A new parking garage at Union Station has become a major source of tension between Elm City and state officials.
The new Union Station parking garage — a seven-story structure with 1,000 parking spaces — will begin construction next spring and end construction by 2019. Once in service, the new lot will increase the number of current parking spaces by 740, meeting rising demand from increasing train ridership. City and state officials have been in talks to change the lots for 15 years, with the current parking garage often reaching full capacity during the week, said Douglas Hausladen ’04, acting executive director of Park New Haven and director of the Department of Transportation, Traffic and Parking. But disagreements over the vision for the building have drawn out the planning process.
“For a long time, every Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday, the current parking structures at Union Station are full to capacity,” Hausladen said. “Every weekday during peak hours, the Union Station parking is completely full, so part of this is about expanding this capacity to allow access to our train system.”
During preparations, the local government and the residents of New Haven have called for retail outlets in the parking complex in addition to bike storage, a bus depot and a pedestrian bridge over the tracks. Residents also expressed concern about pollution and traffic in the area nearby.
Matthew Nemerson SOM ’81, economic development administrator, acknowledged that the conflicting interests of parties involved led to different visions for the project.
“We each are trying to do what we think is best for our citizens,” he said. “We represent specifically the 130,000 citizens of New Haven and the millions of people who come in and out every year using the city. The state’s got other interests. They’ve got many big systems they have to operate. The state is three million people. Many of them don’t live in New Haven. We all have different interests.”
The state has cited its own ownership over the property to justify its jurisdiction over the project, with state officials now in negotiations with the city regarding the final plan for the garage.
Hausladen, who also represents the city’s interests, added that all negotiations have been fair and that he is optimistic for a solution.
“We’ve always been cooperative with the state,” he said. “The state has always been cooperative and perceptive. I think we had a constructive disagreement. You know, we had a slight vision difference, and that got played out behind closed doors and in front of open doors if you will, but again, this is a healthy democracy where we had a disagreement, and we have continued to work together, and we have made promises and commitments to continuing to improve the project to the best for the residents of New Haven and also for the residents of the state of Connecticut.”
Kevin Nursick, Connecticut Department of Transportation spokesman, echoed Hausladen’s statements about the productive nature of negotiations. He added that the new plans will relocate and expand bike parking, as well as a bus turnout lane in front of the garage, with opportunities for food trucks and other mobile retail outside the new garage.
“DOT and the City are working together to develop a building program that meets the purpose and need of the project,” he said. “In addition to providing both vehicular and pedestrian connections between garages, the DOT’s project will allow for future connection of an aerial pedestrian bridge that will connect to each of the center island platforms of the station.”
But the state will not pursue a bus depot or adjacent residential building with retail, he said, adding that the state’s priority is to optimize parking.
Though the complex will cost between $40 and $60 million, the old garage proved to be an economic investment for the state’s parking authority, with a total profit of $1.7 million in the 2015 fiscal year. Moreover, the affordable housing complex Church Street South, located across the street, will be replaced with 1,000 units of market price housing. Noting the potential for economic development, city officials stressed the need to include commercial retail near the area to exploit that new hub of residents.
In the long-term future, the project’s planners are also concerned that cars are becoming less popular given rideshare services such as Uber and Lyft and the potential for self-driving cars, Hausladen said. Currently 30 percent of New Haven residents do not own cars.
To ensure that the new lot will be filled, the parking authority will seek partnerships with nearby businesses and institutions, Hausladen added.
“What’s important and the DOT recognizes and realizes is that Union Station is a very important place in the state of Connecticut and the city of New Haven,” he said. “It is the welcome mat for so many customers of our state and also so many customers of our city.”
Union Station began serving New Haven commuters in 1920.