What Florida doesn't want, CT does: State seeks more rail money
Following Florida's rejection of $2.4 billion in federal high-speed rail funds, Connecticut officials formally submitted an application Monday to use $227 million of the money to improve a rail link from New Haven to Springfield, Mass.
"New train service will connect communities, generate sustainable growth, help build energy independence and provide links to travel corridors and markets beyond our region," James Redeker, the acting commissioner at the state Department of Transportation, said Monday.
The New Haven-to-Hartford-to-Springfield line is intended to provide a link between central Connecticut, lower Fairfield County and New York north to Massachusetts.
The money would be applied to the third phase of the project, which would put a second track between Hartford and Springfield, according to the DOT.
Connecticut has already committed $259.3 million in matching funds toward the $880 million project to upgrade the 62-mile line, which is owned and operated by Amtrak, to provide more frequent service and speeds of up to 110 mph, according to the DOT.
In a statement, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said the project would support efforts to reduce traffic along Interstate 84 and Interstate 91 while encouraging transit-oriented development -- clusters of housing and businesses around rail and bus stations.
"Once implemented, this line will support up to 50 daily passenger trains reaching speeds of up to 110 miles per hour -- providing some of the best rail service in the nation," Malloy said in a statement. "Furthermore, the project will create about 13,000 construction-related jobs and produce important environmental energy and economic benefits."
Last year, the U.S. Department of Transportation awarded $161 million in high-speed rail grants for the first two phases of the project to complete the line between Meriden and Hartford.
The state aims to finish design of the project by 2013 and have the upgrades completed by 2016.
Brie Sachse, a spokeswoman for the U.S. DOT, said Tuesday the agency had no official tally of how many applications for the money had been received.
Applications will be judged on criteria that include environmental benefits from reduced energy consumption, efficiency increases to a region's overall transportation network and whether it will provide sustained economic activity.
State Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, vice chairman of the Connecticut General Assembly's Transportation Committee, said a larger federal share paid toward the New Haven-to-Springfield project would help save state dollars to fund needed improvement projects on the New Canaan and Danbury lines.
The more frequent service on the New Haven-to-Springfield line, which would run every half hour during peak periods, would benefit Fairfield County's business climate by shortening commutes for workers from eastern and central Connecticut to jobs in southern Connecticut, Duff said.
"It helps all of us, especially down here," Duff said. "If you talk to any commercial broker, they will tell you there is an easterly migration of employers because of housing prices, and it will help us keep more employers."
Floyd Lapp, executive director for the South Western Regional Planning Agency, which handles transportation planning in lower Fairfield County, said local leaders are concerned the federal and state focus on high-speed rail is diverting funds from the estimated $325 million in high-priority projects to repair and improve the eight-mile New Canaan and 24-mile Danbury lines.
Both New York state and Amtrak are submitting other applications from the region, including $1.3 billion toward Amtrak's Gateway project, part of a long-range improvement plan unveiled last year to establish higher speed rail service between Washington, D.C., and Boston.
The request includes $570 million toward a $720 million project to replace the more than 100-year-old moveable bridge over the Hackensack River, Amtrak spokesman Steven Kulm said.
The request package also includes $188 million for initial environmental and economic analysis of two passenger tunnels that would run from New Jersey to New York under the Hudson River into New York City's Penn Station, according to Kulm.
"The new tunnels would significantly increase capacity, allowing N.J. Transit to add 13 more trains per peak hour into New York City," Kulm said.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo has requested $517 million in funding for high-speed rail projects, including $112 million for a new signaling system on the upper Hudson Line between Croton and Poughkeepsie and $49.3 million for the Moynihan Station project to improve the flow of pedestrians through Manhattan's Penn Station.
Lapp said along with Metro-North's planned improvements to open Penn Station to New Haven Line traffic on Manhattan's West Side ties in with the Amtrak project, eventually giving Connecticut workers quicker commutes to New Jersey jobs. The future capacity for New Haven and Hudson line trains at Penn Station has not been determined, according to Metro-North Railroad.
Another prospective project to extend the New York City subway's No. 7 line from Penn Station to Secaucus Junction in New Jersey would provide another option to shorten trips for Connecticut workers to jobs in northern New Jersey, Lapp said.
"There is a lot going on out there related to this, and it's good to see Amtrak leading the charge," Lapp said. "Imagine what it would be like to get to Penn Station from Metro-North and from there being able to access far west Midtown and New Jersey. It would be a wonderful tri-state worker benefit."