Senator Boucher Applauds Fairfield County Support For Proposed Improvement Of Norwalk/Danbury Train Line

February 25, 2009

Senator Toni Boucher (R-26) applauded the show of regional support before the General Assembly’s Transportation Committee for her proposed legislation to make improvements to the Norwalk/Danbury Train Line.

Senator Boucher’s proposed legislation, SB 425, An Act Concerning The Improvement Of The Norwalk/Danbury Train, was a subject of a recent public hearing. Senator Boucher is the leading Republican Senator, or ranking member, of the Transportation Committee.

“As a long time advocate for the Norwalk/Danbury train line, I found it extremely important and timely to have so many leaders and organizations from our region stand up and speak out in favor of making necessary improvements. Their overwhelming support for implementing the recommendations of the Norwalk/Danbury Branch Line Improvement Plan is critical and will go a long way in convincing the state to continue its investment in improving mass transit in Fairfield County. Their abundant support was noted by the entire committee and by the DOT. I thank all who took the time to make the long journey to Hartford to testify, or submit written testimony, and assure them that I will continue working with my legislative colleagues to move this important initiative forward,” said Senator Boucher.

Those who expressed support for the proposed legislation include: Weston First Selectman Woody Bliss who also chairs the South Western Region Metropolitan Planning Organization (SWRMPO); Wilton First Selectman William F. Brennan, member of SWRMPO; Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi; Gail Lavielle of Wilton and member of the Connecticut Public Transportation Commission; Tim Beeble of Bethel; Jonathan Chew, Executive Director of Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials; and Molly McKay, CT Sierra Club Transportation Committee Chair, and Martin Mador, CT Sierra Club Legislative Chair.

Senator Boucher said that much of the testimony in favor of her proposed legislation pointed out the need to complete the CTC signal upgrade, which is the key to making other necessary improvements. She said that supporters of her proposed legislation agreed that making additional, necessary, improvements to the train line must be the focus of the state Department of Transportation. Also, she said there was much support for extending the train line to New Milford and, eventually, electrification of the train line.

“Decades of regional and state long range transportation plans and studies have led to implementation of some projects that improve highway operations and safety in the Route 7 corridor. On the rail side, little progress has been made. Even though the regional long range transportation plans of the South Western Region and the Housatonic Valley Region have designated Danbury Branch Line improvements as a priority, few improvements have been implemented,” said Weston First Selectman and SWRMPO Chair Woody Bliss.

“First, there is good news. The Route 7 widening project in Wilton will be fully completed in approximately one year. This is offset by the not-so-good news that rail improvements to the Danbury Branch have not progressed beyond maintenance activities. Needed infrastructure and state upgrades are long overdue . . . Improvements to the Danbury Branch centralized traffic control (CTC) system have made little progress for more than a decade. This is an essential safety and operations project that will upgrade the manual block traffic control system to a safety-compliant and state of the art system,” said Wilton First Selectman William F. Brennan.

“This is perhaps the most difficult year for budgeting in recent memory, and I am not envious of what lies ahead for all of you. There will be some very difficult decisions we all need to make both here at the state level and for all CEOs at the local level. Unquestionably, there will be programs and projects that will not be supported. But when you consider this bill, SB 425, I ask that you keep in mind one very important consideration. When the dust has settled and the air clears and we have begun our upward climb out of this severe recession, we must be sure that our actions now result in projects that will advance our state and regions to be more efficient, environmentally sensitive, and proactive in leading Connecticut into the future. SB 425 begins this journey,” said Ridgefield First Selectman Rudy Marconi.

Gail Lavielle of Wilton, testifying as a private citizen and former commuter and not as a member of the Connecticut Public Transportation Commission, said that a recent increase in train service improvements to the Wilton train stations and initial funding for a new centralized traffic control system augurs well for the branch line, but more improvements are needed.

“Western Connecticut is one of our state’s key economic engines, and mass transit is necessary to keep it going. Businesses can’t run and families can’t survive if people can’t get to work. Connecticut needs its people in this part of the state to stay in Connecticut and to contribute to its economy. But they must have conditions that allow them to thrive: efficient mass transit, less congested roadways, and property values that are enhanced by easy access to major metropolitan areas.” said Gail Lavielle.

“Please support SB 425 directing the state Department of Transportation to implement the recommendations of the Norwalk/Danbury Branch Line Improvement Plan, including electrification. Currently diesel locomotives pull the trains up and down the line. Electrification would reduce air and noise pollution, as well as substantially increase the speed of the trains,” said Tim Beeble.

“Greater Danbury’s growth is fueled by the fact that it is a rapidly growing commuter shed for the Norwalk and Stamford areas. Many Stamford workers have sought housing in Greater Danbury, way out of proportion to population growth rates in Greater Danbury. This market is key for north to south rail passenger service,” said Jonathan Chew, Executive Director of the Housatonic Valley Council of Elected Officials.

“Transportation needs to be planned as a system, not separate, competing modes. We have over invested in roads for so many decades that in order to integrate highways, rails, buses, bicycles, air travel and walking, we need to greatly expand our funding for rail and transit and use highway money to fix what we have built because it is crumbling,” said Molly McKay and Martin Mador, officials of the CT Sierra Club.