State leaders celebrated Monday after Connecticut landed a $121 million federal grant to rebuild the Springfield-to- New Haven rail line for high-speed trains, but acknowledged that it was about $100 million less than they wanted.
Gov. M. Jodi Rell and most of the state's congressional delegation gathered outside the downtown Amtrak station to announce receiving about 5 percent of the latest high-speed rail funds handed out by the federal Department of Transportation. They proclaimed that the project will spur residential and commercial development along the 62-mile line, creating an economic renaissance for central Connecticut communities.
"This is going to bring 8,000 construction jobs, and that's the tip of the iceberg when you consider what this neighborhood will look like in 10, 15 or 20 years," U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy said. "This unlocks almost limitless economic development potential."
U.S. Rep. Rosa DeLauro predicted the rail line will strengthen Connecticut's long-term economic future, and meanwhile will help ease the 27 percent unemployment in the state's construction industry.
"And these jobs can't be outsourced," she said.
Connecticut had sought $220 million, mostly to rebuild the second set of tracks that Amtrak removed about 20 years ago and to install a modern signal system. The money would also be used to reconstruct grade crossings, improve small bridges and culverts, rebuild drainage systems, erect several new stations and make other improvements on the line.
Over the long term, the state expects to need $1 billion to upgrade the entire system to accommodate high-speed trains to major cities along the East Coast. At the same time, it will be building the infrastructure for a moderate-speed, high-frequency commuter service, fairly similar to the Shoreline East and Metro-North operations on the shoreline.
The commuter trains would link New Haven, Hartford and Springfield with more than a half-dozen communities in between, including Meriden. Coupled with $266 million in state bonding and a previous $40 million federal grant, the $121 million will be enough to get the commuter rail system running by late 2015, state Transportation Commissioner Jeffrey Parker said.
The plan for 110 mph service linking Boston, New York, Montreal and Washington, D.C., doesn't envision service starting until 2020 at the soonest. That initiative is costlier and far more complex than the commuter operation, since it requires electrification of the line and extensive coordination with rail systems in New York, Vermont, Massachusetts and Canada.
U.S. Rep. John Larson and Sen. Christopher Dodd, who worked for two years to get a share of the federal funds for Connecticut, said Monday was a day to celebrate. State House Speaker Chris Donovan predicted that modern, high-frequency rail service will remake his hometown of Meriden by attracting new housing and businesses downtown.
"A strong regional high-speed rail line will commercially and socially reshape our state and New England as a whole," Larson said.
Dodd said the federal investment will ensure future aid in later rounds of high-speed rail grants. Rell said Connecticut will continue pursuing other federal grants, and state transportation leaders said Amtrak will be expected to put forward money as well. Getting the work started is what's important now, Rell said.
"This has been on the drawing board for years. We're doing it," she said.
"We're building a trans-Connecticut railroad," Donovan said.
Even with the $446 million already committed, the project budget doesn't have enough to rebuild two major pieces of the infrastructure: the Connecticut River bridge in Enfield and the rusting, half-abandoned viaduct at Union Station in Hartford. That work, along with electrification of the route, would require more money.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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