Last week, West Hartford Mayor Scott Slifka gave the 2015 State of the Town address at a West Hartford Chamber of Commerce event. The speech was an upbeat analysis of the Town’s priorities and current status; a thorough recap can be read here.
One recurring theme was West Hartford’s forward looking focus on transit oriented development.
Slifka said at one point that neither he, nor anyone else on the Town Council, were big fans of the Fastrak project that is passing through Town. The project is approaching completion, with service scheduled to start on March 28, 2015. There are two stations in the southeastern corner of West Hartford – one at the intersection of New Park Avenue and Flatbush Avenue, and another at the intersection of New Park Avenue and New Britain Avenue.
Despite a lukewarm opinion of the massive busway project, the Town has proactively taken steps to try to make it as successful as possible. Slifka said that zoning regulations along New Park Avenue have been modified to allow residential property uses.
More important to Slifka was that train service continue along the busway corridor, and that West Hartford get a future train station.
Slifka identified Brunswick, Maine, a coastal town north of Portland, as a place of interest. What resonated with Slifka was that some of Brunswick’s residents commute by train to jobs in Boston, which is about 130 miles away.
He said employees that only need to be in the office one or two days a week are able to choose both the lifestyle of Brunswick, and the job in Boston. Rail service between the two makes that lifestyle possible.
Brunswick Station is one end of the Amtrak Downeaster route, connecting through Portland to Boston’s North Station twice per day. The trip is advertised as 3 hours and 25 minutes, and there is currently one morning train and one evening train per day. There are five each day between Boston and Portland.
Slifka felt that West Hartford, with regular train service in town, could provide a similar experience. He noted that both New York City and Boston would be within commuting distance of West Hartford, making the Town even more attractive to those types of workers.
West Hartford sees an opportunity to capitalize on Transit Oriented Development, and is setting the bar high. The next step will be improving train service through the state, which is already under discussion.