Rail plan draws 80 to Pawcatuck forum

Rail plan draws 80 to Pawcatuck forum

The Westerly Sun

STONINGTON — There was standing room only during a community forum on the Federal Railroad Administration’s proposed high-speed, inland bypass held at the Pawcatuck Firehouse Tuesday night.

State Sen. Heather Somers (R-Groton), who hosted the forum with Gregory Stroud, executive director of CT Trust for Historic Preservation’s grassroots organization SECoast, shared some of the specifics of the Northeast Corridor Future plan and what’s being done to fight it. About 80 people attended.

The plan, which Stroud said is projected to cost around $120 billion, would add additional rail lines inland of the existing tracks that wind along the shoreline and would allow the Acela to reach top speeds and shave off around 25 minutes travel time between Boston and New York City. The new tracks would go through parts of Stonington, Westerly and Charlestown that are already developed or are intended for preservation as open space. At the moment, there is no plan to remove the existing tracks.

Although Stroud said he doesn’t think residents should be alarmed, he does believe that they should take the project seriously.

“This is not just a plan anymore,” he said. “This is something called a programmatic environmental impact statement, which is really a blueprint. Right now we have a blueprint dating all the way back to 1978. Once the next blueprint is confirmed, it’ll take us to 2040 and will be extremely difficult to change. Even if the bypass isn’t built, the route and its effect will hang over the towns.”

Somers reminded the attendees to keep everything in perspective as the project is nowhere near being close to funded at this time.

“From what I’ve heard, there’s not even any money to do the second part of the environmental impact study,” she said. “We don’t know what the new administration is going to do.”

Many of the state and federal legislators are in opposition to the plan and Somers said the best way for citizens to oppose the plan is to send emails and make calls to local, state and federal legislators.

“At a meeting in the summer in Old Lyme, Senator Richard Blumenthal, who is on the Appropriations Committee, said he would lay down on the tracks before he would allocate funding for the plan,” she said. “Myself and Senator Paul Formica have put together a bill that says that no dime of state money will be used for this project unless each town has a referendum and approves the plan. And I know it would never pass here in Stonington.”

Stroud agreed with Somers, saying that the project is widely opposed on the state and federal level and added that every impacted municipality in Rhode Island and Connecticut is on record in opposition.

First Selectman Rob Simmons said he became concerned when he found out that the rail administration was supposed to contact interested parties such as historical societies, municipalities and other organizations and stakeholders but never received any communication about the project.

“Westerly, Stonington and Charlestown were all left out. We were never asked what our thoughts on the project were,” Simmons said. “It’s my opinion that this study was flawed from the very beginning. I say let’s fix what we have and not spend tens of billions of dollars for something that will greatly disrupt our community.”

Olde Mistick Village Property Manager Chris Regan encouraged everyone to attend a meeting and make sure their voices were being heard. He was at a meeting with representatives of the rail administration in Old Lyme over the summer and was amazed at how many people were there.

“The gymnasium was packed and it was the biggest meeting the FRA had ever had,” he said. “We need to have a coalition here like that and drum up the same amount of support from residents. As locals, we need to speak up because this affects us. If you really care about the community, you’ll get involved.”

State Rep. Diana Urban (D-North Stonington), who was not in attendance at the meeting, said that she has not seen the rail administration’s NEC Future proposal on the list of President Trump’s infrastructure project list.

“This is an Obama administration study and this could all change with Trump being elected,” she said. “I don’t see anything like this on his list of 50 infrastructure projects.”



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