Shelton looks to its past for tomorrow’s transportation

City officials are looking to bring a part of the past back to transport residents from new housing and development centers downtown to local restaurants and services.

Assistant P&Z Administrator Josh O’Neill said modern trolleys — essentially modified and fancifully decorated buses — would be a perfect niche offering to move people back and forth from the eateries and commercial establishments in downtown and Bridgeport Avenue.

O’Neill has presented the plan to Mayor Mark Lauretti and local developers and business leaders and has gotten rave reviews. He now plans to survey the seven local hotels and other businesses about their needs with the aim of developing a partnership that could aid in covering the costs, whatever they may be.

“The intent of the proposal is to create an alternative method of travel throughout the city,” said O’Neill. “This would be designed to connect and integrate major areas of the city as well as ease parking needs and traffic loads in the downtown.”

Trolleys are a vestige from the Valley’s past, but the idea to bring them back started a few years ago with local businessman Mathew Calandro and Lauretti. While the idea went dormant, the trolley concept is again picking up steam thanks to O’Neill and downtown development chief Ken Nappi.

“There really seems to be a large buy-in to this,” said Nappi. “It is exciting to see we are going back to a mode of transportation that was created for the same reason we need it — to move people, economic development, make the downtown better.

“This is really a home run,” added Nappi, formerly the city’s interim P&Z administrator. “I get emotional about this. People put millions into downtown, into Bridgeport Avenue, and now to be able to move people to benefit economic traffic … it’s a fantastic thing.”

O’Neill said trolleys would be a way to get the general public to and from the apartments downtown to all the establishments along Bridgeport Avenue.

Shelton’s city landscape is changing. Construction has begun on two new developments with retail and apartments downtown. Plans are moving forward on adding apartments along Canal Street, and Fountain Square on Bridgeport Avenue will add an eighth hotel and numerous restaurants and retail shops.

All the development comes with a need for more parking and better traffic control, officials said. A trolley service could help.

“This would be a service by the city of Shelton in partnership with the developers and business community to move people for economic development while easing traffic flow and parking issues,” said Nappi. “The key to it is who is going to run it and who is going to pay for it? We will need a partnership between the city and the businesses to make this happen … everyone involved needs to have a stake in this.”

Nappi said his meeting with city officials and developers went so well that the mayor offered to start such a service this summer.

Lauretti said he could offer use of two old Valley Transit buses — purchased last year by the city — to run loops from downtown to Bridgeport Avenue and back, with strategically placed stops for passengers.

“This is something the city has needed for a long time,” said Calandro — especially with what will be an explosion of new businesses and some 700 downtown apartments coming online over the next several months.

“We have parking downtown, but there are so many people, some 30,000 commuters on Bridgeport Avenue, that do not know the area,” added Calandro. “Right now, there is no reason for them to go past Constitution Boulevard. To be able to offer an option to bridge the gap between Bridgeport Avenue and downtown is very exciting.”

The hope is to purchase two additional vehicles already built as modern trolleys. Estimates received a few years ago valued one trolley at $133,000. Calandro said annual costs, factoring in fuel, maintenance and drivers’ salaries for running one trolley Thursday through Saturday, was between $50,000 and $75,000.

But both O’Neill and Calandro said there are numerous opportunities with so many interested hotels, restaurants and retail for generating advertising revenue to help cover costs.

O’Neill said the goal is a free service, with some 22 passengers on each trolley run. If a charge is ultimately needed to help cover costs, O’Neill said the idea would be to keep it identical to Valley Transit, about $2 to $3 a trip.

The operation would offer flexible hours and routes, with weekday and weekend hours — all dependent on input received during the initial survey process.

O’Neill said the city’s initial planning has taken pointers from the Harbor Point Trolley in Stamford, which connects the Harbor Point development to downtown Stamford. The difference is that the city of Shelton would oversee the trolley operation, while a private developer handles the Stamford trolley.

One aspect of Stamford’s system that O’Neill said intrigues him is that it is free and there is a live shuttle tracker app that can be downloaded on people’s phones to give updates on trolley locations and arrivals in real time.

O’Neill said that no official Shelton route has been set, but he hopes to keep loop runs no longer than 20 minutes. He also is looking into using the Greater Bridgeport Transit bus stops for the trolley stops, since the state Department of Transportation does not allow stops in the middle the roadway.

“We want to make this service as convenient as possible for everyone who wants to use it,” said O’Neill.