Organizations say maps show FRA's preferred routes

SECoast and the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation say they have new evidence that the Federal Railroad Administration has been planning for months on including a rail bypass through Old Lyme in its "preferred alternative" for future rail investments.

The organizations said in a news release this week that documents they obtained indicate the FRA has "finalized maps for new Amtrak high-speed rail routes through Connecticut," with a bypass through southeastern Connecticut shown as part of a preferred alternative.

The maps, dated April 6, 2016, are contained within a document, signed this summer by Connecticut's State Historic Preservation Office, the FRA and other parties, pertaining to how they would comply with the National Historic Preservation Act during the NEC FUTURE process.

But the FRA reiterated this week that it has not yet finalized a recommendation for a preferred alternative for NEC FUTURE, a proposal for long-term investments in the Northeast Corridor.

A Tier 1 draft Environmental Impact Statement for NEC FUTURE considers a "no action" alternative and three alternatives, including Alternative 1, which features an Old Saybrook-Kenyon, R.I., bypass.

The maps, referenced by the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation and SECoast, a nonprofit collaborative between the trust and local residents, are contained with a "Programmatic Agreement" signed in July and August by the FRA, Federal Transit Administration, Advisory Council on Historic Preservation and the state historic preservation officers of Connecticut, Delaware, District of Columbia, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island. 

Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., said in a statement that "These documents raise serious concerns about the transparency and sincerity of this process and I have demanded a thorough explanation from FRA. I continue to stand with Old Lyme in staunch opposition to this half-baked and hare-brained idea. This project is a non-starter."

The document states that it is intended to "establish the framework" for compliance with the National Historic Preservation Act "during future environmental review processes for NEC Tier 2 Projects."

Daniel Mackay, executive director of the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, said the organizations found the document — which lays out an agreement between federal and state entities on how they will assess and mitigate potential impacts to historic resources during the planning process for the Northeast Corridor — on the website of the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation.

The document, which was dated Aug. 25, was discovered by the groups this past weekend. It has since been taken down from the site, Mackay said.

SECoast posted the document Wednesday evening on its website.

In response to the news release, both the FRA and the state Department of Transportation issued statements saying the FRA has not finalized a recommendation.

"At the public meeting in Old Lyme last week, FRA made it very clear that nothing is final until the Record of Decision has been made, and that is not anticipated until the end of the year," state DOT spokesman Judd Everhart said. "Prior to that point, any statement about the FRA final recommendation or alignment choice is premature."

"Later this year, FRA plans to make a recommendation for the future of the Northeast Corridor," an FRA spokesman said. "The recommendation will be just that — a recommendation — for a path forward. We have not yet finalized the recommendation, though we are making progress toward its conclusion."

"Ultimately the recommendation will reflect the wide variety of opinions we have heard on the most effective way to bring faster, more reliable passenger rail service for millions of NEC commuters and travelers,” the spokesman said.

At the meeting last week in Old Lyme, the FRA said it will release its preferred alternative in early fall and issue a final record of decision by the end of the year.

The NEC FUTURE Tier 1 draft Environmental Impact Statement also considers Alternative 2, which proposes an additional rail route from New Haven to Hartford, and then from Hartford to Providence, and Alternative 3, which proposes two possible routes for a new rail line between New York City and Hartford, and two possible routes between Hartford and Boston.

SECoast had announced in July that it obtained emails indicating state DOT officials discussed in February that the FRA wanted for its preferred alternative the rail bypass, along with a modified version of Alternative 2.

Both the DOT and the FRA said at the time that a preferred route had not been selected.

Gregory Stroud, executive director of SECoast, said the organizations requested detailed maps from the FRA in April through the Freedom of Information Act.

"We are calling on the FRA to come clean, to comply with the Freedom of Information Act, to release meaningful maps, and to answer public questions in a full and timely manner," Stroud said in an email interview.

k.drelich@theday.com



NEC Future Environmental Impact Statement Alternatives Map (PDF)

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