(Journal Inquirer) Sen. Kissel Optimistic About North-Central CT Transportation Improvements

January 13, 2015

Bond Commission approves $5.75M for ‘Hartford Line’

By Mike Savino
Journal Inquirer

Tuesday, January 13, 2015

— One of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s first steps toward overhauling transportation in Connecticut could create as many as three train stops north of Hartford, drawing cheers from town officials and legislators.

The State Bond Commission, of which Malloy is chairman, approved a $5.75 million package for the newly dubbed “Hartford Line” of the planned New Haven-Hartford-Springfield railroad.

Malloy also chose to highlight the package before taking questions from reporters after the commission meeting, saying the funding “will give this project needed momentum.”

He said the rail line, which is expected to cost a total of $365 million, will “improve the quality of inter-city service along the corridor and enhance regional rail connections.”

Malloy told the commission Monday that he hopes the line will be ready for commuter service by the end of 2016.

Monday’s bonding authorization will provide funding for the ongoing design of stations in Enfield, West Hartford, Newington, and North Haven. It also will allocate money for enhancements at existing sites in Windsor Locks and Windsor, as well as a location study for a station in Hamden.

Officials in Windsor and Windsor Locks are looking to build or upgrade platforms along the planned route, while Enfield is pushing for a stop at a site acquired last year on North River Road.

A state Department of Transportation spokesman didn’t have a breakdown today of how much funding will go to each site.

“I’m please that the governor has made the leap forward to start making the train station enhancements,” Rep. Peggy Sayers, D-Windsor Locks, said.

Windsor Locks First Selectman Steven Wawruck said the town is looking to build a platform next to the old Amtrack station downtown, which the town recently purchased.
The train station would be renovated for other use, Wawruck said, but the site could provide parking for an adjacent platform.

He also said the train stop could become a “catalyst to a resurgence” of the town’s downtown after rail service was moved from the Main Street area to the south end of town.

“We’re looking to say, ‘Hey, that’s a mistake,’” Wawruck said.

He also said the Connecticut Airport Authority, which oversees Bradley International Airport, has committed to running shuttles from the airport to the train station once commuter service is offered.

Sen. John A. Kissel, R-Enfield, said the plans eventually could include a line directly to the airport, but that is unlikely in the near future.

He said the bigger issue is trying to get two tracks of service from the Massachusetts border all the way to Windsor, a stretch that currently has only a single track.

But such improvements likely will require millions of dollars in additional work, and Kissel said he’s pleased Malloy wants to provide at least some service north of Hartford.

“I feel real good about this,” Kissel said. “This is a good first step.”
While Windsor and Windsor Locks are looking to upgrade existing locations, Enfield is seeking to build an intermodal transportation hub and add it to the rail line.

The nonprofit Enfield Community Development Corp. purchased a four-story, 121-year-old mill on North River Road with a $350,000 grant. Officials said during a September visit, which Malloy attended, that it could cost between $20 million and $30 million to prepare the site for commuter rail service.

State support for an Enfield site was initially as strong, something that surprised Rep. David Alexander, D-Enfield, given the town’s size.

“We really are making this a full-court effort,” Alexander said. “This is not a partisan issue, this is a regional issue.”

Alexander said the train stops will “change north-central Connecticut,” a region he feels has been ignored “for too long” when it comes to transportation.

The bonding authorization comes less than a week after Malloy called for a transportation overhaul during his State of the State address. He specifically said at that time that Connecticut needs to provide more rail and bus service, and do more to support Bradley Airport.

He reiterated that sentiment Monday.

“We are improving transportation every day, but we need to continue to have an adult dialogue on how we improve our transportation system into the 21st century,” he said.