The nearly decade-long struggle to replace the crumbling Stamford railroad station parking garage has taken another bizarre turn: The Connecticut Department of Transportation now wants to spend $1.5 million and take six months to repair the garage before they tear it down.
How did we get into this mess? Let’s examine the time line:
May 1983: Construction begins on the Stamford Transportation Center, featuring a new train station and parking garage. But construction is halted when cracks are found in beams. Repairs are made and work continues.
August 2006: Crumbing concrete, exposed and rusting rebar convince engineers the garage is near the end of its life. CDOT decides it will be cheaper to demolish the old 727-space parking garage than to repair it … $35 million.
August 2008: A hoped-for public-private partnership (PPP) to replace the old garage in its current location and add private office space falls through.
July 2012: The CDOT tries a PPP again, issuing an RFP (request for proposals) for replacement parking within a quarter-mile of the station. Developers are promised confidentiality. There are no public hearings on any concepts, leaving commuters in the dust. After protests, Gov. Malloy appoints a panel to oversee the CDOT process of selecting a developer. The group meets secretly, never seeking public input nor ever issuing a report on its work.
July 1, 2013: Developer John McClutchy and family donate $30,000 to the CT State Central Democratic Committee. By February 2015, the McClutchys have donated $165,000 to that federal account, bypassing state laws prohibiting contractor contributions to candidates.
July 11, 2013: The CDOT announces its choice of developers for the Stamford Garage, JHM Group of Companies (headed by John McClutchy), which proposes a 600,000-square-foot office/hotel complex on the site of the old garage while parking is moved a quarter-mile away. Negotiations on a final deal get underway.
November 2014: Having been completely bypassed in the state’s decision-making process about the garage project, the city of Stamford Zoning Board passes a new zoning ordinance giving it final approval over any projects near the train station.
March 2015: In response, the governor introduces HB-6851, a bill to give the state control of all development within a half-mile of any transit station. The bill would create a quasi-governmental Connecticut Transit Corridor Development Authority, all of its members appointed by the governor, with the power of eminent domain. The bill is eventually killed.
April 2015: Large chunks of concrete fall from the ceiling of the Stamford garage, prompting CDOT to close the facility for safety inspection, displacing 700-plus daily parkers.
July 2015: The second anniversary of CDOT’s selection of JHM as developer of the garage passes, but there is still no signed contract. The old garage remains closed into a third month with no word on repairs.
October 2015: CDOT announces it will spend $1.5 million and six months to repair part of the old garage, eventually re-opening 270 of its 727 spaces.
Those facts speak for themselves. My only opinion: If CDOT can so mismanage a small project like this, what’s going to happen when Gov. Malloy gives it $100 billion to spend on his 30-year transportation plan?
Jim Cameron is founder of the Commuter Action Group and a member of the Darien RTM. The opinions expressed in this column are only his own. You can reach him at CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com. For a full collection of “Talking Transportation” columns, see www.talkingtransportation.blogspot.com.