With just weeks remaining before the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) completes a five-year NEC Future planning process, finalizing a ‘once-in-a-generation’ blueprint for rail travel and investment along the Northeast Corridor, advocates of historic, cultural and environmental resources in Connecticut are responding warily to recent statements from Connecticut DOT and FRA officials.
“Connecticut DOT now refers to ‘aspirational recommendations’ for the high-speed rail corridor in Connecticut,” noted Daniel Mackay, Executive Director of the Connecticut Trust. “As this process nears completion, it is critical that the public and municipal officials realize that any language in the Record of Decision which references proposed bypasses in New London and Fairfield counties, as well as in Rhode Island, leaves the door open for these projects in the next stages of planning. It is imperative that FRA and Connecticut DOT permanently bar the door against these destructive bypass proposals.”
The Trust released a copy of a Feb. 10 email to Richard Andreski, Bureau Chief for Public Transportation, calling for state and federal agencies to remove all references to the proposed Old Saybrook to Kenyon (RI) from the forthcoming NEC Future Record of Decision. The Trust also asked for a commitment from both FRA and CT DOT that the Old Saybrook to Kenyon bypass not be reconsidered or reintroduced as planning for NEC Future moves forward. The Trust further warned that the proposed New Rochelle (NY) to Greens Farms bypass in Fairfield County requires a separate Environmental Impact Statement (EIS), which should only be amended to NEC Future if warranted following more careful consideration.
In an April 12 letter to FRA Acting Administrator Patrick Warren, Senator Richard Blumenthal drew attention to fresh public concerns regarding previously-overlooked plans by FRA to double to four tracks the existing rail footprint between Branford and Guilford, east of New Haven. Senator Richard Blumenthal urged the agency to “engage in thorough discussions and dialogue” with impacted residents, warning that “it is imperative that these concerns be addressed immediately” given the expected release of the NEC Future Record of Decision.
Following a pattern repeated in other communities in Connecticut and Rhode Island, the proposed Branford to Guilford rail expansion came to the attention of residents in the region, only after the release of finalized maps of the FRA’s ‘Preferred Route’ on Dec. 16, 2016. In recent weeks, six preservation and environmental groups have written to the FRA to express concern, including the Branford Historical Society, Branford Land Trust, Stony Creek Association, Guilford Preservation Alliance, Guilford Land Conservation Trust, and Hyland House.
Despite these concerns, Gregory Stroud, Director of Special Projects at the Connecticut Trust, made clear that he is hopeful for a positive outcome after nearly 16 months of advocacy on the issue. “On the merits, we believe we’ve made a compelling case that FRA delivered a terrifically flawed plan, with too many impacts, and too few benefits for Connecticut.” Stroud pointed to strong bipartisan support from representatives at the local, state, and federal levels, in both Rhode Island and Connecticut, for dropping planned bypasses, and for investments in the existing Northeast Corridor.