Danbury could be taking a major step forward when it comes to being a transit hub in the county, if its much-discussed Danbury Transit Center (DTC) becomes a reality.
“The administration (of Mayor Mark Boughton) wants to move this forward,” said Planning Director Sharon Calitro. “We expect to finalize the study over the next couple of months.”
Calitro and Ben Carlson, the director of urban design for Boston-based firm Goody Clancy, recently presented the final draft of their downtown Danbury transit-oriented development study, which highlights the DTC. Calitro said it’s a culmination of sorts of a process that began in the summer of 2016, when Danbury received a $250,000 state grant to study a potential transit district surrounding its train station at 1 Patriot Drive.
She said the $27-30 million DTC — which would not include the costs of acquiring some surrounding property and environmental clean-up — would take three to five years to realize, “assuming that the stars align and we can get control of it.”
The project would essentially combine bus and train service in one location by adding a bus terminal with 12 berths on one end of the DTC and the Metro-North train station at the other. The work would involve developing two underused parcels of land; one is owned by the city and contains a skate park, which would be moved to another location. The other is owned by utility Eversource, “so we don’t have control of that,” Calitro said, “but we are in initial discussions with them.”
A raised pedestrian bridge over the train tracks would provide easier access between the two modes of transit, Calitro said, and would include an elevator in compliance with the Americans with Disabilities Act. In addition, the HARTransit bus and shuttle station now at Main Street and Kennedy Avenue would be moved to the DTC.
Calitro said that efforts are being made to maintain as many current arrival and departure times for Metro-North trains as possible. At the same time, extending Metro-North service to the Harlem Line in New York state — Danbury sits on its New Haven Line — is another idea being kicked around. If that were to be okayed, riders could save in excess of 30 minutes in commuting time; it now takes roughly two hours to make that trip.
An in-depth ridership study will be undertaken over the next few months as the city and Goody Clancy wrap up their study. According to Metro-North, average weekday ridership to and from Danbury in 2016 was 2,356, with an average Saturday ridership of 444 and average Sunday ridership of 405.
But a growing population will likely need improved transportation options. According to the Connecticut State Data Center the city’s population, which stood at about 85,000 in 2016, will reach nearly 95,000 by 2040.
The next steps for the DTC are understandably immense ones. Calitro said that in addition to Eversource, the city is now in talks with the state Department of Transportation, Metro-North and HARTransit about moving ahead, which will include “identifying any red flags that we haven’t already addressed.”
As for environmental cleanup and the cost of altering and/or improving the relevant surrounding roads, she said more data was being collected. “We’ll be seeking funding for those areas as well,” she said.
“Brownfields are brownfields, and they need to be taken care of,” Calitro noted. “But the cleanup costs with something like this are different than they are when you’re redeveloping ground for residential uses. There are portions of the land that may not necessarily be developed.”