Is The Train A Gain For City?

In a commentary published first by the CT Post, commuter advocate Jim Cameron wonders if the brakes should be slammed on the proposed $300 million train station for the East Side advanced under the mayoral administration of Bill Finch. Note to Cameron: Bridgeport was never called the “Brass City” (although Bridgeport Brass was located there) and P.T. Barnum never said “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

I feel sorry for the folks who live in Bridgeport.

Parts of the city are quite beautiful, but others look like the bombed-out South Bronx, especially the lots along the Metro-North tracks. The most populous city in the state with residents paying some of the highest taxes really needs help.

But is a proposed $300 million new “Barnum” train station in East Bridgeport the right answer, or just a political boondoggle?

Bridgeport already has a downtown train station right in the business center, next to the new bus station and ferry terminal. The new Barnum station would be just over a mile away in the middle of nowhere. Sure, there are some folks who live nearby, but the proposed station only makes sense if huge new housing and office complexes get built.

It’s this dream of transit-oriented development (TOD) that’s the only possible argument for a new station. If they (the state Department of Transportation) build it (the station), will they (developers) come?

Others think the station idea is more political than practical. They point out it was Gov. Dannel Malloy who announced plans for the station just weeks before his re-election. At a recent public hearing on the plan, one skeptic called it a political payoff to gain votes in a tight campaign.

Sources at the state DOT said they were given scant notice about the governor’s announcement in July 2014. There had been no vetting of the scheme in long-range plans. Even the state Bond Commission was surprised when the governor slipped a $2.75 million appropriation for initial planning onto its agenda.

Malloy initially called for a $75 million station with one platform on each side of the local tracks to be open by 2018. Now the plan has morphed into a $300 million station with center-island platforms, serving both local and express tracks.

There would also be a 500-space parking lot. But there are no plans for a waiting room, bathroom or commuter amenities.

About 25 people attended the recent public hearing, including locals who said Bridgeport “deserved” this new station. They said the former glory of the “Brass City” could be restored only with others’ investments.

Some even thought the new station would be served by Amtrak’s Acela, which doesn’t even stop at the downtown station. I think the chances of that are slight. Acela only stops at thriving business centers like Stamford, not rubble-strewn neighborhoods like East Bridgeport.

The most chilling testimony came from Mathew Hallock, of Fairfield. He reminded the audience about the strange timing of the governor’s announcement and then wondered aloud who owned the neighboring land that would suddenly appreciate in value. He even called for the Attorney General to investigate the matter, implying impropriety in the proposal.

Noticeably absent from the public hearing was Bridgeport Mayor Joseph Ganim. If the Barnum station was so important for his city, why wasn’t he there?

Metro-North has so many needs: positive train control, more rail-cars, better and more frequent service, improved safety and affordable fares. But do we really need to pour $300 million into a Barnum train station built only on the hope that it might encourage development?

This station is far from being a done deal. There will be more plans, more hearings and, of course, the search for funding.

But as Bridgeport’s own PT Barnum once said, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

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22 comments

  1. *** With the state in the red for billions of dollars, taxes being raised, state layoffs and givebacks, and all types of local city and town cuts, education cuts, etc., the last thing the state needs to spend tax dollars on is a new sub-station in an urban area that looks like a little South Bronx in Bpt’s East Side! Especially with the main train station only about a mile away. Makes no sense at all with the State’s budget being in such a financial shortfall! A political promise or maybe statement taxpayers can do without. ***

  2. Yes, this is a good idea and definitely worth putting the energy into guaranteeing its success. I was surprised the Mayor was not there. Maybe because this would be another Finch project coming into fruition. I know Chris Rosario sees the bigger picture for the city as do I. Certainly a more important issue to be supporting than a Sanctuary city rally!

  3. From a February 9 OIB post:
    “… Factories, bridges, and deep (dredged) harbors with rail-freight spurs, NOT isolated, region-serving, second train stations/highway connectors (nor regional workforce housing!), are what Bridgeport (and the state/larger region) really need. $300 MILLION (new train station cost) could go a long way in dredging/upgrading Bridgeport’s vital, deep-water harbor for manufacturing-related, ocean-going cargo transport, replacing our missing/damaged bridges, and cleaning up brownfields for high-value tax base creation/jobs-intensive manufacturing use …”
    Mayor Ganim knows this, which is why he is not endorsing this latest effort by “Stamford Plantation” (Gold Coast “Golden Wedge” region) to secure the rest of the region as its servants quarters, even as overdevelopment of this Connecticut center of wealth and power chokes off economic development in the rest of the rest of state, including Bridgeport and the other large, decaying cities. Train station proponents are showing a knee-jerk reaction to an insidiously deceptive appeal to locate an economic/environmental, transportation Trojan Horse under the guise of “enlightened” policy.
    It’s encouraging to see that our Mayor and others aren’t quaffing down the Chris Bruhl-Dan Malloy Kool Aid.

