Local officials want say in changes to highway rest plazas
Residents and officials in New Canaan are both excited and concerned about plans to remodel the two Merritt Parkway rest plazas at exit 37 running through town, New Canaan First Selectman Jeb Walker said.
Walker said the commitment by the state's new operator to spend $178 million to upgrade the state-owned plazas is seen as a positive, though there is also interest in vetting plans and protecting important historic facets of the stations, Walker said.
"This has been a long time coming, and I'm optimistic while taking a wait-and-see attitude," Walker said. "Of course, it is something that we will have to keep an eye on as they roll out their plans because these projects can hold surprises."
Local leaders are eager to hear more details of Project Services LLC's plan to overhaul and modernize the plazas, adding more restaurants, improving traffic flow and upgrading the appearance of the 23 facilities on Interstate 95, the Merritt and Interstate 395 for the first time in more than 25 years.
Details about plans to revamp the Merritt rest plazas in Greenwich and New Canaan and to demolish and rebuild the northbound and southbound plazas on I-95 in Darien will be presented at a meeting of the South Western Region Metropolitan Planning Organization on Feb. 25, Walker said.
The meeting will be at 8:15 a.m. at Norwalk Transit, 125 Wilson Ave.
"We're meeting with groups every week about the plans," said Paul Landino, president of Project Services LLC, a partnership of the Washington, D.C.-based Carlyle Group, a private equity firm, and Doctor's Associates, Landino's North Haven-based developer of Subway restaurants.
Greenwich Town Planner Diane Fox said the effect of additional fuel pumps and the possible inclusion of Subway restaurants and Dunkin' Donuts outlets at the Merritt plazas near exit 27 in Greenwich need to be considered carefully.
The Connecticut Rest Area and Service Plaza Study, completed in 2007, identified available space to accommodate additional parking and fuel pumps.
"The designs are not finalized, but to go from just a gas station to franchises is a huge deal that is going to draw a lot of attention," Fox said. "We're concerned about the location of the pumps and other specific details that haven't been determined yet."
Work on the Darien and Greenwich facilities will be among the first to begin as part of a 5-and-a-half-year plan to upgrade the plazas statewide. Preliminary plans for Darien and Greenwich include welcome centers for motorists.
A rough timeline included in the contract calls for work in Greenwich to run from September 2011 to May 2012, while work on the Darien rest plaza will run from October 2010 to October 2011.
Centerplan Cos., of Middletown, which is owned by Robert Landino, Paul Landino's brother, will design and build three new I-95 plazas, as well as upgrades to the other facilities.
Landino said designers intend to preserve the well-known appearance of the station buildings at Merritt Parkway plazas in Greenwich, New Canaan, Fairfield and other towns.
Greenwich's northbound Merritt plaza fuel pumps will be moved farther north from near the building to improve safety in the plaza and visibility of the station buildings, Landino said.
The number of fuel pumps could be increased from four to 10 to prevent frequent backups at the northbound Greenwich plaza, he said.
"The location of the fuel islands really detracts from the potential use of that building," Landino said. "To my mind, the Merritt Parkway stations are historic buildings, and we want to preserve that value and make them as safe as we can make them."
Jill Smyth, a member of the Merritt Parkway Conservancy, a preservation group, said the state Department of Transportation and the new operators have shown receptiveness to public involvement and opinions.
"They have reached out to us and been more than willing to work with us on the design," Smyth said. "The drawings are conceptual, so we will have to look to see how many pumps they are talking about in each location and how much the appearance of the buildings will change."
The environmental effect of potential increased runoff of petroleum products and other materials from a revamped I-95 Darien rest plaza concern local conservationists involved with the nearby Selleck and Dunlap Woods nature preserves, which include walking trails, ponds, marshes and other habitat, said state Rep. Terrie Wood, R-Darien.
"I'm hearing about the environmental aspect of it," Wood said. "It's a concern that, though it is nice to have an expanded plaza, there has always been a concern about protecting those nearby lands."
DOT spokesman Judd Everhart said Project Services and the DOT plan to involve surrounding communities in the planning process.
As part of the agreement, the operator must design and build facilities that reflect their future strategy to handle traffic growth, either in the initial construction or in response to growing need over the length of the contract.
"Meeting the traveling public's needs throughout the term of the agreement is the requirement," Everhart said.
Project Services was awarded a 35-year contract in October to upgrade and run the rest stops.