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West Hartford to Receive $2 Million State Grant for New Park Avenue Improvements

New Park Avenue looking north from Elmwood CTfastrak station. Courtesy of Town of West Hartford

A second round of ‘Responsible Growth and Transit Oriented Development’ grants, totalling $8.5 million, were announced Friday by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s office.

By Ronni Newton

The morning after the Town of West Hartford celebrated the grand opening of 616 New Park, the West Hartford Housing Authority and Trout Brook Reality Advisors striking mixed-use, transit-oriented development, town officials learned that a $2 million grant application for desired improvements to the roadway had been approved by the state.

Mayor Shari Cantor and several other officials said Thursday that 616 New Park will be a “catalyst for future development,” and just one day later that appears to be already coming true.

A total of approximately $8.5 million in grants were announced Friday by the state under the second phase of Responsible Growth and Transit Oriented Development Grant Program, which according to a news release is “a competitive grant program that supports transit-oriented development and responsible growth in the state and is targeted at boosting economic activity and creating jobs.” In December 2017, $4.5 million in grants were announced as the first phase of the program.

West Hartford’s grant of $2 million is for implementation of a “Complete Streets” plan for New Park Avenue. According to the announcement, it will be designated for the construction of “complete streets infrastructure improvements along New Park Avenue from New Britain Avenue to Oakwood Avenue, consistent with the recommendations of the 2017 New Park Avenue Transit Area Complete Streets Study.  Improvements include a road diet with center turn lane, landscaped medians and protected bike lanes, new street trees, lighting, wayfinding signage and other amenities, and a pocket park at the gateway to the Trout Brook Trail.”

The introduction to the town’s study notes that “the fundamental challenge for New Park Avenue is the juxtaposition of the auto-centric corridor with industrial and suburban style retail uses, four lanes of vehicular traffic, no bicycle accommodations, and narrow sidewalks with the expected influx of pedestrians and bicyclists.” The work which will now be able to be accomplished under the grant will make vast improvements to the streetscape and allow for safer and more accessible access by pedestrians and bicyclists.

“We are really excited,” Town Manager Matt Hart said Friday. “This will allow us to capitalize on work on New Park Avenue that will be accomplished in collaboration with the Elmwood Business Association, the Home Design District, and the West Hartford Housing Authority.”

There was some disappointment when West Hartford’s application, made over a year ago, did not lead to a grant in the first round, but Hart said that he thinks having a plan already in draft form, and having the ability to engineer the exact plans in house, helped the town gain approval in the latest round of the program.

“We appreciate the state support and shared vision for this very important corridor,” Hart said. He also praised the work of town staff for their work that went into applying for this significant grant.

Director of Community Development Mark McGovern said that the application, which was completed about 18 months ago, utilized the results of the New Park Avenue Transit Study which had involved community engagement and in depth traffic studies, with several alternatives suggested for ways to make improvements. The final design plans for the project will be completed as part of the work funded by the grant.

“It will take a year to design and a year to construct,” McGovern said Friday. The first year is designing of the improvements, which can’t be finalized until the survey work has been completed, he said.

Mayor Shari Cantor said she was excited that West Hartford was one of the five communities chosen to receive a grant.

“The timing is perfect because we just had a ribbon cutting at 616 New Park Avenue which is a good example of how an investment can transform an area and entice new businesses and residents to put roots there. This grant will be the catalyst for new development and will bring vitality to the New Park corridor,” Cantor said.

“We are thrilled with the opportunities that this grant will bring and we thank Governor Malloy for his support,” said Cantor.

According to town staff, “West Hartford’s match will consist of $949,800 to be funded from in-kind services for survey, design, and public outreach, as well as utilization of capital projects fund monies.”

“Transportation isn’t just about cars, trains, and buses – it’s about building vibrant communities and continuing to make Connecticut a more attractive place to live, visit, and do business,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said in a statement announcing the grants. “Today’s grant awards will build upon the smart, targeted investments we have made in recent years, which have already lead to significant growth in transit-oriented development across the state.”

OPM Secretary Ben Barnes said in the news release that the grants fund projects which “are essential to moving Connecticut’s economy forward,” and will create jobs as well as infrastructure enhancements in the short and long-term.

In addition to West Hartford, Danbury, Hartford, Stamford, and Torrington will receive grants in this latest round. Hartford’s grant, of $450,000, will be used “to develop a Complete Streets Vision Plan for a section of Main Street from State House Square to the vicinity of South Green in order to identify improvements to bike and pedestrian amenities, and prepare complete construction documents for future buildout,” and to implement the Innovation District Activation Program.

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