December 15, 2017

Documents Reveal FRA Chose High Speed Rail Routes Through CT in April: Advocates Call Last Week’s FRA Forum in Old Lyme a “Charade”

The following is the text of a press release we received from SECoast, a wholly independent special project of the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation devoted to the issue of high speed rail along the Northeast Corridor in Connecticut:

‘Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) documents obtained by SECoast and the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation reveal that the FRA finalized maps for new Amtrak high-speed rail routes through Connecticut as early as April 6, 2016 and that this information was known by CT state agencies no later than mid-July.

Maps included in the documentation show a “Preferred Alternative” which includes a “coastal bypass” through southeastern Connecticut. The bypass is now opposed by every municipality on the proposed route. The “Preferred Alternative” also confirms new high-speed rail routes through Fairfield County, Connecticut. The document includes a sign-off from the Connecticut State Historic Preservation Office (SHPO) dated July 21, 2016. The document finalizes procedures for how the FRA will address historic resource impacts from future construction of high speed rail routes and related projects.

These dates contradict months of denials by both the FRA and Connecticut Department of Transportation (CONNDOT) that the route is not finalized, including assurances by NEC Future Project Manager Rebecca Reyes-Alicea at a long-sought August 31 public forum in Old Lyme. That meeting was attended by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, Rep. Joe Courtney, state legislators, and local leaders, as well as a standing-room-only crowd of more than 500 residents from throughout the region.

Dates and signatures on these documents show that the FRA circulated maps of their preferred high speed rail route to state and federal agencies no later than July 12, 2016. The FRA document is available at www.achp.gov/docs/nec-future-investment-program.pdf. That same week, both the FRA and CONNDOT issued official denials that internal Connecticut DOT emails, obtained by SECoast through the Freedom of Information Act, suggested a decision on the “Preferred Alternative” occurred as early as February 18, 2016 — just two days after the close of public comment.

Gregory Stroud, executive director of SECoast, a regional organization leading grassroots opposition to the planned bypass, described the denials and withholding of information by the FRA and Connecticut DOT as “cynical.” “If you look at these maps, it’s pretty obvious this is the same plan that Connecticut DOT Commissioner James Redeker described in email back on February 18th. That’s just two days after the FRA received well over a thousand public comments in opposition to the bypass. For Reyes-Alecia to come to Old Lyme and pretend that her agency values public input, suggests not just flawed planning, but bad faith.” Stroud pointed out that two Freedom of Information requests to the FRA, for detailed maps and planning documents on the bypass, remain outstanding. Those requests were filed on April 4, 2016.

“Connecticut is more impacted by routing of Amtrak’s next generation of high speed rail service than any other state between Washington and Boston,” observed Daniel Mackay, Executive Director of the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation. “Now that FRA’s preferred route for high speed rail is finally public, the first step the agency should take to rebuild public trust is to reopen the public comment period on the Tier 1 EIS. Our state’s residents deserve the opportunity to comment on the single final route proposed through Connecticut, and a final decision on routing should be delayed until meaningful public input has been entered into the record and answered.”

Mackay noted that none of the public’s questions submitted in advance of the FRA’s forum in Old Lyme last week will become part of the Tier 1 EIS public record. As such, the FRA is not required to provide answers to those questions, or acknowledge receipt of petitions totaling over 4000 names in opposition in southeastern Connecticut, unless the public comment period is re-opened.

If FRA does not reopen the public comment period, an “official” announcement of the “Preferred Alternative” is expected in September, with a final Record of Decision to be published later in the fall.”

SECoast is a wholly independent special project of the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation devoted to the issue of high speed rail along the Northeast Corridor in Connecticut. Launched in 2016, this collaborative effort partners concerned local residents in Southeastern Connecticut and the Lower Connecticut River Valley with the state-wide resources and expertise of The Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation.

The Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation preserves, protects and promotes the buildings, sites, structures and landscapes that contribute to the heritage and vitality of Connecticut communities.

