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Feds Explore Options to "Transform" Northeast Rail Infrastructure at Meeting in Hartford

Several people at the meeting said they only recently learned of the FRA's proposals for the corridor.

The Federal Railroad Administration is looking at ways to overhaul the Northeast Corridor -- the busiest commuter rail system in the country that runs through parts of Connecticut. 

Officials in Hartford Wednesday night fielded comments at a public hearing on the FRA's proposals for redevelopment

Some residents and officials from smaller towns voiced concern that new rail development would disrupt cultural heritage sites in their communities -- others at the meeting advocated for more transit connectivity.

“Moving out here to Connecticut, it was very difficult for me at first to be able to get around in the state,” said Donna Farvard, who originally hails from California and now works for the advocacy group ConnPirg. 

“I ended up deciding to buy a car just to get from Storrs to Hartford for work. The decision to do that was very difficult for me, because, one, the cost of being car-dependent, but also the environmental impact of being car-dependent as well,” Farvard said. 

The first option presented by the FRA would maintain the current state of rail in the northeast with repairs to the current infrastructure, alleviation of the more congested areas in the corridor, and the addition of a new line between Old Saybrook and Kenyon, Rhode Island. 

Credit Ryan Caron King / WNPR
Donna Farvard of the advocacy group ConnPIRG at the FRA hearing in Hartford.
Credit necfuture.com
The third option for the northeast rail corridor presented by the FRA, with the heftiest price tag of over $250 billion.

But the second option presented, one that caters more to commuters like Farvard, would add a new line between Hartford and Providence with a stop at the UConn Storrs Campus. 

The third alternative, with the heftiest price tag of over $250 billion, would include options for several other new rail connections in the northeast, such as a tunnel between Long Island and New Haven. 

But some say there's still not enough information to help them make an informed decision on what option is best. And several people at the meeting said it was only recently that they learned of the FRA's proposals for the corridor. 

One question that remains is how they’ll fund it, as retired transportation engineer David Chase brought up during the hearing. 

“In the reports, it doesn’t talk about is it FRA money, is it Amtrak money, is it city money, is it state money. And I think you probably need to start presenting that,” Chase said. 

News from earlier in the day that General Electric will be moving their Connecticut headquarters to Boston hung over the meeting, and a few people voiced concern that if major rail development wasn't brought to Connecticut, the state wouldn't be able to compete with other states in the region. 

“People are leaving this state, I think we all get that. And for us to attract young people, it’s going to be difficult for Connecticut because we’re competing with Boston," said Steve Mitchell, a board member of the East Coast Greenway bike trail organization. He was there advocating for more bicycle-friendly connections on the corridor's rail system. 

Hartford resident Hewan Essue said he thinks the FRA's rail overhaul could benefit the "least privileged in our society" -- but he thinks the FRA should coordinate more with current state transportation projects, like the I-84 highway rebuild in Hartford

Credit Ryan Caron King / WNPR
Hartford resident Hewan Essue speaks during the hearing.

"There's an airport in this state. I've heard nothing about connectivity with the airport, which I think would be a great benefit to the region also," Essue said. "We're now planning to rebuild I-84 in Hartford I guess within the next ten years or so -- are we now going to build this new stretch of highway and 15-20 years later rip it apart again to put rail in?" 

FRA officials said they will review the comments they collected from the public and announce the preferred option in the spring. 

Ryan Caron King joined Connecticut Public in 2015 as a reporter and video journalist. He was also one of eight reporters on the New England News Collaborative’s launch team, covering regional issues such as immigration, the environment, transportation, and the opioid epidemic.

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