Smart Growth for Vernon, CT
Town moves ahead with plans for transportation center

By Jason Rowe
Journal Inquirer
September 20, 2006

VERNON - Plans for an multi-modal transportation center in downtown Rockville took a step forward Tuesday when the Town Council agreed to team with the Greater Hartford Transit District to administer a $6.3 million federal grant.

Because the town is not recognized as a grant recipient for the Federal Transit Authority - the agency distributing the grant - officials said it was necessary to team up with an outside agency that would be responsible for receiving grant monies and distributing them to the town.

Under the agreement, the town would pay $64,000 to the transit district for its services.

Although the Town Council approved by the contract by a 9-0 margin, some council members still had questions about the scope of the project, in addition to the town's costs.

Under the terms of the grant, the town must provide a 20 percent match to the federal contribution, which comes to about $1.2 million. The town has already set aside about $600,000 in its capital improvement budget to meet its match obligations, Mayor Ellen L. Marmer told the council.

But Republican Deputy Mayor Jason L. McCoy said he is concerned that the town might be on the hook for more money if the federal grant were reduced significantly.

Already, the federal earmark for the project has dropped from the $6.5 million mark announced last summer to about $6.35 million. The latest figure takes into account a recent decision by Congress to reduce most federal spending bills by 1 percent, dropping Vernon's 2006 grant payment by roughly $15,000.

At one point, Marmer asked McCoy if he would be willing to give up $6 million in federal grants, to which McCoy responded, "I do if we are going to waste $1.2 million."

It is expected that the grant will be distributed in increments over the next four years.

Several council members also asked about the scope of the project, which remains something of an enigma. Since the project's conception several years ago, officials have theorized that the facility would include a parking garage along with some sort of bus station.

Connections to Rockville General Hospital have also been discussed for the project.

No site has been set aside for the project and Marmer said she plans to appoint a special committee to oversee the project and work with a planning consultant to develop a concept plan.

"This was thrown against the walls for 'ha ha's' by Larry Shaffer and it sort of came to fruition," Marmer said, referring to the former Town Administrator who now works in Amherst, Mass. "You know the old saying, if you throw enough things against a wall, something will stick? Well this one stuck."

Democratic Councilwoman Mary A. Oliver - who also sits on the Greater Hartford Transit District's Board of Directors along with Republican Councilman Mark S. Etre - said the new facility could include some sort of express bus service to Bradley International Airport.

Because of their involvement with the transit district, both Oliver and Etre abstained from the votes regarding the transportation center agreement.

Republican Christy N. Vale was absent from Tuesday's meeting.

Republican Councilman Daniel E. Anderson said the town needs to develop a strategy for the center.

"I've heard some statements about putting up a parking garage in some of the existing lots downtown. That sort of concerns me," Anderson said.

©Journal Inquirer 2006