Newer, more efficient, better looking, easier to use and more environmentally friendly are some of the improvements that redevelopers are promising after year-long renovations of both Darien rest stops on Interstate 95.
Project Service LLC, a Milford-based company with a 35-year concession for the state's 23 rest stops, partly in return for renovating them, conducted a public meeting Wednesday at to describe its reshaping of the service plazas and answer any questions from town residents.
About eight showed up, including two reporters and two selectmen—Jayme Stevenson and John Lundeen.
"The entrances and exits will remain the same," said Bill Fries, project and design manager at Centerplan, a development company working with Project Service. "Pretty much everything in between will all be redone and rebuilt."
Work on the northbound side is scheduled to start on March 22; on the southbound side, by April 30. It is expected to take about a year for the projects on each side to be complete.
In the meantime, each service area will be completely closed to the public, leveled to the ground, contaminated soil taken care of, underground fuel tanks replaced, and then the entire site will be rebuilt.
The two service plazas are among 23 rest stops around the state that Project Service LLC has the concession to develop and maintain. It has 10 on Interstate 95, another 10 on Route 15 (the Merritt and Wilbur Cross parkways) and three on Interstate 395.
Project Service has been late in starting various projects, including the ones in Darien, which were originally due to start in October, according to an article last December in the Connecticut Post. The article stated that the Darien projects were expected to be started by February.
Project Service, headquartered in Milford has a 35-year lease to act as landlord for the service plazas as each is rebuilt to more modern standards. Motorists are using the plazas more and spending more money in them, according to state transportation officials, the Connecticut Post reported.
Traffic concerns during construction
Lt. Don Anderson of the Darien Police Department told Paul Landino, CEO of Project Service, that Darien could face some traffic problems while the rest stops are closed if truckers decide they need to get off the highway for food or rest.
The town isn't equipped for it, he said.
The railroad bridge going over the Post Road is too low for many trucks to get through, he said, and there's no good place in town for a truck to park for a long rest.
Landino said he hopes to get truckers to stop at the Fairfield or Milford rest stops while the ones in Darien are being worked on.
A new look
The main buildings for each rest stop will be 24,000 square feet in size, and while they'll be one story, that story will rise under high cathedral ceilings. A taller central area will be under a cupola.
The buildings will have a maritime theme with stone siding on the bottom, beneath the windows, and clapboard sides and sloping roofs, Fries said. "That was one of our goals—to try to get a more New England look," he said.
The main buildings for each Darien rest stop will look like the other, and both will look like the rest stop about to open in Milford. (Project Service provided a picture of the outside of the new building—see attached image.)
Along with Mobil/Exxon, McDonald's, Subway and Dunkin Donuts as the "core tenants" at each rest stop, there will be room for about five other "brands," including a retail gift store and a convenience store.
There will be more parking spaces for trucks and cars at each rest stop:
- On the southbound side, parking for cars would increase from 113 to 129; for trucks, from 19 to 70 spaces; for buses, from none now to three.
- On the northbound side, there should be parking for 135 cars (up from 103), parking for three buses (down from five now) and spaces for 21 trucks (up from the current 13).
Plans also call for more restrooms.
Better for the environment
Replacing the buildings, each more than 50 years old, creates opportunities for incorporating environment-friendly features such as solar panels on each canopy roof, along with more energy efficient mechanical and lighting systems.
"Truck idle elimination systems" which provide electricity and even wifi, cable television and air-conditioning service for truckers will remove the need for the trucks to idle for long periods of time, reducing polution. Contaminated soil under each rest stop will undergo environmental remediation.
New stormwater drainage systems will be put in place with water quality devices, drainage detention systems and new catch basins. Already, an oil-water separation system has been installed.
On the southbound side, the amount of pavement on the ground will be reduced during redevelopent of the former state emissions testing station.
Welcome to Connecticut—Spend Money Here
On the northbound side—the first service plaza that an out-of-state driver would see in Connecticut—a "Connecticut Welcome Center" will provide tourism information. A similar kiosk in North Haven resulted in 4,000 hits per month of travelers searching out places to stay and eat in the state, Landino said.
The current northbound service plaza has a large booth with brochures, maps and other information, but the new one will also have a digital kiosk where travelers can "research locations, make reservations, print directions and pay for entertainment tickets," according to a news release distributed by Project Service at the meeting.
First Selectman Jayme Stevenson asked whether or not the Darien Chamber of Commerce could also have a presence in the rest stop. Landino said he would welcome it.
- Landino said he'd like to explore having Connecticut farmers sell their products at the rest stops in Darien and elsewhere.
- Cars and trucks will turn into fueling stations that are set at 45 degree angles to the flow of traffic, which Fries said was a more efficient use of space. They will be able to pull into and out of those spots without having to back up, he said, just as they presently do.
- McDonald's, Dunkin Donuts and Subway will each have drive-up windows, so drivers can buy food without leaving their cars.
- Small offices for state troopers will be located at each rest stop for the convenience of state police, who can decide if they want to use them.
- Truckers will be directed to the back of the buildings, while travelers in cars will be parking at the sides. Fuel services will be provided in the front of the buildings, facing the highway.
- A spot will be set aside for buses to drop off and take on passengers.
- The northbound Darien rest stop, the first highway stop for those traveling from New Jersey into New England, is the busiest one in the state, Landino said, adding, "I believe it will always be the busiest." His company may be able to move some of the heavy traffic at the rest stop to other rest stops, further along the highway, possibly using an app the company has developed, he said.
Darien meeting spots?
"I really want to make these facilities community facilities," Landino said. "If these facilities are top-notch [...] if we make these things comfortable, it could be a place to meet. [...]
"I'd like to see more sophisticated stuff take place in these facilities, as they are most convenient for people en route" to different events around town, he said.
Editor's note: For a report of a much more boisterous meeting between Project Service and residents living near Milford rest stops, see from December 2010, published by Milford Patch.