Love Fest Over Rail Funding
“Thrilled” and “victory” were just a few of the words thrown around Friday at Hartford’s Union Station by officials gathered to celebrate approval of $40 million in federal funding for the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield commuter rail line.
U.S. Sen. Chris Dodd, U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, House Speaker Chris Donovan, and Gov. M. Jodi Rell patted each other on the back and thanked each other for their work in securing the funds.
“This is a landmark day for the state and the state’s transportation system,” Murphy said prior to introducing Dodd, who played a big role in securing the funds as chairman of the Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee.
“Every step of the way he has just been a Godsend,” Rell said of Dodd. “You really have lead the charge.”
What Rell neglected to talk about was the three-month delay in Connecticut’s approval of $26 million in bond funds the state needed to show its commitment to the project. The state’s funding was finally approved at a Bond Commission meeting earlier this month.
The funding had been pulled from the October agenda because questions about the project remained and Department of Transportation officials, at the time, didn’t have the answers. When the December Bond Commission meeting was canceled there were a few lawmakers who wondered if the project would move forward at all.
“It wasn’t easy,” Donovan said.
But now even with the funding in hand the work is hardly over.
Department of Transportation Commissioner Joseph Marie said the total cost of turning the Amtrak line which extends 62-miles along the I-91 corridor is estimated at $800 million. He said to double-track the line from New Haven to Springfield it will take about four or five years.
The $40 million in federal funds will pay for double-tracking of 10-miles of line between Newington and New Britain.
“It’s just a start for this line,” Marie said.
When asked if she was disappointed other regions of the country including California, Florida, and Illinois, Rell said Connecticut only received $1 million less than it had requested and plans on applying for some of the $2.5 billion available next year.
As soon as news of the funding broke this week Marie said he received a call from the Secretary of Transportation in Massachusetts who was just as excited as he was about the funding the New England corridor received.
“You just can’t look at this as a microcosm,” Marie said. “We’re part of a whole region.”
The six New England states received just under $200 million.
Dodd talked about how project’s like the high-speed rail line do so much good for the economy including creating jobs and sustainable development.
“But there’s still a lot more work that has to be done,” Dodd, who decided earlier this month not to seek reelection, said.
But what happens when Dodd is gone next year.
He didn’t know, but believes U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman will step up to the plate and help out as a new senator is seated.
“It would be a waste of federal money if they didn’t complete it,” Dodd said of the rail project.
And just in case anyone was wondering, Dodd said he still has “no regrets” over his decision to retire.
He said he’s got one more year left on his contract and even if someone offered him a free pass to return to the Senate for a another term, “I don’t think I was ready to do it.”