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Delaware officials break ground on second phase of train station project

Photos by Evan Krape

UD President Dennis Assanis, Sen. Tom Carper and Gov. John Carney say this will be anchor point of STAR Campus

Bringing talented people to the University of Delaware is a top priority, and the start of the second phase of construction at the Newark Rail Station on Wednesday, May 30, was an important milestone in the joint effort by the University, local, state and federal governments.

The second of three phases involves construction of a new station building on the south side of the railroad tracks, which now carry Amtrak and SEPTA trains, and this phase is expected to be completed in June 2020. The station adjoins UD’s Science, Technology and Advanced Research (STAR) Campus.

With Delaware’s changing economic landscape, UD leadership is working with state and local officials to leverage the University’s resources and potential to help drive the First State’s economy.

“This is really going to bring to the place the people that we need,” UD President Dennis Assanis told the gathering of officials at the second-phase groundbreaking. “This is going to be an amazing prototypical living/learning community.”

U.S. Sen. Tom Carper spoke of his hopes that the STAR Campus, which was once the site of a Chrysler auto assembly plant, will continue to attract investors and businesses.

“I think as much as anything that we are going to do, this will push the throttle forward and enable this project to fly,” Carper said.

Phase one of the project began during the summer of 2017 and included construction of a surface parking lot, access road and related improvements. Wilmington-based Bancroft Construction Co. is the lead contractor on the site. Upon completion, officials said they hope the station will serve as an anchor for STAR Campus, and Assanis has said that he envisions STAR Campus transforming into a mini-city. With existing projects like the Chemours Discovery Hub, the Biopharmaceutical Innovation Building and the Tower at STAR, the goal is to build STAR Campus into a 21st century nexus of research, innovation and learning.

Delaware Gov. John Carney applauded UD for the progress made toward that goal.

“It's a tremendous thing President Assanis and his team are doing here, developing the workforce of the future,” Carney said. “The states that are going to be successful are the ones that can produce the best trained, best skilled workforce in the country, and we’re trying to do that right here at the STAR Campus.”

The rail station project will include improved amenities to ensure travelers are comfortable and have a pleasant experience, including a ticket kiosk, bathrooms and high-level platforms that comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). Lt. Gov. Bethany Hall-Long, who is a professor of nursing at UD, said that, while ADA compliance is required by law, having excellent facilities will demonstrate that the full spectrum of talented people are welcome.

“We’re going to have, for persons who have special needs, the opportunity to have everything ADA compliant,” she said. “So to me, as a nurse and someone who works with vulnerable populations, that is a huge deal. So congratulations to the leadership, those who spoke before me and others, to recognize that.”

State Sen. Stephanie Hansen, Department of Transportation Sec. Jennifer Cohan, Newark Council member Jerry Clifton, representatives from Lisa Blunt Rochester’s office and State Reps. Edward Osienski, Paul Baumbach and Earl G. Jaques Jr., attended the ceremony. Newark Mayor Polly Sierer said their presence at the ceremony was a sign.

“The large crowd we have gathered here today, representing various levels of government, University of Delaware, community organizations and businesses clearly indicates how important this station will be for the decades to come,” Sierer said.

The planned additions to the STAR Campus and the new station will give some train travelers a positive first impression of the city of Newark when they visit, Sierer said, reinforcing that the city is a welcoming and comfortable place.

Local, state and federal governments are contributing money to the project. The state of Delaware, SEPTA, UD, the city of Newark, New Castle County and the Wilmington Area Planning Council provided funding for rebuilding the station. The federal contribution to the project includes funds from a $10 million TIGER IV Grant from the Federal Transit Administration (FTA).

The third and final phase of the project will focus on construction of the platform, track modifications and a pedestrian overpass, and its completion is scheduled for 2021.

Tom Moritz, assistant vice president of infrastructure access and investment for Amtrak, thanked all the Delaware officials for their help in pushing this project forward.

“The reality is when people come back to our stations they are often greeted with aging facilities that lack some of the basic customer amenities,” Moritz said. “Here in Newark, that will no longer be the case. Thanks to the leadership and commitment of the Delaware Department of Transportation, travelers in this area will soon be able to access a new fully accessible station that includes improved amenities.”

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