September 22, 2017

CT Trust Warns $1.1 Billion Susquehanna Bridge Project Might Set Unacceptably Low Bar for Environmental Protection in CT

Rendering of Susquehanna Bridge Project. Source: David Anderson, “Deadline approaches for comments on Susquehanna rail bridge replacement”, April 6, 2017, Baltimore Sun.

A June 26 announcement by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) that the $1.1 billion Susquehanna Bridge Project on the Northeast Corridor in Maryland poses “no significant impact,” drew sharp comment from Daniel Mackay, Executive Director of the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, who warned that such a decision could set an unacceptably low bar for mitigating historic, cultural and environmental resource impacts from future high speed rail projects in Connecticut.

The proposed rail bridge replacement project bisects the National-Register-listed Havre de Grace Historic District in Maryland, comprised of approximately 1000 historic structures, many from the 18th century, on the banks of the Susquehanna River, and was reported in the Baltimore Sun on June 26, 2017.

“FRA determined that the most comprehensive level of environmental review was not needed for this $1.1 billion dollar rail project in the midst of a historic coastal community in Maryland,” noted Daniel Mackay, Executive Director of the Connecticut Trust. “Connecticut and Rhode Island communities caught in the cross-hairs of FRA’s bypass proposals should be concerned for the signal sent by this Maryland project – the process ahead may not yield the protections that communities want for themselves.”

Since the FRA released draft plans on November 15, 2015 to expand new high-speed railroad corridors across coastal Connecticut and Rhode Island, under a federal planning process called “NEC Future,” the Connecticut Trust, and its grassroots partner SECoast, have led a campaign to counter FRA’s insensitive approach to transportation planning for the Northeast Corridor routes through Connecticut.

“FRA’s plan represents a once-in-a-generation decision that will fundamentally shape the communities, economies and ecology of coastal southern New England,” explained Gregory Stroud, Director of Special Projects at the Connecticut Trust, and co-founder of SECoast. “The only sure way to protect our communities from these types of impacts is to fully remove these projects from the Record of Decision.”

The FRA is expected to announce a long-delayed Record of Decision for NEC Future this summer, finalizing a blueprint for the Northeast Corridor which will shape infrastructure decisions and investment through 2040, or later. The current blueprint has been in place since a similar process completed in 1978. The Northeast Corridor, which connects cities between Washington, D.C. and Boston, is the nation’s busiest rail corridor.

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