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Obama Money Train Speeds Past; State Gets Just $30 Million For High-Speed Rail

Connecticut Sought $227 Million For Springfield-To-New Haven Line

Don Stacom

May 10, 2011

Disappointing many Connecticut officials and irking Republican congressional leaders, the Obama administration on Monday awarded less than half of its $2 billion windfall of high-speed rail grants to the Northeast.

Amtrak's heavily used Boston-to-Washington corridor landed less than $800 million, while Connecticut received a paltry $30 million.

The money is enough to keep Connecticut working to establish commuter and high-speed service from Springfield to New Haven, but isn't nearly the financial turbocharge that transportation planners had sought.

Even though Gov. Dannel P. Malloy declared the announcement "a win," many state leaders privately admitted that it was much less than expected.

Connecticut had lobbied federal officials hard and long for $227 million to fast-track construction of the Springfield-to-New Haven rail project, and as late as last month the congressional delegation was optimistic about getting at least half of that request.

"Any money for high-speed rail is good, but I'm disappointed. This isn't as much as we deserve and need," Sen. Richard Blumenthal said Monday. "I can tell you I'll continue working for other money for this."

Malloy took a more optimistic view, saying, "We're in much better shape than we were yesterday. I'm very happy with it. I'm a half-full guy you're not going to convince me to be a half-empty guy."

House Speaker Chris Donovan, a longtime proponent for the New Haven-Springfield line, agreed: "Would I have wanted more dollars? Absolutely. But we're grateful for the $30 million. We're still moving in the right direction."

Malloy, Donovan and the entire congressional delegation said they will continue pressing federal officials for major investments in any future rounds of rail funding.

But with Republican budget hawks attacking Obama's rail initiatives throughout the country, the outlook for such grants is dimmer than a year ago.

The Republican House recently wiped out all high-speed rail funding in the current budget, and the GOP's tea party faction wants to block all fast-train projects. More moderate GOP leaders in Congress have said that the Northeast Corridor, including the Springfield spur, is the only part of the country where high-speed rail makes sense.

Republican Rep. John L. Mica, chairman of the transportation committee, criticized President Barack Obama on Monday for "scattering" the latest round of grants throughout the country. The $2 billion windfall became available because Florida's conservative Republican governor rejected the money, which had been earmarked for an Orlando-to-Tampa rail line.

Connecticut has based its case for high-speed trains on the increasingly heavy traffic congestion along the I-91 corridor, a dense population and economic development opportunities if Hartford becomes a hub for service eventually linking Manhattan to Boston and Montreal. Using the same tracks, new Metro-North-style moderate-speed commuter service would enable people between Enfield and North Haven to work in Fairfield County and New York.

The state has more than $400 million from its own funds and federal grants, but needs anywhere from $800 million to $1 billion to do all of the work.

In Monday's announcement, Amtrak, the nation's only long-haul passenger rail service that already receives a federal subsidy, will receive $795 million for work on its Northeast Corridor between Washington and Boston.

More than $400 million will go toward a Chicago-Detroit connection, $300 million is directed at advancing the San Francisco-Los Angeles line, and $336 million is set aside for new Amtrak trains serving the Midwest and West Coast.

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.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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