat service.
Norwich officials support a new effort to restore passenger rail to Norwich along New England Central freight tracks from New London to Massachusetts and Vermont. The tracks pass by the transportation center just across the west branch of the Yantic River, but discussions to upgrade the tracks and bring passenger service are in early stages.
Robert Mills, executive director of Norwich Community Development Corp., said having the infrastructure in place to expand regional transportation options is critical to both the train discussions and other commuter services. City officials hope charter bus companies, such as DATTCO, and airport limousine services will use the transportation center as a pick-up point. Parking in the garage will be free for the foreseeable future.