Stonington residents pack firehouse to oppose rail bypass

An Amtrak Acela train travels through Old Lyme, Conn., on Oct. 18, 2016. Stonington residents packed a firehouse meeting Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017, to oppose the plan for a high-speed rail bypass that would run along the shoreline through southeastern Connecticut. (Michael Dwyer/AP Photo)
An Amtrak Acela train travels through Old Lyme, Conn., on Oct. 18, 2016. Stonington residents packed a firehouse meeting Tuesday, Jan. 24, 2017, to oppose the plan for a high-speed rail bypass that would run along the shoreline through southeastern Connecticut. (Michael Dwyer/AP Photo)

Stonington — Approximately 100 people who oppose a proposed rail bypass through town packed the bays of the Pawcatuck Fire Department on Tuesday night to discuss how to stop it.

The meeting, which was organized by state Sen. Heather Somers, R-18th District, comes as the Federal Railroad Administration considers approving a $10 billion to $15 billion bypass from Old Saybrook to Kenyon, R.I., as part of a plan to decrease the time it takes to get from New York to Boston. The bypass is part of much larger $120 billion plan to improve service in the Northeast Corridor.

The new line would cut through Old Lyme’s village area, where residents have fought the plan for a year, and head east parallel to Interstate 95. When it reaches Stonington, it would cut through the rear of Olde Mistick Village and the Mystic Aquarium, and through Elmridge Golf Course in Pawcatuck. It also would run through the aquifer that provides water to Westerly and Pawcatuck residents and no longer would serve the existing train stations in downtown Mystic and Westerly.

Gregory Stroud, the executive director of SECoast, a group opposing the plan in the region, told residents “there’s not a reason to be alarmed but we should take this seriously.”

He described the plan as a blueprint for the Northeast Corridor that would replace the existing plan that was created in 1978 and would guide rail development through 2065.

“And once that blueprint is confirmed, it’s very difficult to change. It will take the courts,” he said. “Once it gets in the plan, it’s not going away."

Stroud added that having the bypass in the plan would result in decreased value of properties along the bypass route — even if it is never built.

He also said that if the bypass is built, there is no plan to remove the existing line that runs along the ocean, something he said many towns would support.

Somers told the crowd that the state’s Congressional delegation, state legislators and the state Department of Transportation all oppose the plan. In addition, she said she is among a group of legislators who have introduced a bill that would ensure “not one dime of state money can be used for the project” unless every town in the state approves it at a referendum.

She added that destroying the historical character and damaging the local economy and environment is not something people in the region want to do to help New York-to-Boston riders shorten their trip by 20 minutes.

First Selectman Rob Simmons, who also opposes the project, reiterated his call that money should be spent to upgrade existing lines and bridges, extend commuter rail service and make safety upgrades.

“I love trains,” he said. “But let’s fix what we have instead of spending $10 billion that threatens to disrupt our community.”

Residents can send comments to the FRA at info@necfuture.com through March 1. In addition, the FRA will hold an open house Wednesday from 4 to 7 p.m. at 60 Congress St. in Springfield, Mass., where a hub for another bypass is planned.

Closer to home, a rally will be held at the Rhode Island statehouse in Providence from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Wednesday to oppose the plan.

j.wojtas@theday.com

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