  4. I wish James Cameron would surface from the depths of his provincial thought. I feel sorry for the residents of Fairfield who have a “commuter advocate” making them look like a bunch of pretentious, anti-Bridgeport residents.

    When Bridgeport succeeds, Fairfield County succeeds. A train station for the East Side is a great step to move our city forward. Transportation is everything for our hardest-working residents.

    1. Government statistics show Fairfield County is succeeding. 10% of the population is living in poverty, and that’s 10% too many in my opinion. And where does that 10% live?
      www .census.gov/quickfacts/table/PST045215/09001

      Perhaps when Bridgeport is successful, all of Fairfield County will improve is a tag line that would resonate better with the western area of the county, and generate more interest in supporting legislation and issues to help the city help itself.
      I have no idea, or proof, that a new train station would show a viable dollar ROI for Bridgeport, Fairfield County or the state. It will certainly benefit ROI votes at election time, both pro and con.
      Your state is in dire financial straits, this station is not an infrastructure upgrade or investment, unless one measures with status or convenience.
      Steve, Gage has the reputation of running very good and effective campaigns, he has the central casting looks of get me a candidate I can get elected, you’re correct, he should be a candidate.

      1. Jennifer and Steve, I appreciate the compliments! It’s also worth mentioning a lot of Bridgeport residents rely on public transportation every day. Moreover, with another stop in Bridgeport, it’s a doorway into the multi-ethnic culture our City embodies so well! Some of my favorite places to eat are right near the proposed site.

  5. So the state has $300,000,000 for a second train station, but Malloy just proposed an Education Budget where the end result is the BPS would lose over $5,000,000 in state education funds.

    As someone who was raised on the lower East Side and attended Barnum and WHHS, this proposal is a waste of taxpayer funds.

    The assertion is a new train station will generate new business opportunities and jobs, which in turn will generate new tax revenue.

    This should be easy enough to prove. Studies of other urban cities where additional train stations were created should be provided to substantiate these claims.

    Anyone?

    1. The city master plan has been a huge success, Jimmy Fox? Has it ever been followed? The train station is a must to inject life into the East End. The Clinton Crossing apartments will also bring life and business prosperity to local business.

      1. Ha! Commissioners vote no solar panels on any Bridgeport Park, a few days later the mayor submits a year-old, never-before-seen master plan now showing solar panels in Bridgeport parks. So which master plan are you discussing, the published or the secret master plan?

  6. Steve: Jobs and tax revenue will breathe life into the city. The train station and associated housing will only use valuable industrial land and further stress city services. No jobs, no high-value tax base development.

    The East Side needs a few factories that can sustain other businesses per the jobs and disposable income that are needed in that part of the city (and indeed, throughout the city).

    Stamford is doing quite well with just one train station. The second Bridgeport train station is not going to “open up the East Side for development;” it is going to crowd out high-value development and accommodate nothing but more traffic and road construction (Seaview Avenue Corridor/highway connector), which will do nothing but destroy the neighborhoods and the environment of the East Side/Upper East Side).

    More economic snake oil from Double-Dealing Dan Malloy and his traveling snake-oil troupe. [We should upgrade the old station, complete the abandoned multimodal transit center effort (get a secure, all-weather facility under one roof), create a train-station shuttle system to make access more efficient, and also create some freight shipment capacity to the (upgraded/dredged) harbor via a rail freight spur to the harbor.]

    There is no development plan, at least no plan with Bridgeport’s best interest in mind, involving this proposed, second train station. Just more development to serve down-county interests at Bridgeport’s expense.

    1. “Valuable industrial land???” Where is it? Let’s go back to the law of supply and demand. Bridgeport has an overabundance of unused land that has been just sitting there for decades. Bridgeport property today is at fire-sale prices.

  7. I support this train station. I would not be surprised if the “new” Barnum Station will outstrip the Downtown Station in ridership very quickly.This has been discussed many times on OIB already and it’s always the same discussion. I have nothing else to add. If you want to review all the discussions, just put “Barnum train station” in the “Search OIB” box and you will have hours of reading.

  8. The issue of bathrooms, heat in the winter, AC in the summer, has become an automatic part of the design of newer train stations. I realize bathrooms, heat, AC increase the cost, but the lack of these “amenities” will forever be an open sore. Whoever is responsible for these issues should return these “amenities” to a railroad station.

  9. Dream on about how great the South Bronx is and how Fairfield County needs Bpt, along with the waste of money in a time of continued State cutbacks by building a substation on the city’s East Side! City residents have been dreaming for the last 50 years. And how far has the Park City gotten, really? No jobs, crime, high rents and lack of better housing. Small Business comes and goes, high taxes, high city permits, licenses, parking tickets. Foreclosures on private property for unpaid water/sewer bills, along with poor public education! Did I miss something? Oh, police profiling in general! For every step forward Bpt has taken in the last 50 years, it ends up going two steps backward towards the future going nowhere fast. ***

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