$10 million for proposed Barnum train station in Bridgeport [CT Post]

October 27, 2015

Article as it appeared in the CTPOST

BRIDGEPORT – The state has snagged a coveted $10 million federal grant to help build a new Metro-North train station in a downtrodden East Side neighborhood desperate for a major economic lift.

“This is great news for our city and its future,” said Mayor Bill Finch, who believes the station will trigger a 700-acre redevelopment of the low-income, crime-ridden section of the city.

The highly competitive grant from the federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery fund will be used to design a $146 million Barnum Station on the former Remington Arms factory property.

“Bridgeport’s new Barnum Station – the second rail stop in the state’s largest city – will serve as a much needed catalyst for job creation and economic growth,” Finch said. “We’ll be able to move this game-changing, job creating project forward.”

New “circus” in town

But despite the celebrating in Bridgeport, not everyone is convinced a second train station — named after circus showman and former Bridgeport mayor P.T. Barnum — is a top priority, or will spur the promised economic miracle on the city’s East Side.

“If we can assume that the new station will have additional parking and be part of a redevelopment plan, this may be a good thing,” said James Cameron, founder of the Commuter Action Group, which advocates for Metro-North riders.

“But absent those plans, I think it may just be wishful thinking to drop a station into this desolate area,” Cameron said. “If we are to spend money wisely it should come with sufficient planning. I’ve not seen any master plan for that area’s re-development, just expressions by the mayor and governor that ‘if they build it’ other developers will come.”

State Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton and a ranking member of the transportation committee, said she wonders where the rest of the money for the Barnum station will come from.

“There is no question you have to fix what is broken,” Boucher said. “We have 108-year-old rail bridges. You should fix that first before you build and anything new. And more stations slow the trains down.”

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who surprised many when he announced support for the station during his reelection bid last year, said the station is part of an overall $100 billion plan to rebuild the state’s aging transportation system.

“Our administration has prioritized the creation of this new train station for Bridgeport’s East Side and East End neighborhoods because we know that it is local capital projects like these that will help create livable, walkable communities that spur economic development and job creation,” Malloy said.

To receive the so-called TIGER grant, the state committed $6.7 million to the Bridgeport station project, said Judd Everhart, a spokesman for the state Department of Transportation.

The proposed train station features two center island platforms to serve local and express Metro-North and Amtrak trains. The station includes about 1,000 parking spaces, and is projected to open in 2018.

TIGER grants are difficult to obtain, and have benefited Bridgeport in the past.

In 2010, the city received an $11 million TIGER grant to fund infrastructure improvements around Steel Point along the waterfront, preparing the harbor-side expanse for development.

A Bass Pro shop is now set to open at the site, and a new hotel and other shops are not far behind. Apartments, marina slips and various stores are planned for the 50-acre peninsula.

Mayor Finch’s vision

For Finch, who lost last month’s Democratic Party primary and is not on next week’s ballot to retain his job, the TIGER award is somewhat bittersweet considering it represents the first concrete step towards building the long sought station.

As mayor, Finch championed the idea of a second train station and lobbied on its behalf, finally realizing success last year. The new mayor, whether Democratic nominee Joe Ganim, Independent Mary-Jane Foster or Republican Enrique Torres, will reap the benefits — and growing pains — along with the Steel Point progress made under Finch’s administration.

U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Connecticut, hailed the grant, saying it’s a “game changer” for Bridgeport.

Blumenthal said the Barnum Station will bring new commuter rail service and draw development and investment to the neighborhood and the entire city.

“In addition to serving as an anchor for major mixed-use, transit-oriented development in Bridgeport, the station will expand options for commuters throughout the region, offering much-needed express and local service along the nation’s busiest commuter rail corridor,” Blumenthal said.

U.S. Rep. Jim Himes, R-4, added the ongoing rejuvenation of Bridgeport is important to the region.
“Barnum station will eventually host retail stores, housing and critical transportation options,” Himes said. “It will transform a bleak and neglected neighborhood into a vibrant source of opportunity for the people of Bridgeport.”

U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn, said the new Barnum Station offers more options for travelers and a chance for economic revitalization.

“I’m thrilled that we are able to deliver this sizable grant to help make this station a reality,” Murphy said.

“This project will give travelers more options, but more importantly, help revitalize the eastern section of the city. This is exactly the kind of federal-state partnership we need to make our state a more accessible, appealing place for students, residents, and businesses,” Murphy said.