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Connecticut Joins The Hunt For Florida's Fast-Train Money

Don Stacom

February 19, 2011

With Florida abandoning its high-speed rail plans, Connecticut is looking to Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood for $100 million of the money set aside for that project.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the state's congressional delegation want the Obama administration to divert that money to help build the New Haven-to-Springfield high-speed train line.

They're emphasizing that the partisan atmosphere that scuttled Florida's project this week isn't a risk in Connecticut. Malloy's request on Friday was endorsed by the state's two top Republicans, House Leader Lawrence Cafero and Senate Minority Leader John McKinney.

And congressional leaders are pressing the point to LaHood that prominent Republicans in Washington have already said that dense populations and crushing traffic congestion make the Northeast a sensible place for high-speed trains.

"We have a very compelling case there's no better place to build high-speed rail," Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said Friday afternoon. "Florida's misguided judgment may be our blessing. Their funds are a huge target of opportunity for us."

U.S. Rep. John Larson, D- East Hartford, has promised "an all-out assault" to land the money.

Florida's newly elected conservative Republican governor this week rejected $2.4 billion that LaHood had awarded for an Orlando-to- Tampa high-speed train system. New York and California officials have already begun lobbying LaHood for a share of that money, and several other states are expected to join them.

President Barack Obama's national high-speed train initiative seemed to coast along for the first two years of his administration, with dozens of states scrambling for a share of the $8 billion in seed money that LaHood was offering.

But the November elections brought fiscal hawks into many statehouses, and new Republican governors in Wisconsin and Ohio promptly turned back their high-speed train grants. LaHood spread that money across about 10 states, but gave Connecticut nothing.

"I've spoken at length with [Deputy Transportation Secretary] John Porcari, who was encouraging," Blumenthal said. "The delegation is united and we're pressing as strongly and strenuously as we can."

Connecticut wants to work with Massachusetts and Amtrak to build a 62-mile line that would accommodate trains going up to 110 mph. The state estimates that the project would cost as much as $1 billion, and has put up $282 million so far. Connecticut previously asked for $220 million from the Federal Railroad Administration, but has gotten only $121 million. Landing another $100 million from the Florida giveback would bring the total budget to about $500 million.

"[This] corridor is key to expanding rail service between Boston and New York, via the inland route, and expansion of rail service into Vermont and Canada," Malloy said in a letter to Obama co-signed by Cafero, McKinney, House Speaker Chris Donovan and Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams.

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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