Concerns lead Somers to set Pawcatuck forum on rail bypass plan

January 24, 2017

STONINGTON — Concerns expressed by constituents have led State Sen. Heather Somers (R-18) to organize a community forum for discussion of the potentially adverse effects of the Federal Railroad Administration’s proposal to build additional tracks north of the existing railway in this region.

The multi-billion dollar rail proposal, known as the bypass option, would cut travel time between Washington, D.C., and Boston by creating infrastructure for high-speed trains that would travel up to 220 mph. It would reduce travel time between New York and Boston by 45 minutes. The proposed route alternative would cut through parts of inland Stonington and bypass the current downtown Westerly and Mystic stations.

Throughout southern New England, the plan has raised concerns about negative economic and environmental impacts.

When Somers was talking with residents, she said it was clear that a lot of people didn’t know what was going to happen and were worried about the future of their town and properties.

Although the rail administration has not put out detailed maps, it’s fairly certain that the proposed rail would go through parts of Stonington, Westerly and Charlestown that are already developed or are intended to preserved in perpetuity as open space.

“I want to make sure everyone is up to speed about what’s been done so far and reassure everyone that this isn’t something that will be done in the next two years,” Somers said. “I also want to hear everyone’s thoughts and opinions and let them know that I’m working hard to oppose the plan.”

Stonington Selectman Mike Spellman said he’s vehemently opposed to the proposal and will continue lobbying state and federal officials to work against the plan.

“A far better use of funds is to upgrade the Mystic stop, provide sensors at areas like the Elihu Island crossing and make the Westerly/Pawcatuck stop a priority,” Spellman said. “Those initiatives will make rail travel safer and more practical, dramatically improve existing infrastructure locally and relieve congestion on I-95. It will bring tourists to local businesses in the Mystic area, to Westerly’s beaches and assist with the revitalization of Pawcatuck.”

Since the proposal was unveiled last year, local and state politicians have banded together to voice their concern.

“The FRA is absolutely not used to this kind of pushback,” Somers said. “The whole Connecticut federal delegation is against this too. I’m a big believer that the more info we can get to people, the easier it will be for them to stay informed and know what action to take to oppose the plan.”

SECoast, a regional nonprofit leading a grassroots opposition to the planned bypass, will be participating in the community meeting at 6:30 p.m. on Tuesday at the Pawcatuck Fire Station.