Federal officials are rethinking a plan to build new high-speed railroad tracks through parts of Connecticut and Rhode Island after complaints that the project would devastate neighborhoods, marshlands and tourist attractions.
The Federal Railroad Administration dropped the proposal from the latest version of a $120 billion to $150 billion master plan, released Wednesday, to rebuild the congested Northeast Corridor between Boston and Washington, D.C., over the next 30 years.
Instead, the agency said it would continue studying options for adding track capacity in the 100-mile stretch from New Haven, Connecticut, to Providence, Rhode Island, and seek input from residents and officials in both states.
Connecticut officials applauded Wednesday's announcement.
“The welcome demise of the misguided and poorly conceived plan to realign railway tracks through communities across the southeastern Connecticut shoreline is a testament to the grass roots effort and perseverance of local residents and town leaders,” Rep. Joe Courtney said in a release. "I want to thank the FRA for listening to the overwhelming input of citizens and for continuing to work with my office to achieve the best solution for the residents of southeastern Connecticut.”
Gov. Dannel Malloy commended the FRA's decision.
“They have responded directly to requests made by the State of Connecticut to enable significant and necessary investments to address an estimated $38 billion backlog in state-of-good-repair assets, and we thank them for their consideration of our concerns,” Malloy said.
Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal declared the idea of tracks through historic Old Lyme and other communities on Connecticut's southeastern shoreline "dead on arrival" last December, when it was included in an earlier draft of the master plan.
The FRA said construction can't begin without the agreement of state leaders.
"We proposed an informed option that we wanted to put on the table and get reaction," said Rebecca Reyes-Alicea, who is managing the Northeast Corridor project for the agency. "We really see the study as a positive move in the right direction."
The master plan Wednesday calls for enhancing capacity, performance and reliability on the Northeast Corridor through updated infrastructure, more trains and new tracks that would allow speeds of up to 220 mph. It's the first comprehensive look at the future of the 500-mile corridor, which handles about 2,200 trains and 750,000 passengers each day on commuter and intercity trains.
The next steps will be deciding how the plan will be implemented and how it will be funded, Reyes-Alicea said.
The FRA estimates rebuilding the Northeast Corridor would cut travel times between Washington and New York by 35 minutes, to about 2 hours and 10 minutes, on the fastest trains and save more than an hour on trips between Boston and New York, which now take close to 4 hours.
Work has already begun on some projects incorporated into the FRA's plan. They include a project to build new, expanded tunnels under the Hudson River between New York and New Jersey, so far pegged to cost $12.9 billion, and a project to replace a 143-year-old tunnel in Baltimore.