Grant for bike path to connect West Haven train station, Yale West Campus

By:  Mark Zaretsky
New Haven Register

WEST HAVEN >> The Federal Highway Administration has reinstated a $973,834 grant for improvements related to the city’s railroad station, including a bike path connecting the two-year-old station to Yale University’s West Campus, federal and local officials said Wednesday.

Mayor Ed O’Brien made the announcement at a press conference at the station Wednesday, flanked by U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., and Yale University Vice President for West Campus Planning and Program Development Scott Strobel.

The highway administration initially approved the grant in 2010 as part of a package of railroad station enhancements, but later declared the path outside the scope of the award because of the 1.4 miles it would extend from the railroad station, forcing the city to halt construction.

The grant also covered streetscaping in the immediate area of the train station.

Blumenthal, Murphy and U.S. Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro, D-3, worked jointly to correct what they called “miscommunication” and convince the administration to allow work to resume after learning about the issue from O’Brien, officials said.

O’Brien said the bike path “is an amenity that we’re very happy we’re helping Yale get,” but added later that while it will end at Yale, it “is an amenity that will help all of the other businesses” along Railroad Avenue and the Interstate 95 Frontage Road, such as Star Distributors and Enthone.

“This bike path is more than something for Yale,” he said.

While the bike path itself, designed by Luchs Consulting Engineers of Meriden, will be entirely in West Haven, West Campus straddles the Orange-West Haven border and is located in both municipalities.

Blumenthal said O’Brien is “really the hero.”

“The mayor came to me and said they were having problems with the bike path” and asked for help, he said.

Blumenthal said a train station “is designed to be accessible to all of the people who use it. Common sense prevailed here and I am delighted” that the money will be used to build the bike path, he said.

“This may seem like a small issue, a bike path connecting this station to the Yale West campus. But it is going to make a difference,” said Murphy. Yale’s West Campus “is going to be an enormous catalyst for economic development” and growth in the area, he said.

Murphy said that in general, “Connecticut is way behind the rest of the country when it comes to building bike paths” and “this victory sends a message that Connecticut is serious when it comes to constructing multi-modal forms of transportation.”

Yale’s Strobel said that on West Campus, decision-makers at Yale “are committed to growing a facility that will advance knowledge” and “help grow Connecticut.”

More than 1,300 people now work on Yale’s West Campus, the Yale School of Nursing has relocated there, “and those 1,300 people and growing need a way to get to campus,” Strobel said. The ability to do that by bike — or even by bike in conjunction with the Metro North or Shore Line East commuter railroads “will really help transform” the campus and the region, he said.

Others attending the press conference included state Rep. Charles Ferraro, R-West Haven, City Councilman David Riccio, R-At Large, and city Commissioner of Planning and Development Joseph Riccio Jr.

Blumenthal said there are many reasons to spend federal money on a bike path, including “to try to promote a smart regional transportation plan,” because “it makes people healthier” and “it reduces the need for traffic and parking.”

Some businesses “even may decide to relocate” to the area along the bike path as a result of it being built, he said.

Murphy called connecting communities to transportation infrastructure “a critical step in growing (the) Connecticut economy and making our state a more vibrant place to live and work.” The new bike path “will make the area a more accessible and appealing place for students, residents and employers.”

While she didn’t attend the press conference, DeLauro said in an accompanying press release that “by creating a way to connect pedestrians and cyclists with the train station, we are now serving the increasing numbers of workers who bike or walk as part of their daily commute.”

“It is great to see the West Haven train station become a more complete transportation hub and I look forward to the future developments that this station will unlock for the city,” DeLauro said.