Newark Regional Transportation Center Project Aims to Revitalize Passenger Rail in Delaware
Bigger, Better, and State-of-the-Art: The New Multimodal Transportation Hub Brings More Transit Options to Newark, Delaware
There were several issues with the design of the former rail station located at 529 South College Avenue in Newark, Delaware. For starters, the facility built in 1997 would be best described as a small security guard shack, lacking the room for essential public amenities such as restrooms and indoor waiting areas. Also, the existing low-level asphaltrail platform (which is still there) creates accessibility challenges because it is lower than modern design standards – and makes it harder for passengers to board and disembark from trains in a timely manner.
What’s more, a lack of multimodal options and limited parking stifles the venue’s use by the students, staff and others who commute to the nearby University of Delaware (UD), a major economic engine for the state – and even beyond. Each year, this nation-leading research institution supports $4.7 billion in economic activity and more than 33,000 jobs in the Northeast Corridor region.
Fortunately, things are about to change. Backed by a host of public and private stakeholders, efforts are underway to build the Newark Regional Transportation Center (NRTC), a state-of-the-art transportation hub owned jointly by the Delaware Department of Transportation (DelDOT) and Delaware Transit Corporation (DTC). The new 6,500-square-foot complex is being constructed just west of the previous rail station, which was demolished in summer 2018.
This multifaceted project broke ground in summer 2017 and is on track to conclude in December 2022. Once completed, the new-and-improved transit complex will have more vehicle parking options, a station building with various public amenities, a high-leveltrain platform, a pedestrian bridge, a bicycle parking area, expanded bus service, major track modifications and other related improvements.
A Smart Investment
Financing for the $65 million NRTC project comes from a combination of local, state and federal sources, including DelDOT, the city of Newark, the Wilmington Area Planning Council (WILMAPCO), New Castle County and the University of Delaware. This development also received a $10 million TIGER IV grant from the U.S. Department of Transportation.
“This transportation center will have an impact not just on passenger rail service to Newark, but on the economy of the entire region,” says U.S. Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.). “TIGER grants are competitive and awarded to projects that will advance mobility, community and sustainability.”
On top of improving existing freight operations, the project aims to expand Amtrak and Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority (SEPTA) regional passenger rail services and unlock future opportunities with the Maryland Area Regional Commuter (MARC) Train Service.
Other key project stakeholders include Norfolk Southern Corporation (the state’s largest freight operator), the Federal Transit Administration and the Federal Railroad Administration. According to project officials, the more modern Newark transit station will help resolve some of the operating conflicts that exist between freight and commuter rail, including issues at the rather large and active freight yard located nearby.
A Multi-Phased Project Approach
Construction has been divided into five separate contracts, each one led by a different general contractor. Whitman, Requardt and Associates, LLP is the prime design consultant with WSP USA and Arora Engineers, Inc. serving at subconsultants for all phases. Century Engineering Inc. is primarily handling the construction engineering responsibilities for the project with GRL Engineers Inc. providing assistance with acceptance testing on drilled shafts being constructed for Amtrak’s overhead catenary structures.
The first contract was awarded to Greggo and Ferrara Inc. to create a 450-space parking lot incorporating transit access, kiss-and-ride, and electric vehicle charging stations. This phase began in summer 2017 and took about a year and a half to complete, wrapping up in December 2018.
Bancroft Construction Company was selected to build the two-level, 2,370-square-foottransit station, which commenced construction in summer 2018. A ticketing station, public waiting area and restroom facilities will be on the first floor, and the second level will be accessible by elevator and grant entry to the pedestrian bridge spanning the train tracks. At the time of reporting, the general contractor was on schedule to finish the building sometime this fall.
“We also have a contract for advanced catenary pole foundations, which are being constructed to support Amtrak’s electrified lines over the rail track. That project, awarded to PKF Mark III, Inc., began in spring 2019 and is anticipated to be completed this fall as well,” notes DelDOT Construction Engineer Jonathan Ledger, PE.
