Concerns Maryland Rail Project Could Impact Environmental Protections in Conn. and R.I.

By ecoRI News staff

Environmentalists say the Susquehanna Bridge project could set an unacceptably low bar for local environmental protections. (FRA rendering)

Environmentalists say the Susquehanna Bridge project could set an unacceptably low bar for local environmental protections. (FRA rendering)

HAMDEN, Conn. — A June 26 announcement by the Federal Railroad Administration (FRA) that the $1.1 billion Susquehanna River Rail Bridge Project on the Northeast Corridor in Maryland poses “no significant impact,” drew sharp rebuke from Daniel Mackay, executive director of the Connecticut Trust for Historic Preservation, who warned that such a decision could set an unacceptably low bar for mitigating historic, cultural and environmental resource impacts from future high-speed rail projects in Connecticut.

The proposed rail bridge replacement project bisects the National Register-listed Havre de Grace Historic District in Maryland, comprised of some 1,000 historic structures, many from the 18th century, on the banks of the Susquehanna River, according to a recent story in The Baltimore Sun.

“FRA determined that the most comprehensive level of environmental review was not needed for this $1.1 billion dollar rail project in the midst of a historic coastal community in Maryland,” Mackay wrote in a recent press release. “Connecticut and Rhode Island communities caught in the cross-hairs of FRA’s bypass proposals should be concerned for the signal sent by this Maryland project — the process ahead may not yield the protections that communities want for themselves.”

Since the FRA released draft plans on Nov. 15, 2015 to expand new high-speed railroad corridors across coastal Connecticut and Rhode Island, under a federal planning process called NEC Future, the Connecticut Trust and its grassroots partner, SECoast, have led a campaign to counter FRA’s “insensitive approach to transportation planning for the Northeast Corridor routes through Connecticut.”

“FRA’s plan represents a once-in-a-generation decision that will fundamentally shape the communities, economies and ecology of coastal southern New England,” according to Gregory Stroud, director of special projects at the Connecticut Trust and co-founder of SECoast. “The only sure way to protect our communities from these types of impacts is to fully remove these projects from the Record of Decision.”

The FRA is expected to announce a long-delayed record of decision for NEC Future this summer, finalizing a blueprint for the Northeast Corridor that will shape infrastructure decisions and investment through 2040, or later.

The current blueprint has been in place since a similar process was completed in 1978. The Northeast Corridor, which connects cities between Washington, D.C., and Boston, is the nation’s busiest rail corridor.