PHILADELPHIA – 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.
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The Federal Railroad Administration dropped the proposed bypass Wednesday as it moves forward with a $120 billion to $150 billion plan for rebuilding the congested Northeast Corridor, between Boston and Washington, D.C., over the next 30 years.
Instead, the agency said it will continue to study options for more track capacity and faster service in the 100-mile stretch from New Haven, Connecticut, to Providence, Rhode Island, and that it's seeking public input.
None of the tracks, stations or other infrastructure detailed in the FRA's plan for the 500-mile corridor will be built without the support and agreement of state leaders, project manager Rebecca Reyes-Alicea said.
U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, a Democrat, credited local opposition for forcing the FRA to retreat on the Connecticut and Rhode Island bypass. He called the notion of tracks running through historic Old Lyme and other communities along Connecticut's southeastern shore "misguided," poorly conceived" and "untethered from reality."
U.S. Sen. Richard Blumenthal, who declared the project "dead on arrival" when it was proposed last December, called the FRA's reversal a "victory for common sense." The Connecticut Democrat disputed the need for further study. He called the bypass a "non-starter" and said "not a single penny nor minute of effort" should be spent on it.
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Kim Coulter, an owner of the family-run Stoney Hill Cattle Farm in Charlestown, Rhode Island, said she's glad the FRA heeded residents' concerns that the now-shelved project would cut across conservation lands and sacred tribal burial grounds.
"They heard us," Coulter said. "They knew that we were concerned. They knew that we weren't happy."
The FRA's plan calls for enhancing capacity, performance and reliability on the corridor, which handles about 2,200 trains and 750,000 passengers each day on commuter and intercity trains. It includes plans for updating infrastructure, adding more trains to accommodate an expected ridership surge and building new tracks allowing speeds of up to 220 mph in some places.
The next steps will be deciding how the plan will be implemented and how it will be funded, all while making sure construction doesn't hamper day-to-day operations, Reyes-Alicea said.
"That's one of the greatest challenges," she 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 45 minutes to 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.
Associated Press writer Susan Haigh in Hartford, Connecticut, contributed to this report.
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