Congress must act to fix Connecticut’s crumbling railways

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The $1.3 trillion omnibus spending package recently approved by President Donald Trump and Congress includes much-needed infrastructure funding that could help Connecticut rebuild its crumbling railways. But it is now up to the Appropriations Committees in both the Senate and the House to take the next step by prioritizing more federal funding for critical repairs and upgrades along Connecticut’s stretch of the Northeast Corridor rail system.

The Corridor spans 500 miles from Washington, D.C., to Boston and is the economic engine of the Northeast, which collectively contains around one-third of all American jobs and generates around $3 trillion in economic productivity each year. More than 820,000 riders depend on Northeast Corridor trains every day and thousands of businesses rely on the system to conduct commerce, which is the reason rail delays and disruptions can lead to devastating losses.

The nonpartisan Northeast Corridor Commission found that a shutdown of the system would cost the American economy more than $100 million per day. These potential damages show why the deteriorating condition of Connecticut’s rail infrastructure is a threat to the long-term economic health and competitiveness of the nation.

Congress should be deeply concerned about the dire state of Connecticut’s aging infrastructure, and it is why federal investment is so urgently needed. The fact is that most of the state’s railways were built in the years between the Civil War and the 1930s — and that infrastructure is crumbling and cannot last much longer.

The Northeast Corridor Commission also found that it will cost at least $50 billion over the next twenty years to bring the Corridor into a state of good repair up and down the line. But the longer we wait, the more expensive that price tag will become.

The Appropriations Committees can begin addressing this now by focusing on providing new federal funding to priority projects in Connecticut — all of which have a significant role to play in shoring up the system and strengthening our national economy.

For example, there is a bold plan to replace the Connecticut River Bridge between Old Saybrook and Old Lyme. But only $6.25 million has been secured of the $660 million needed to complete the project.

The list of projects in need goes on and on — but Congress has the power to tackle this economic challenge by providing the new investments needed to get the ball rolling in Connecticut and throughout the Corridor.

Fortunately, it is clear that lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have begun discussing this urgent need as part of budget negotiations. All that is needed is for both houses to build on this bipartisan consensus during appropriation discussions in order to expedite vital projects such as the Connecticut River Bridge replacement.

Modernizing America’s infrastructure is a central pillar of President Trump’s economic agenda, and the funding allocated for infrastructure in the omnibus spending bill marks important progress for workers and businesses across the country. But now lawmakers on Capitol Hill must prioritize critical projects in Connecticut and along the entire Northeast Corridor to ensure that our national economy is competitive far into the 21st century.

Michael Friedberg is the executive director for Coalition for the Northeast Corridor.

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