February 26, 2020

Op-Ed: Proposed Northeast Corridor High Speed Rail Route Cuts Through Old Lyme Historical District, Public Comment Now Extended to Feb. 16

Proposed routes for high speed rail track under Amtrak's Northeast Corridor modernization plans.

Proposed routes for high speed rail track under Amtrak’s Northeast Corridor modernization plans.

One month ago, with little fanfare, the Federal government announced a plan to modernize the Northeast Corridor by rerouting high-speed rail lines over a new bridge crossing the Connecticut River, across the saltwater marshes at the Lieutenant River and through the historical district of Old Lyme.

The plan appears so nonsensical, from a local perspective, that it is very easy to dismiss out of hand. It will never happen. A high-speed rail through our little town, the home of American Impressionism? A town so wonderful, in its own way, that from a local perspective we feel well-neigh untouchable.  It will never happen.

But then, I ask you, when did you first hear of the plan? And why not? Public comment was originally scheduled to close on January 31st. It has been extended two weeks until February 15th. After that, I am told, our leverage will be immeasurably weaker, and our task considerably more difficult and more lengthy. This odd silence should give us pause. Why haven’t we heard?

To be sure, this is a slow train. And it will take years of revision and appropriations, and very likely it will never happen in its entirety. But I urge you to look at the plan. It’s available for study and comment at www.necfuture.com. There is no doubt that at least part of this plan will happen. The Connecticut River crossing will be modernized. And the preferred alternative—there are three—will be chosen later this year. If Alternative 1 is chosen as the preferred option, even if it is later blocked, it will hang over our town for a decade, or more, promising destruction, lowering property values, troubling mortgages.

Yes, from a local perspective the plan is absurd, but the plan was not written from a local perspective. Alternative 1, the plan that most directly impacts Old Lyme, from the Federal—even on the state level—appears, on its face, the most sensible, the least expensive, the least impactful. In fact, if you look carefully through the footnotes, which discuss in detail the cultural and historical casualties, you will find that for the entire rail line from Boston to Washington, D.C. only one town is slated as a serious loss: Old Lyme. That should give us pause.

In fact, what concerns me most about Alternative 1, is just how sensible it appears, if you’ve never visited Lyme Street, or paddled down the Lieutenant or heard of the Old Lyme Art Colony.  One plan will be chosen. Let’s not make it easy for the politicians, the planners in Washington and Hartford.

Please contact our representatives at the Federal level, in particular, and submit public comment at http://www.necfuture.com/get_involved/ . We only have two weeks.

Dr. Gregory Stroud
Old Lyme, CT