State seeks input on plan for bridge over train tracks in New London

New London - If the state builds an enclosed pedestrian bridge across the railroad tracks to connect to the proposed National Coast Guard Museum, a proposed ferry terminal and Union Station, residents want to know where exactly it will be located, what it will look like and who's going to own it and maintain it.

On Monday the state Department of Economic and Community Development heard the concerns of several people during a "scoping" meeting Monday in City Hall.

"The state has learned, first get input as you go - that is what drives engineering and design,'' said Rob Ross, executive director of the state Office of Military Affairs, which is coordinating all state departments for the proposed foot bridge. "You people shape the project."

Ross said the state would build the walkway but the city would own it and be responsible for its maintenance and security. The walkway would not cross Water Street as previous proposals envisioned.

In April, the Coast Guard Museum Association announced it would build an $80 million museum on the city's waterfront. The state pledged $20 million to build the walkway and for other work associated with the project, including property purchases, feasibility studies and traffic redesigns.

Monday's meeting was about the proposed bridge, but Ross said a meaningful discussion had to include plans for the proposed museum, the ferry terminal and access to the train station.

Cross Sound Ferry and Union Station are also players in the project. A seasonal ferry terminal for Cross Sound Ferry is part of the overall museum project. The walkway also would allow train passengers better access to the northbound track at the station.

The glass walkway would get pedestrians over the railroad tracks to the museum's entrance and to the new ferry terminal. It would also provide access to Union Station. It would have three sets of steps and handicapped-accessible elevators.

Todd O'Donnell, co-owner of Union Station, a 19th century Henry Hobson Richardson structure, said the location is a difficult site but if the parties work together it could become a reality. He said the scoping process is an important first step.

He was one of a half dozen people who spoke at Monday's meeting. DECD is accepting written comments on the proposed walkway through July 18.

Barun Basu, a New London architect who helped restore Union Station, asked if it was possible to build a tunnel rather than a bridge. Others were concerned about the safety of pedestrians crossing Water Street and school children getting off buses to go to the museum.

Ross said all comments will be considered.

Architects for the project showed four possible locations for the bridge and said their preferred site would be located on Union Station property next to the bus terminal. The bridge would be built with three elevators and three stairwells, or possibly escalators, and be tall enough to cross above the electrical wires above the railroad tracks. The exact height has yet to be determined, according to Charles S. Klee of Payetta Architects, which is working with Gauchat Santos of Boston.

Union Station is an incredible asset for the city, Klee said after the meeting, and the walkway would be designed to complement it, not overpower it.

"It needs to sit next to the building (train station) sympathetically,'' he said. "It can't be more demanding. It has to sit there in a very well-behaved way and not overshadow the train station."

The proposed National Coast Guard Museum, which officials expect to draw hundreds of thousands visitors annually, will be a five-story, mostly glass building constructed above storm tide levels. It will jut out over the Thames River like the bow of a ship. It will have 26,000 square feet of exhibit space, 5,000 square feet of event space, a glass-roofed atrium and a gift shop, cafe and rooms for lectures and workshops.

The DECD, which is the lead agency for the proposed walkway, is required to hold a meeting on any project it might launch, such as a new building or new road. Other state agencies are also asked to comment on the project.

k.edgecomb@theday.com

UBOX

The public can comment on the project in writing through July 18.

Atten: Mark Hood

Department of Economic and Community Development

505 Hudson St.,

Hartford, CT 06106

Fax: (860) 270-8157

Email: mark.hood@ct.gov

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