Borough, DOT hoping to strike a deal

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NAUGATUCK — ‘Help me help you’ seems to be one premise of an agreement the borough is negotiating with the Connecticut Department of Transportation. The two sides are pressing out details in hopes of reaching a deal that could benefit both sides and change the landscape of downtown Naugatuck.

The DOT has proposed an arrangement in which it would transfer to the borough approximately 3.5 acres of its property. In return, the borough would dedicate to transit commuters — and deed to the state — 200 parking spaces within the parking garage leaders have been planning to build at Parcel C, a borough-owned tract at the corner of Maple and Water Streets.

“What we’re looking at is the concept of a parking structure that would not only support initial phases of the St. Mary’s medical facility on Parcel C, but also support increased ridership of the public train line,” Mayor Robert Mezzo said.

In addition, the state and the borough would work collectively to identify a new location for the future development of a new rail station site. One option is to build a station across from the proposed parking garage along with a fly bridge connecting the two structures. In the meantime, the state would continue to use the existing train station.

The properties the borough would claim if officials seal the deal are two parcels located south of the General DataComm building, along Elm Street.

Mezzo said picking up two more parcels would give the borough more options for downtown development.

“There are a lot of complex steps along the way in this project,” he said. “This is another complex step in that process. We’re working on numerous fronts to get this project started during difficult times, but the more parcels we have under ownership, the easier it makes things to do.”

DOT officials expressed their willingness to collaborate with borough leaders in this venture and assist them with their ongoing mission to revitalize the downtown district.

“The Department of Transportation wishes to work with the Borough of Naugatuck to revitalize the borough’s central business district while enhancing access and service for rail commuters,” Jeffery A. Parker, Deputy Commissioner of the DOT wrote in a letter to Mezzo. “The state and the borough commit to work cooperatively to enable the revitalization of downtown Naugatuck, through Renaissance Place, while providing multimodal mass transit opportunities.”

The DOT is in the process of conducting a study of the Metro North Waterbury-to-Bridgeport branch line, part of the larger New Haven rail line.

The platform’s current site is owned by the borough and includes the former train station building — which now houses the Naugatuck Historical Society and the Naugatuck Economic Development Corporation — the active passenger platform, and surface parking.

Earlier this year, Mezzo and borough officials met with DOT representatives, who discussed their early findings and the initial plans they had in store for the Naugatuck stop. The DOT expressed its desire to move the platform to a straighter track location because the curvature of the track near the current platform would not work for a new train station design. The plan was to move the platform north along Water Street.

“If we were going to improve the station area in Naugatuck, part of that would be to build a high-level platform,” Andy Davies, DOT Region Planner said. “For a high-level platform you need a straight track; you can’t be on a curvature because the way the train comes in, you’re going to have large gaps between the platform and cars, so it would not be a safe condition for people stepping on and off the train.”

Borough leaders recognized the need for the DOT to move to straight track but suggested that the DOT move the platform south instead, closer to Parcel C — an idea the DOT supports.

At this point, DOT lawyers are looking into the project, and the borough and DOT are working to identify potential funding sources for the project. The DOT pointed out that acquiring the funding to accomplish this venture may be the hardest step in the process.

“Funding for new projects or new initiatives is very sketchy these days,” said Kevin Nursick, a DOT spokesman. “We have well over 100 projects at this point that we have sidelined because of the funding challenges that we’re facing. The federal funding we are receiving is very uncertain in years to come, so this makes funding for any new initiatives difficult to come by over the next few years. This type of endeavor is very speculative at this point.”

No formal agreements have been reached, and officials were reluctant to discuss the nature of the deal in much detail.

“There are not a lot of commitments in the document,” said Mezzo. “Nothing is that firm yet, but this is the agreement which we are working towards.”