NORWALK, Conn. – It’s understandable that people are upset about a Federal Rails Administration (FRA) proposal to run a new railroad track through Norwalk, Darien and Westport but concerns are premature, State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25) said Saturday.
“I am not sure there’s any there, there,” Duff said Saturday, responding to a question from Diane Cece about the Federal Rails Administration (FRA) advertised Preferred Alternative to the Northeast Corridor (NEC) rail line, which surprised Norwalk with a nebulous plan for an alternative track through the city.
The FRA’s NEC Future website encapsulates that idea thusly:
“New Rochelle to Greens Farms – New, two-track infrastructure, continuing from Westchester County, NY, through coastal Fairfield County, parallel to I-95 typically on embankment or aerial structure through Greenwich, Stamford, and Norwalk; terminating in Westport west of Greens Farms rail station.”
No one has been provided with the details of the plan, not even legislators, Cece said at Saturday’s League of Women Voters “Pie and Politics” event at the Norwalk Police station.
“Adding the high-speed rail is going to be a combination of either adding on to the existing tracks coming through our cities, Darien, Norwalk and then Westport, or potentially adding those rail lines onto the existing I-95 corridor, either of which is decimate this city in terms of property takings and what would happen along those corridors, even if some of it is tunneled underground. It seems like this project is moving ahead fairly quickly and I don’t see a lot of engagement of local officials or at the state level, in terms of what the level of knowledge is,” Cece said. “So I also want to make sure that each of you are watching it because the impact on Darien and Norwalk and Westport is going to be unbelievable no matter which way they go to do this high speed rail and, frankly, I don’t see a benefit to the communities that are going to risk the most to get people faster from DC to Boston.”
“I won’t argue with that,” said State Rep. Chris Perone (D-137), informally dubbed state “transportation czar” and more formally named chair of the Appropriations Committee’s Transportation subcommittee and chair of the Finance, Revenue & Bonding Committee’s subcommittee on Transportation Bonding.
The federal delegation objected to FRA’s Preferred Alternative when it came out in December, and “both scenarios,” either “tunneling under or running along 95,” would be terrible disruption to Norwalk, which is already expected to make a big sacrifice for the rebuilding of the Walk Bridge, he said.
“The high speed rail would be 10-year project at minimum,” he said.
“It’s on all of our radars here. I mean, we are not sending out press releases every day on it because it’s sort of a fluid situation,” Perone said. “… I think anything that is put on the table we are going to really scrutinize… Frankly, it has to be the right idea for Connecticut, too. It can’t just be that we’re accommodating Maine or Massachusetts to do this.”
“They keep saying ‘Don’t worry, this is going more slowly than you think,’ but it is true that this was drafted without consultation with the local communities and that is never a good thing,” State Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143) said, after explaining that Westport has a grant to do a Transit Oriented Development (TOD) study for Old Saugatuck, which would be decimated by the plan.
“I spoke to DOT and asked for a map and there is none,” Duff said. “It’s causing a lot more consternation and I think stress in the communities, because of the fact that nobody was consulted. It was rolled out as a concept… It’s something that as you can tell many of us are engaged in but there is nothing to report yet because we don’t have anything to report.”
Gov. Dannel Malloy recently urged FRA to table consideration of any new alignment of tracks on the Northeast Corridor through Connecticut and instead focus its “long overdue” investments on maintaining the corridor in a “state of good repair,” according to a press release.
The FRA received over 1,000 letters since making its Dec. 16 announcement and seeking public input, FRA said in a recent email. Many writers requested additional time to provide feedback before the FRA issued its Record of Decision, the email said, concluding, “The FRA will continue to consider feedback received, to the extent practicable, up to the issuance of the ROD.”
“Public feedback received to date ranges from strong support for long-term growth in passenger rail service across the NEC to concerns about the impacts of proposed infrastructure investments, particularly those associated with new segments,” FRA said. “The FRA continues to deliberate on how best to address the passenger rail needs of the region while being responsive to the feedback received.”
Malloy, in his letter to the FRA, said that Connecticut would support the ROD on the premise that it will:
- “Identify specific investments that will achieve a state of good repair and enhance performance of the NEC;
- “Eliminate any specific ‘alternative alignments’;
- “Has the support of all appropriate U.S. Department of Transportation agencies, not just the FRA; and
- “Articulates a simplified environmental approval process for critical projects.”
“The Governor is also urging the FRA to expedite approval of the many projects already in progress so there is no doubt that these near-term investments can proceed without delay,” the press release said. “Further, he is recommending that the Northeast Corridor Commission lead the development of a service development plan partnering with all states in the corridor, as well as AMTRAK, the FRA and the Federal Transit Administration.”