DANBURY, Conn. — Getting high-speed trains and expanding the rail system in Connecticut would make a big difference in the region's transportation system, U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty said in a visit Thursday to the Danbury Railroad Museum with other transportation officials.
Esty said she is an enthusiastic supporter of high-speed rail, but said it is complicated, expensive and poses challenges.
“True high-speed rail for America can only be funded with significant help from the private sector, which is something that the president has talked about doing,” said Esty, a Democrat who represents the 5th District, including Bethel, Brookfield, Danbury, New Fairfield, Newtown and Sherman.
On a more basic level, the area's rail lines need to be expanded and upgraded to make them more reliable.
“We want to be able to get to work and get home safely in a reasonable amount of time,” Esty said.
She also said the proposal to make changes in the Northeast Corridor route could impact the rails in Danbury.
“You need to come off the coast and go inland. All high-speed systems in the world go inland and don't hug the coast," she said of a proposal to build a new rail line through parts of Connecticut that is farther inland than the current route.
Esty also touted her recent appointment as vice ranking member of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.
“This is a position that will enable me to advocate more effectively for Connecticut’s transportation needs at the federal level," she said.
When it comes transportation and infrastructure improvements, cost will always be a factor. "We need about $3 trillion to not just get up to speed with replacing our infrastructure and transportation system but really to move that into the 21st century," Esty said.
State Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-Wilton, also spoke about the high costs for projects. The price tag to electrify the Danbury branch has significantly increased, she said.
"Five or six years ago, the cost estimate to electrifying the line was $360 million. Now, It will be north of $400 million," Lavielle said.
Yet, she said, “There are very good reasons to do electrify the line. This is a region that contributes a lot of tax revenue to the state."
Francis Pickering, executive director at the Western Connecticut Council of Governments, said it's critical not to delay or stall projects. The growing number of long-delayed or stalled projects will have real implications for the state, Pickering said.
On the state level, one of these delayed projects is the widening of I-84 in Danbury, which there is finally a vision for completing, he said.
He stressed, however, that there is a risk that projects like these will be shelved again. "We can’t afford to further postpone projects for decades and decades," he said.
"It's critical we have state and federal resources to finally complete these projects that are long overdo," Pickering said.