Design Engineer Todd Oliver, PE of WRA adds, “Two additional projects are currently in design stages. One is grading for track relocation, which is scheduled for next year between summer and winter. The other involves construction of a high-level, 980-foot-long station platform and a 40-foot pedestrian bridge that spans the train tracks; this phase is expected to take place between fall 2021 and winter 2022.” The new high-level platform, he adds, is engineered to be compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and Federal Rail Administration standards. The general contractors for the last two contracts are yet to be determined.
Design and construction experts are utilizing a slew of innovative technologies to enhance project efficiency, reduce redundancies and waste, and improve coordination efforts. For instance, a multidisciplinary building information modeling tool called Revit was employed to create an appropriately sized server room in the station to house the technological equipment and communication systems required by various transit providers.
“From a design standpoint, the Revit model is one of the best tools we have used because it allows us to visualize all project details in 3-D, and in real time. This leads to better coordination between the architects and the engineers, more so than what we might typically see in a two-dimensional development or building,” Oliver notes. “It is also a very useful tool for developing and editing the architectural renderings efficiently.”
Ledger adds, “As part of the building’s construction, we placed Bluetooth-enabled SmartRock sensors within the structural concrete elements as they were being poured. This product links to a mobile app on your smartphone, allowing you to monitor the internal temperature and strength of the concrete in real time. It gives you the ability to efficiently move to the next phase of work but still analyze the concrete as it cures. We bought a few dozen of these devices, and they’ve proven to be a nifty inspection solution.”
Transit is Integral to University’s Future
Also of note is the new transit station’s adjacency to UD’s Science, Technology and Advanced Research Campus, or STAR Campus, which is situated on 272 acres at the site of a former Chrysler vehicle assembly plant and administration building. On its website, UD describes this one-of-a-kind development as “an emerging hub of innovation in health, energy, the environment, and financial technology and services” that combines “top-notch academics, world-changing research, creative entrepreneurship and successful community partnerships.”
Approximately 1 million square feet of real estate are either in use or under construction at the mixed-use development, an area surrounded by residential neighborhoods and easily accessible to both Interstate 95 and downtown Newark.
“The University of Delaware has made a conscious effort to develop the STAR Campus into a regional asset. This includes plans for transit-oriented development and allows for future expansion of the station’s current services,” Oliver says. DelDOT Project Manager Bradley Damtoft, PE adds, “We worked hand in hand with the university in the early planning phases of the NRTC project. They have an overall master plan for their STAR Campus, and we wanted to make sure the new transit station concept aligns with that plan.”
He continues, “In terms of design, one of our biggest achievements is the creation of a new city block system that is much more user-friendly than the existing five-legged intersection, which was confusing and created safety issues.” He stipulates that this “complete street concept” will integrate with the blocks that UD has proposed for its STAR Campus and accommodate all types of users – from transit systems and passenger vehicles to pedestrians and bicyclists.
“Another thing we looked at is future abilities for parking structures. Right now, we are only creating surface-level parking, but the parking lots are designed so that there could be parking garages in those spaces eventually,” Oliver says. He adds, “A multi-level parking structure also provides the option for potential future transit-oriented development at ground level.”
The architectural concept of the new transit complex blends modern and historic elements. In addition to the overhanging brackets and brick that pay homage to the former station, the design has sustainable features such as rain gardens on the platforms and in parking areas as well as photovoltaic arrays and vegetative roofs.
“We felt it was important that the station reflect the innovative and forward-thinking nature of the STAR Campus,” Oliver notes. “The green roof is not only a visual indicator of the design’s attention to energy and water conservation, but a functional one as well. It will help to manage and filter some of the stormwater runoff from the building as well as help to offset the pervious material on the site.”
DelDOT also worked closely with UD to identify the campus’ utility needs for its street block layout. “As part of the first construction contract, the project team installed water mains designed not just to supply water to the new station, but with high enough capacity to accommodate future campus development,” Oliver says.
Currently, the Star Campus contains UD’s College of Health Sciences, research facilities for UD’s vehicle-to-grid technology, Delaware Technology Park, and much more. Next year, UD expects to open the Ammon Pinizzotto Biopharmaceutical Innovation Center, and Chemours will be completing its global research and development facility, known as The Chemours Discovery Hub.
With even more private and public developments on the horizon, the Newark Regional Transit Center will be vital to regional growth and vitality as it connects multimodal transportation systems to the STAR Campus and other key areas in Newark.