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Dodd: Connecticut Has Solid Chance Of Receiving Funds For New Haven-Springfield Rail

DON STACOM

July 27, 2009

HARTFORD - As Connecticut tries to grab a share of $8 billion in stimulus funds to build a high-speed rail system, the competition will be severe.

Thirty-nine states want that same money, and the government would need more than $100 billion to meet all of their requests, according to preliminary figuresfrom the Federal Railroad Administration.

Still, U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd says the New Haven-to-Springfield line stands a solid chance of getting money when grants are handed out later this year.

"We can pitch a great case. We're in the hunt," Dodd said. "Can I guarantee it? No. But this is not a bad place to be we've got a congested [transportation] corridor, this line can be an economic engine and we're going to be part of connecting Boston and New York."

As chairman of the Senate committee overseeing transportation, Dodd is a key player in New England's bid to land federal money for rebuilding a half-dozen rail routes to link all of the region's major cities. He plans to invite Vice President Joe Biden, a major Amtrak supporter, and Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood to Hartford within the next two or three months to show why New Haven-Springfield deserves high priority.

Various Congressional delegations throughout the country are planning their own strategies to promote passenger rail projects to the Federal Railroad Administration, which will start awarding grants this fall. The deadline to apply was in mid-July, and the agency was inundated with 278 proposals some from states such as Montana, Iowa, Idaho and West Virginia that don't even have federally designated corridors for high-speed trains. Meanwhile, New York, Maryland, California and Nevada are proposing mega-projects that could consume more than $8 billion each.

The railroad agency's staff will weed out some of the $103 billion in proposals, either because the projects aren't ready to go or they don't link major metropolitan regions. But even so, the requests will vastly overwhelm the agency's stimulus budget.

Connecticut, Massachusetts and Amtrak are eager to get $800 million 10 percent of the overall pool of money to rebuild and modernize the New Haven-to-Springfield rail line. That would provide the infrastructure for two separate services: Amtrak high-speed trains linking Springfield and Hartford to the Acela route on the coastline, and slower, more frequent commuter trains making nearly a dozen stops along the way.

Dodd believes that notorious traffic congestion will help persuade the railroad agency to favor the Connecticut project.

Rep. John Olver, D-Mass., another key member of the New England delegation, wrote a transportation funding bill last week that would add $4 billion to the railroad agency's stimulus budget.

"It became very clear, very quickly, that the $8 billion in the stimulus was not nearly enough to satisfy the states' hopes and expectations," Olver said through a spokesman Friday. "There is a lot of pent-up demand out there. Federal dollars had never been put on the table before, and we have seen 40 states come in with plans totaling many times the funds available."

Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn. and chairman of the House transportation committee, is pressing for a five-year investment of another $50 billion to develop 11 high-speed rail corridors linking major metropolitan regions. The flood of bids for funding shows that "the need to develop a national high-speed passenger rail system is far greater than the funding resources currently available," he said through a spokesman.

New England's governors are expected to present their case to federal rail officials at a meeting in Vermont in early August.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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