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Sunday, February 26, 2017

How the Saybrook Kenyon Bypass issue might die

Politics and money
By Will Collette

Amtrak’s proposed new rail route for the Acela high-speed trains would cut a terrible swath through some of eastern Connecticut’s and South County’s most important natural resource and tourism areas, including significant harm to Charlestown.

There is broad regional support for improved rail service along the Northeast Corridor (NEC) – Washington to Boston – and for better Acela service.

However, many residents of South County and eastern Connecticut are counting on the final Tier I plan to leave the Saybrook to Kenyon portion of track essentially where it is. What appear on the map  (above) as small deviations from the existing track make a profound difference to us.

The proposed new rail bed path in eastern Connecticut is even more alarming, stirring up even stronger opposition than here in South County.

To read the details on how Tiered Environment Impact Statements work, CLICK HERE. To read the NEC documents yourself, CLICK HERE.

When I first starting writing about this, I noted that Trump’s Electoral College win upended the normal politics surrounding projects like the Northeast Corridor improvement plan.

I predicted that Trump’s erratic if not bizarre politics would above all else would determine whether the Northeast Corridor modernization project had any chance to go forward.

On February 17, the Trump regime made one of those hundreds of daily decisions that don’t make it onto the national news. But it’s a decision that, I believe gives us the clearest message yet about the future of the Saybrook-Kenyon Bypass.

While Trump wants major infrastructure projects that will create jobs, both he and the Republican-controlled Congress don’t like public or quasi-public entities like the Federal Rail Administration and Amtrak, preferring infrastructure funding be channeled to private industries through tax subsidies.

The Republican 2016 Platform actually called for an end to federal transit projects, according to Wired. Further, Congressional Republicans would either like to see the Northeast Corridor rail privatized, or to open the route to competing privately-owned rail companies.


But the kicker is Trump’s desire to punish those states that failed to vote for him. The whole NEC runs through Blue, anti-Trump states, with the exception of roughly forty miles running through the southeastern corner of Pennsylvania from Delaware to New Jersey.

Despite localized disputes over routing details, the Amtrak modernization project is generally seen as a jobs-creating, eco-friendly boon to the northeastern economy.

All the more reason why Trump might want to kill the project. In Trump's eyes, the only part of the project that might merit federal funding is that 40 mile stretch in SE Pennsylvania, even though Philadelphia, which voted Yugely for Hillary, is in there. 

But the rest of the states along the NEC? Faggedaboudit.

Related image
Future is now in doubt
I am even more convinced of this after the Trump regime’s decision to withdraw $647 million federal funding from California’s Caltrain public rail service. 

The funding was supposed to help CalTrain convert to all-electric and away from diesel.

But that’s not the Trump’s orientation. 

Now, if CalTrain had wanted to switch from diesel to coal, then maybe they might have had a chance to get the funding back.  

According to the San Francisco Chronicle, withholding the money for the switch to all-electric throws a major if not fatal monkey wrench into CalTrain’s planned high-speed rail project.

Said Democratic Rep. Anna Eshoo of Palo Alto:
“I never imagined that the electrification of a train would be subjected to such brutal, partisan politics. This is not a Democratic project nor is it a Republican project. It is about the modernization of an outdated commuter system that is the spine of the transportation system of the Peninsula and the Silicon Valley region.”
As most riders of Amtrak along the Northeast Corridor know, part of the route is electric-run and modernization would undoubtedly expand on that.

The Chronicle also reported that it’s doubtful that the first budget Trump submits to Congress will contain any money at all for CalTrain.

California was True Blue in the 2016 election and delivered much of the vote that contributed to Donald Trump’s loss of the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by almost three million votes.

Given Trump’s penchant for revenge, I doubt California will see a nickel in federal discretionary funding so long as Trump occupies the throne.

So what do we do?

Even though Trump might apply the same "reasoning" used to meat-axe Caltrain might lead to tabling the NEC improvement project and the Saybrook-Kenyon Bypass with it, we still must take prudent steps to protect our community.

I am sure the rallies and protests are fine – they are certainly good for local morale.

However,  I doubt they will affect the Trump regime’s decision making, since Connecticut and Rhode Island are Blue States and thus hold spots on Trump’s voluminous enemies list.

I still have a nagging worry that Trump’s people might stick with the Bypass idea just out of spite. 

But we can’t let fear of what Trump might do hold us back from protesting what’s on the table before us.

I still believe that we should send our area's right-wing Republican legislators (Blake Filippi, Elaine Morgan and Justin Price) to Washington on an alternative fact-finding mission.

They among all the politicians involved in this issue are closest to the Trump mentality. This might be useful with the Trump people. When I first suggested this, I was not joking and I am not joking now.

I just hope Blake Filippi can tear himself away from his annual publicity stunt to get Rhode Island to secede from the Eastern Time zone and adopt the same clock as Nova Scotia, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico.

With people in power whose methods and motives are beyond the norm or our experience, let these three otherwise useless politicos go to DC because who else do we have who knows how to speak Trumpese? Maybe Jim Mageau, Charlestown’s most vocal Trump supporter, but he might turn out to be too much even for the Trumpniks.

Finally, we need to follow the proper form to oppose the Bypass as if the people making the decisions might be swayed by the issues of harm the Bypass would cause to natural, historical, cultural and economic treasures.

We should already have at hand just about all the documentation we need to persuade normal people that the Bypass is a bad idea.

While all evidence suggests Trump’s people don’t care about what we care about, the documentation filed with our public comments would be important for any litigation that might arise from the Administration’s final decision.

I have no knowledge of what that Tier I EIS final decision might be, even though we now have a pretty good clue in the decision to yank $647 million in rail money from California. But as we've seen, so far, the Trump regime’s only consistency has been its inconsistency.