Supporting documentation and a timeline received with the press release are provided below:

Selected quotes from the press detailing denials by the FRA and the Connecticut DOT:

July 1, 2016, The Day (New London, CT), Drelich, Kimberly. “Organization says emails show FRA wants bypass through Old Lyme.”

http://www.theday.com/article/20160701/NWS01/160709901

“The FRA said in response that it has not made a decision on its preferred alternative.”

State DOT Spokesman Judd Everhart confirmed that the DOT released the emails.

But he said the DOT still is awaiting a decision from the FRA on a “preferred alternative” for an upgrade of the corridor.

He noted that they are nowhere near choosing a final design for expansion in the corridor, never mind actually starting construction.

“FRA has not yet selected a vision, or even potential routes, for the Northeast Corridor,” Matthew Lehner, director of communications for the FRA, said in an emailed statement.

Dana Honor, a Murphy spokeswoman, said Thursday (June 30th) that “There has not yet been any official ruling on which plan the FRA will choose, but Sen. Murphy will continue urging all agencies involved to listen to the people of Old Lyme and come to a decision that benefits both Connecticut travelers and those who call the area home.”

July 14, 2106, The Hartford Courant, Stacom, Don. “Blumenthal Slams Idea Of Amtrak Bypass Through Old Lyme.“

http://www.courant.com/news/connecticut/hc-blumenthal-amtrak-0714-20160713-story.html

“Unfortunately, some of the ideas the FRA has proposed are frankly half-baked, harebrained notions that will never come to fruition — including rerouting Amtrak straight through the community of Old Lyme … and other shoreline communities where there is strong, understandable and well-merited opposition,” Blumenthal told (Amtrak Vice President Stephen Gardner) Gardner at a Senate subcommittee hearing this week. “

“Gardner replied … the FRA has said that any alarm about its long-term alternatives is needless, since it’s only in the early stages of study. The agency has said it isn’t close to designing detailed plans for any of the alternatives.”

August 17, 2016, POLITICO, Morning Transportation. “Old Lyme doesn’t want a new rail bridge.”

http://www.politico.com/tipsheets/morning-transportation/2016/08/check-another-one-off-obamas-truck-it-list-215927

[Quoting an FRA Aide in response]”What’s more, he said, the agency has already committed to local leaders that if the bypass makes it into the final blueprint…”

August 23, 2016, The Westerly Sun, (Westerly, RI) White, Brooke Constance. “Group seeks more info on bypass.”

http://www.thewesterlysun.com/news/richmondhopkinton/9254768-154/group-seeks-more-info-on-rail-bypass.html

“When asked to respond to questions about the proposed alternatives, a Federal Railroad Administration spokesperson said: “FRA has not yet selected a vision, or even potential routes, for the Northeast Corridor. We have met with many leaders and residents throughout the corridor, including in Connecticut, and have talked with them about their concerns. We are taking these opinions into account as we continue our work.”

August 31, 2016, CT Mirror, Constable, Kyle “Federal rail official: ‘No elevated track’ in Old Lyme; spokesman creates doubt, but later clarifies”

Federal rail official: ‘No elevated track’ in Old Lyme; spokesman creates doubt, but later clarifies

[Marc Willis, an FRA spokesman in retraction:]

“If the new segment is included in the final vision for the Northeast Corridor, FRA has committed to not have an aerial structure through the historic district of Old Lyme,” Willis said. “A tunnel is on the table.”

“The next step in the process – if we get there – is the Tier II review, which includes additional opportunities for input from leaders and citizens,” Willis added.’

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Comments

  1. Well,I guess this answers the question of “Where is Governor Malloy?”. His DOT and its Commissioner has been working against the citizens of this region.

  2. To be clear, because we are still at tier 1, and we caught this before they announced, the FRA still has the flexibility to walk this back, and perhaps quietly drop the bypass. I’d be happy for the FRA to claim we’re wrong on this.

    If we had taken them at their word, and waited around for tier 2, we’d be stuck. And it would be mission accomplished for Conn DOT and the FRA. We were potentially days from being forced into a long-term legal fight. We will see…

  3. Michele Smith Dickey says:

    Has Sen. Blumenthal issued any further comment?

  4. Does anyone have a DETAILED map of the proposed bypass?

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