DOT hindering West Haven Metro-North ridership by blocking off parking to store snow, station advocate Mercuriano says
The state Department of Transportation is hindering development of the West Haven Metro-North railroad station's ridership by blocking off dozens of parking spaces for storage of plowed snow, railroad station advocate Michael Mercuriano says.
A DOT spokesman says, however, that the train station's parking lots are only about 85 percent full and the number of spaces being used for snow storage in the lot on the Hood Terrace (south) side of the tracks is minimal.
"Snow storage in the lot is using about 21 parking spaces out of a total of roughly 650 spaces," said DOT spokesman Kevin Nursick. "We have typically stored the snow in this manner, with no negative ramifications."
Mercuriano says the station actually loses "close to 50 spaces ... which is terrible for the commuter."
Mercuriano, who previously has pressed the DOT to keep its promises on on bus connections, said he was first made aware of the issue by Chuck Zentarski, owner of Chuck's Garage at 52 Hood Terrace, directly across the street from the lot, who told him that desperate commuters sometimes offer to pay him to park on his property because the railroad station lots are full.
Zentarski was out of town and could not be reached for comment.
But Nursick said that on the average, the West Haven station’s lots, which at one time were to have been supplemented by a parking garage, are not full.
"The lot is at roughly 85 percent capacity" and "there are not any plans to build a garage or expand parking at this time," Nursick said. "Complaints about parking availability have been few and far between, and in those rare cases, steps are taken to accommodate customers by onsite parking staff."
Mercuriano, whose persistant advocacy has been widely credited as one of the reasons West Haven ultimately got the railroad station, which opened on Aug. 18, 2013, served as chairman of the West Haven Railroad Station Committee.
He said the station's parking lots are largely full during the middle of the week.
"The situation is, every winter, they cut off that lot," Mercuriano said. "They drop all the snow there" and "it doesn't melt until Spring."
Beyond that, "There's a lot more to it than just cutting off their spaces" because the DOT "never notify that they're going to do it," Mercuriano said.
Commuters don't find out about it until it happens, he said.
The biggest problem is that "it affects our ridership," Mercuriano said.
Other decisions, such as those involving other amenities at the station -- such as a coffee shop -- are based on ridership, he said.
"They have that cut off into Spring ... because the snow never melts," Mercuriano said.
While much of the snow on the ground from recent snowstorms has melted, as of Friday, some of the piles of plowed snow in the storage area of the lot were at least 10 feet tall.
The city's acting public works director, former state Rep. Louis P. Esposito Jr., who also is Mayor Nancy Rossi's executive assistant, has suggested that the DOT could deposit the snow on grass located west of the Hood Terrace parking lot, Mercuriano said.
Esposito said he has spoken to a DOT official and that as he sees it, "there's an embankment and grassy area behind" where the the snow is stockpiled that could be used to store it.
He also said the DOT could truck the snow offsite, as it did when the station first opened and the DOT stored the snow adjacent to the former tollbooth service building alongside northbound Interstate 95.
"They used to truck it offsite," he said.
But Nursick said that "without getting into all kinds of details, it's more ideal to store snow on pavement where it melts on its own and carries runoff, salts, and contaminants into the drainage system opposed to into the permeable grassy surfaces and into landscaping.
"Storage on the grass also risks impacting lower-lying neighbors where runoff will travel to," Nursick said. "In addition, it also costs more to move snow off site."
Esposito said that the DOT already is "taking the snow from one side of the tracks and trucking it over to the other side of the tracks."
But he wonders whether it's worth it to push for the DOT to change its procedure, asking, "Do we need the additional 21 parking spaces when we're only at 85 percent capacity? ... The main thing is, do I need 20 more parking spaces when I'm already not full?"