Madeline Coulter has had an up-close view of the town’s train station parking lot since the beginning of June. That’s when she started working at the Yale School of Medicine and began commuting from Branford every day on the 8:25 a.m. Shore Line East train. Each evening she returns shortly before 5:30 p.m. and waits for her mom to pick her up. The lot’s expansion has made a difference, she said.
“That was a very good investment,” said Coulter about the resources spent to more than double the number of free parking spaces. The new parking area, added Coulter, is “pretty essential.”
Coulter is not alone in her assessment. A number of Branford commuters, returning home recently on the 5:10 p.m. train out of New Haven, voiced similar opinions.
“An expansion was necessary,” said Scott Switzer who, like Coulter, began commuting in June. After he moved to Branford from New Haven in January, he motored by car every day to work in the Elm City. Gas prices were making a heavy impact on his wallet, so he decided to take the train. Before the expansion, parking in the commuter lot could be congested, he said.
“Depending on when you took the train, the lot would be full. I would somehow find a spot in the old lot,” Switzer said. “When the new lot opened, it helped. There’s a lot more parking.”
So far, drivers don’t seem to be flocking to park in the new area. The old section appears to fill up before commuters venture into the newer lot. That seems logical, since the old area is closer to the train station entrance and drivers would have to walk a shorter distance to board. But just knowing that more space is available pleases some commuters.
“I think it’s great to have more space,” said Kate Zanzucchi, who usually takes the 7:50 a.m. Before, if she went into work late for some reason – a dentist’s appointment, for example – she’d be concerned about finding a space in the lot. Now she can take a later train without such worries, she said. “It’s really a good thing.”
Funded with $5.4 million in federal stimulus funds and an additional $400,000 in state money, the renovation added 272 parking spaces to the previous 199-space lot. Oxford-based started work on the project in August 2009.
The is located at 39 Maple St. A ribbon-cutting held for the completed new parking section on June 27 was attended by U.S. Rep. and First Selectman , among others.
In a Connecticut Deptartment of Transportation press release marking the occasion, both DeLauro and James P. Redeker, acting DOT commissioner, praised the project.
“This project will expand access to the Branford Shore Line East Rail Station and enable more people to make use of rail transportation, reducing the number of cars on the road, and lessening the impact on the environment,” DeLauro is quoted as saying.
“Parking availability,” states Redeker in the release, “is one of the biggest headaches for Connecticut rail commuters, and this project will go a long way toward alleviating some of that aggravation. On top of that, this is a great example of a project paid for with federal stimulus dollars that has had the direct effect of putting people to work.”
Some observers have questioned the expansion’s price tag as well as its long-term economic impact. Among the commuters interviewed, the most pointed criticism came from a non-driver.
“I’m wondering if it’s really useful,” said Francois Jorneyvaz, who lives seven minutes away and walks to the station. However, he acknowledged that the project does “make more space” for vehicles.
And that was the priority for commuters like Switzer. “I like it,” he said. “It’s positive.”