More than 30 persons from as far as New Canaan and Danbury attended the public hearing on the planned regional New Haven-Hartford-Springfield (NHHS) Rail Project at the North Haven High School last night.
The regional rail service, which, with $471 million of an expected $647 million in place, is expected to launch in 2016 with upgraded platforms and parking lots in Wallingford, Meriden, Berlin and Hartford.
A stop in North Haven has yet to receive funding, although the project coordinators are hoping to receive monies from a federal grant to add North Haven—and the State Street Station in New Haven as well as Newington, West Hartford and Enfield—to the project.
John Bernick, project manager with the state Department of Transportation, said the service was “about connecting and integrating segments of corridors that exist. It’s about livable and walkable communities.”
At present, Bernick said that the inland segments this rail project plans to encompass are not well-connected, other than by I-91. He also pointed to what he termed “real" job growth along the corridor the project will serve because, he said, businesses will locate where they can gain access to a rail line.
In North Haven, the site under consideration for the service, according to Bernick, is the Devine neighborhood where the and other health and medical facilities are planned.
At one point in the hearing, Bernick found himself defending the project to a number of critics, among them North Haven residents Jim Leahy and also David Munzer.
Leahy termed the project “a colossal waste of money” and” a boondoggle beyond belief.”
“There’s absolutely no proof that people would take this train and use it,” he said. “We cannot afford it," he added. "Federal money does not come for free.”
Munzer, who seconded Leahy’s comments, said his greatest concern was the 38 at-level grade crossings he had heard would exist in this project, and his concern for safety there. But he also said, “I don’t see where you guys see people using this thing.”
“It’s the frequency of trains that drives the ridership,” Bernick affirmed, more than once.
At present, only six trains run on a single track. Amtrak, which will own the service, plans to add an additional track to allow for 17 trips a day south of Harford, according to Bernick. He said fourteen trips a day will take place north of the city. Long-term planning calls for 25 round-trips each day, he said.
Munzer also asked, “When is this going to pay off?
Bernick observed that the service would be subsidized, with the pay-off coming from the tax base communities will build from the economic development the presence of the rail line will yield.
Room for Improvement
Also at the meeting were a number of persons who strongly support the rail project, among them Amanda Kennedy from the Stamford office of the Regional Plan Association. She voiced her strong support for the project, and she offered some suggestions to the state DOT.
She said that a strong marketing and branding effort should accompany the project, and she asked for the creation of an authority to coordinate state and local efforts. She also asked that the stations not have what she termed suburban parking lots. The stations should give primacy to the pedestrian rather than the car, she said.
A number of persons at the hearing spoke in favor of the project’s accommodating cyclists, whether that accommodation took the form of dedicated space within the rail cars or parking space for bicycles at the sites.
The DOT encourages public comments on the NHHS Rail Project through June 22 at the project’s Website, which is nhhs.rail.com.