Support for New London pedestrian walkway plan varies

New London — The proposal to tear down the Greyhound bus station to make space for an elevated walkway over the railroad tracks to the proposed National Coast Guard Museum, ferry terminals and City Pier is being met with acceptance among several of the key players downtown, but other aspects of the plan for the overpass are not meeting with universal support.

"It would solve a lot of problems if we moved (the bus station)," Rob Sherlin, general manager for Wheaten Solutions, the company that runs the bus station for Greyhound, said Tuesday. The current bus station, in a single-story, 1,000-square-foot building adjacent to Union Station, needs repairs, and there are often traffic problems when buses try to pull up and taxis and other vehicles are in the way, Sherlin said. Greyhound leases the space from the owners of Union Station.

Todd O'Donnell, a partner in the company that owns the 29,500-square-foot railroad station and the bus station, said the smaller building is believed to be an addition to the original structure and dates back at least to 1896.

An environmental and engineering analysis prepared for the state, which has committed $20 million toward the pedestrian overpass project, has concluded that the best location for the bridge would be from the bus station site over the tracks to a location between Cross Sound Ferry property and the site of the proposed museum. Under the proposal, a second phase of the project would extend the bridge from the bus station lot over Water Street to a site next to the city-owned Water Street Parking Garage. A new Greyhound bus station would be built on a small city-owned parcel in front of the parking garage, while SEAT buses would continue to use the south side of Water Street.

O'Donnell declined to say whether he and his partner agree with the conclusions of the plan, prepared for the state Department of Economic and Community Development by Milone & MacBroom.

"We look forward to hearing the details of what they're planning," O'Donnell said.

The current report is a draft version that will be revised and completed over the next couple of months to incorporate comments made at an Aug. 7 public hearing and in writing. Seven written comments were received by the deadline Monday, David Treadwell, spokesman for the DECD, said. Architects for the museum would have to build the walkway, according to the preferred option identified in the final version of the plan, or the lengthy process of preparing the environmental and engineering analysis would have to be redone, Treadwell said. The report, called an Environmental Impact Evaluation, is required by state law for state-funded projects.

Treadwell said he could not say what entity would be in charge of funding and building a new bus station.

Stan Mickus, director of marketing and public affairs for Cross Sound Ferry, said the company fully supports the preferred location for the bridge identified in the report.

"We believe that's the only option," he said. Cross Sound also agrees that the bridge should extend both over the tracks and over Water Street so that pedestrians and vehicles can move through the area safely.

In written comments to the state, Mickus said that the bridge should be designed to accommodate pedestrians with luggage, strollers, bicycles and other gear, and that it should offer "multiple means of egress, especially at the ferry terminal, including escalators, elevators and possibly stairs." The report notes that the structure will be handicapped accessible.

Mickus also said that "a severe parking shortage" that is likely to arise downtown once the museum and overpass are built should be addressed as soon as possible.

"Future parking capacity should be planned immediately," he wrote. "This could take the shape of an expanded Water Street parking garage and/or a new garage at the Mariner Square property."

Constance Kristofik, executive director of New London Landmarks, said the organization recognizes the need for a pedestrian bridge and agrees that the bus station lot would be an appropriate location.

"We are OK with losing the bus terminal as long as the train station is not impacted or jeopardized in any way," she said.

In written comments to the DECD, the organization noted that the train station is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The group has concerns that the building's historic integrity not be damaged and about the impact of the overpass on the safety of pedestrian and vehicle traffic.

"While New London Landmarks continues to be a strong supporter of the proposed Coast Guard Museum, the plans for the pedestrian bridge are still too vague to make informed comments and leave us with many questions," the letter states.

City Councilor Martin T. Olsen said he has no objections to razing and rebuilding the bus station, but he believes the pedestrian overpass should go only from that site over the railroad tracks. He does not support the proposed second phase of the project that would extend the bridge over Water Street. A longer overpass would detract from the recently redesigned Parade Plaza and discourage visitors from going downtown, he said.

He added that the overpass project should not go forward until it is certain that the proposed $80 million museum will be built. Fundraising for the project began this spring, in conjunction with a ceremonial groundbreaking.

Michael Passero, chairman of the City Council's Economic Development Committee, also questioned whether the bridge should cross Water Street. He recalled a contentious debate about a similar proposal several years ago and said revisiting that idea threatened to "reopen old wounds" and cause unnecessary delays.

"I'm not saying I'm opposed to it, but I still have a lot of questions about the whole thing," he said.

In written comments to the DECD, city officials said the report "is a start, but more work needs to be done." The city is particularly concerned that there be adequate drop-off space for school buses and other vehicles to access the area, as well as for the Greyhound operations.

"We are concerned that the impact on traffic flow on Water Street and beyond as well as adequacy of the area's parking facilities is appropriately addressed," Tammy Daugherty, director of the Office of Development & Planning, wrote.

The final report should also address maintenance issues associated with the overpass. The maintenance responsibilities should be shared among the city, the museum and the ferries, she said.

In separate comments, City Planner Harry A. Smith said he is concerned about funneling all the pedestrian traffic seeking access to the museum and the ferries to a single point at the overpass entrance. More analysis is needed, he said.

j.benson@theday.com
Twitter: @BensonJudy

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