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Fairfield Metro Center Set for Oct. 31 'Soft Opening'

State DOT to start service to new station in November or December, town officials say.

Fairfield Metro Center Set for Oct. 31 'Soft Opening' Fairfield Metro Center Set for Oct. 31 'Soft Opening'

The Fairfield Metro Center is set for a “soft opening” on Oct. 31, announced at Monday’s RTM meeting — however the new train station will not be fully completed, nor will trains be stopping at it, until November or December, he said.

A joint project of the state Department of Transportation, the Town and local commercial real estate development firm Blackrock Realty, the Fairfield Metro Center, located at 21 Black Rock Turnpike, includes the new railroad station, about 1,440 parking spaces for rail commuters and about 930,000 square feet of commercial space which is being financed by Blackrock Realty.

In his update on the approximately $45 million project, Tetreau said construction of the parking lot and upgrades to the adjacent intersection will be completed by the end of next month. However he said the state DOT still has not set a firm date for when train service will begin at the new station, nor has it determined when it will start selling permits for the new commuter parking.

The only thing that could delay the “soft opening,” Tetreau said, is a request for an easement across the new parking lot by United Illuminating, so that it can lay underground cables in order to bring power transformers into the new facility. Tetreau said the utility has expressed its desire to have the transformers inside the facility itself, as opposed to off-site, which requires it to dig a trench and lay cables across the new parking lot. Tetreau said because the state will be the actual owner and operator of the parking lot, it must agree to UI’s request. He said so far state officials have not been receptive to the idea.

“Have you ever been caught between two agencies that are both used to having it their way?” Tetreau quipped during the meeting. “We’ve got UI saying it needs the easement… and the state right now is saying ‘no.’ So [the Town is] going to have to manage that agreement on behalf of both.”

“We firmly believe that [the state will agree to the easement] because it is in everybody’s best interest,” Tetreau said. “But it’s become a sticking point. UI says it won’t turn on the power to the new station until this easement is done. And for right now, the state doesn’t want to say ‘yes’ to the easement.”

Beyond the issue of the easement, Tetreau said the PCB contaminated soils that were excavated during construction will be trucked off the site by the end of this month. He said some of the less-contaminated soil (i.e. not with PCBs) removed during construction will be allowed to remain on site, however the Town will likely have some or all of it trucked away as well, because there is no room for storing it. Remediation and disposal of the contaminated soils is budgeted at about $2 million.

Other work completed as of Aug. 31 includes:

--800 feet of gas main has been installed and activated

--Electrical vaults and 1,250 feet of duct banks have been installed and accepted by UI

--Deck for new parking lot is completed and lot is ready for paving

--1,000 feet of water main has been installed

In addition a supplemental grant agreement with the State is being developed. It is anticipated that the state will be reimbursing the town $2 million to $3 million for the construction of the station’s roadway and parking lot. Tetreau said the state would be providing formal documentation on how much the Town will be reimbursed over the next several weeks. He said he hoped to have the documentation available for review before the next RTM meeting on October 24.

Although revenue from parking permits for the new commuter lot will go to the State (several town officials had previously expressed disappointment that the Town did not negotiate with the state to get the revenue in exchange for maintenance of the station), Fairfield residents will nonetheless benefit from the addition of about 1,440 new parking spaces. Tetreau said there is currently a proposal to set aside about 200 spaces for day parking — while the remaining 1,240 parking spaces will be designated for commuter parking. The additional spaces, he said, will help reduce the town’s substantial waiting list (of more than 1,500 residents) for parking permits by as much as two thirds.

The two-year project to bring a third train station to Fairfield has been fraught with challenges and delays — not the least of which has been the discovery and cleanup of contaminated soils. Members of the RTM and other town officials expressed this past June when they learned that the cost of the project had — and that the previous administration, under the leadership of former First Selectman Ken Flatto, who resigned mid-term in late April to , had “hidden” the cost overages until his sudden departure by simply not mentioning them — an accusation which .

Earlier this month the Board of Selectmen, Board of Finance and RTM approved $7.5 million in additional funding for the project in order to cover the budget overruns. That appropriation included, according to town officials, about $1 million “buffer” to help cover any additional unforeseen costs. Any unexpended funds for the project, plus any reimbursements from the state, will be returned to the Town.

The RTM to investigate the cost overruns.

According to the project's Facebook page, the new Center "will comprise of 7 buildings consisting of 5 mid-rise office buildings with more than 800,000 square feet of Class A office space, 32,000 square feet of retail space, a 180 room Hilton Hotel and if approved an 82 unit residential condominium."

It adds that a "Metro North ticket office and commuter waiting area will be integrated into the Concourse building."

The project is expected to create more than 2,700 jobs and generate more than $1.1 billion in revenues on the local, state and federal level over the next 20 years, according to an analysis performed by the Connecticut Center for Economic Analysis (CCEA).

The project has been registered with the U. S. Green Building Council (USGBC) for Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certification and, according to the Facebook site, qualifies for Gold level certification.

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