Monday, February 19, 2007

Renovation from Square One...

The key to reviving Springfield and making it stand on its own is the maintenance, restoration, and in some cases, resuscitation of the city's neighborhoods. However, downtown's restoration is among the most costly and most complicated in the city.

In my view, as well as the view of other prominent politicians, the renovation of Union Station is essential. However, in recent years the project has stalled, casualty to the seemingly endless black hole of municipal corruption. The project would be dead were it not for the advocacy of Cong. Richard Neal and the inevitable answer of what to do with the unspent moneys remaining.

The need is obvious. The Amtrak station today, though humble and efficient, limits the rails' potential. I speak not of the planned commuter rail, which I support only guardedly. Annual Amtrak ridership hovers around 115,000. I think there is room for growth if Amtrak spruces up the New Haven-Spfld line and we get better Boston connections. The bus station is a disgrace. If you're into olfactory punishment, walk in there and take a big whiff. You will then understand and hopefully come over to my side. The current renovation, however, calls for bizarre arrangements, which include a ramp for buses up to track level (why?), negotiations with CSX (good luck), and private investment (long since vanished). It appears that this project was ill conceived and ill managed. Large multimillion dollar government projects can and do succeed. Well planned and well-designed, if a little over budget and behind schedule, the new federal courthouse will be completed in less than a year.

Union Station, if it is to ever see glory again, must start over. Certainly I am no engineer and I cannot offer cost estimate for the proposals I am to lay out here. However, the debate needs to begin quickly so it can end and move on to real work and progress. I apologize in advance to the crudity of these images*.

Above is a Google Map/Satellite hybrid of the area surrounding Union Station. I have added color coded overlays to the map to indicate alterations that would be made to the station and to the street scape.

To begin as is marked in red, Frank B. Murray Street would be made one-way and closed to traffic excluding buses. Intercity buses and city buses could enter from either direction on Main Street following an
alteration to the median between the "Arch" and Liberty Street. Buses would then pull into the station's former loading docks that face the street, as seen here in a photo from The Rogue Journal. That area is also marked with a red faded cloud to the left of the word "bus docks." Buses would exit following a new road, also in red, that would dump onto Liberty Street. Just below that red cloud over the old cargo docks is a yellow bubble. If the docks may be insufficient as is, following a slight demolition of part of the station now flush with the sidewalk, more bus gates could be added. In green, to the immediate left, I have indicated the only place where I believe private property taking may be necessary. This would only be needed if widening Frank B. Murray becomes necessary to facilitate bus movements. Finally, I have indicated in orange, the path of a smaller, simpler ramp to carry buses over part of the property of the current bus terminal to Frank B. Murray, eliminating buses' need to compete with Main Street traffic. This part of the proposal is optional, but has the benefit of allowing Frank B. Murray to be physically closed from Main Street and prevent hapless drivers from wondering into the path of buses. Peter Pan could sell or develop the old terminal, but keep the garage. An air walk indicated in purple, would cross Main Street and connect to new development on the plot formerly occupied by the Hotel Charles.

With most of Frank B. Murray cut off to passenger cars, a new way to circulate private automobile traffic to the station must be developed. The blue oval that connects Frank B. Murray, Liberty, and Dwight Street denotes where a road could be built to drop-off passengers. The larger oval also represents the boundary for a new park. The smaller oval, which would probably be ideal as it feeds into current traffic arrangements better, preserves the new park, and still allows efficient circulation into and out of Union Station. The final piece of the puzzle is on Lyman Street. The current station entrance would be maintained and used as the station's taxi stand. While private automobiles would be discouraged from picking up and discharging passengers there, it would not be prohibited.

Most of these plans are exterior and street modification, but these also seem to be the ones that
are holding up the project most. Current interior renovation plans will probably be sufficient. I would encourage Amtrak to maintain their current facility, but expand into the main building. Ticketing and baggage would move into new facility, while the smaller track level waiting room could remain. Amtrak Police might serve their mission best by remaining at track level. Main waiting facilities would be in the station, however. In addition, high level platforms should be built for at least part of the platform length to accommodate easier boarding. High level platforms are a problem for freight trains so this would be need to be taken into consideration. In exchange for track and bridge maintenance in and around Springfield, I would offer Amtrak its space rent-free. To be fair the same would be offered to Peter Pan. Hopefully retail business would support the building's general operation.

As has been said before, the unfortunate part of the situation is that Union Station faces away from most of downtown. Indeed, as far back as the 1940's, the entrance on Lyman street, facing most of what was then and still is downtown, saw the bulk of foot traffic. However, with the improved traffic flow, it is possible that downtown may see an expansion north and make better use of the space between the railroad and 291. Union Station can be the starting point at integrating the two bisected regions of downtown.

Like no other, this project represents the city: stuck in neutral amid controversy and corruption. Its success is a must for a wider downtown and city revival.

*Please email for a better quality picture of the map.

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