Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Federal transportation bill locks in $6 million for Rockville

By Jason Rowe
Journal Inquirer

VERNON — A long-planned downtown transportation center received a $6.53 million boost Wednesday when President Bush signed the $286.4 billion transportation bill into law.

With a large check in hand, U.S. Rep. Robert R. Simmons, R-2nd District, was in town Wednesday to formally announce the award for the facility, which has been on the drawing board for the last few years.

Plans for the center have included the construction of a multi-level parking garage with an enclosed bus stop on land now occupied by the parking lot of 33 W. Main St., the former home of Zahner's Clothiers, known locally as the Mecca Building.

The concept also has included an elevated walkway across West Main Street to Rockville General Hospital .

A helipad could also be incorporated into the proposal, allowing the Life Star helicopter to land at the hospital without disrupting motorists and pedestrians on Union Street , officials said.

But while specific plans for the building have not been finalized, state and local officials who gathered Wednesday at Town Hall said they were thrilled with the award and were excited about sitting down to begin developing the facility.

"This is the kind of problem we love to have," Town Administrator Laurence R. Shaffer said after the press conference. "We think this $6.5 million could provide a tremendous amount of economic stimulus to downtown."

Simmons said town officials first approached him about securing funding for downtown projects roughly four years ago and the transportation facility seemed like a worthwhile investment.

After the announcement, Simmons said the new building has the potential to bring economic development into downtown by making it more convenient for residents to drive in and park their cars.

Simmons said the new facility also would promote conservation by making it easier for people to use mass transit.

"We knew we wouldn't be successful if we didn't try," Simmons told the assembled crowd, which included Eastern Connecticut Health Network President and CEO Peter J. Karl, representatives from the offices of U.S. senators Christopher Dodd and Joseph I. Lieberman, state legislators, Town Council members, and downtown business leaders.

"Public transportation is about public safety," Simmons said. "It's about moving people around in our dynamic society in a safe and efficient way."

With the money in hand, Mayor Ellen L. Marmer said she would assemble a task force to begin formulating a master plan for the facility.

The task force, which will be comprised of Marmer, Shaffer, Rockville Downtown Association officials, hospital officials, and Economic Development

Coordinator Neil S. Pade, is expected begin its work after Labor Day, Marmer said.

Although previous incarnations of the plan have called for the building's placement near the Mecca Building, officials said the facility's location and design are not cast in stone.

Marmer said discussions are ongoing with Peter Bylykbashi, the building's owner, about using the parking lot.

"The wheels of government run very slowly, much to my dismay," said Marmer, a Democrat who credited former Republican Mayor Diane Wheelock for developing the concept of the transportation center. "I'm going to make this timeline run as quickly as possible."

Rockville Downtown Association President Gene Skladnowski said the organization was looking forward to working with town officials to develop a center that will facilitate visitors to the downtown area.

"That's what makes businesses want to locate to an area," Skladnowski said.