Fairfield’s development of a third train station off lower Black Rock Turnpike indirectly involving some University officials is stalled indefinitely, leaving students wondering if they will ever get relief from over-crowded train rides and how they will be able to park when traveling to internships.
“They allow us to park in a satellite parking lot that provides a shuttle for us to the station,” said Sean Cribbin ’09, a New York City intern. “This is a convenient solution for us non-residents. However when you get that green parking ticket to pay your $6 daily fee, it can put a damper on your day.”
Controversy over the project has persisted for some time due to financial problems with private developer Blackrock Realty LLC and an ethics complaint filed over removal of Conservation Director Thomas Steinke from oversight of the project.
According to Fairfield First Selectman Kenneth Flatto, a third train station would reduce traffic, reduce accidents on I-95 and relieve overcrowded trains.
Flatto recently requested $28 million in federal stimulus money from the state to help finish the project, but his request was denied. He assured citizens, though, that he has been in “promising talks” with Connecticut Department of Transportation Commissioner Joseph Marie, who intends to remain fully committed to the project.
Vice President of Administrative and Student Affairs Mark Reed is on the Fairfield Ethics Commission, to which a “concerned citizens group” filed the complaint. The complaint was eventually dismissed because there was not enough probable cause to support it, according to public records.
Reed declined to comment on the issue because he is not the Commission’s official spokesperson, and he stressed he is on the Commission as a town resident only.
Fairfield Physics Professor Leslie Schaffer is part of the concerned citizens group who filed the complaint. “I haven’t seen any public statements other than “everything’s okay,” Schaffer said. “But we haven’t seen any of the detailed evidence that they have taken the steps that they were supposed to do – no one has made me rest assured that they have been doing the right thing.”
The conclusion of the ethics complaint reads “While Mr. Flatto and Mr. Saxl [Fairfield’s Town Attorney] do not appear to have a private interest, as that term is commonly understood, in the FMC project, they do appear to have been overly inclined to accommodate the project’s operations, which tends to influence their judgment in ways that may conflict with the public’s interest, especially when that tendency leads to violations of the Charter, as has occurred in this case.”
George Bisacca, formerly the Fairfield men’s basketball head coach and athletic director, as well as a 1983 Fairfield athletic hall of fame inductee, is the lawyer who represents the group of “concerned citizens.”
He said in a recent editorial in the Connecticut Post that “The concerned citizens have never done anything to delay the Metro Center project. The inactivity on the project for long periods of time, followed by the recent foreclosure action and now the rejection of the town’s request for stimulus funds because of a failure to obtain necessary permits according to Flatto, are all contributing factors to the current muddled state of the project – and none of these factors can be attributed to the concerned citizens group.”
As problems continue to delay train station development, many Fairfield student interns express the need for more parking and more rides to the train station.
“Overall, the train experience is not all that bad, but I do believe Fairfield could be of better help,” said Cribbin. “Last year as an on-campus resident without a car, I needed to take a $10 train ride every Tuesday and Friday morning. Something like this could easily be avoided with the transportation that the school could provide.”
Current Senate Chair Frank Fioretti ’10 said that the Transportation Committee is working on having a slightly smaller bus make rounds to Post Road and Black Rock next year, though he said he did not know much about the new train station plans.
“In addition, we have been meeting with administrators and representatives from Hertz to bring this system where students can register and be able to reserve a car and use it for the amount of time they require it,” he said. “With that said, the senate has not been working on changing the times of the shuttle bus or having any type of bus or shuttle go to the new Black Rock Turnpike station.”
Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs James Fitzpatrick said he heard completion of the train station is a long way off and sees no “short term impact” for students.
“Our focus for next year will be the town shuttle with more rides to town and the current train station as well as Saturday service to the Black Rock shopping district,” he said.
Student interns all too familiar with parking fines and peak hour train rides stress the need for early morning train shuttles and free parking.
“Lets be honest, I see more kids at that train station three mornings a week than I do taking a shuttle to CVS and Stop n Shop throughout the day,” said Cribbin.
Lauren Levy ’09, another New York city intern, feels that the University should pay better attention to transportation needs.
“I’ve interned the past two semesters at different places and different times,” she said. “The current train shuttle has been absolutely no use to me because of its odd schedule and timing. Fairfield should evaluate the times that students would need a shuttle and from that information, create a more useful schedule.”
Fioretti said that he would look into “the possibility of having a bus go to the train station during peak morning transit,” but I think the issue that will arise is whether the bus will be utilized by enough students to make it worth having.
“As far as the new train station goes,” he said, “If I had more information on it, I could look into having the new station be incorporated into the school’s plan for transportation next fall.”
For another recent article about the project, click here.