Railroads cite ‘success’ of Niantic Bridge replacement to lobby feds

Washington — As part of a campaign to lobby for federal funds, the One Rail Coalition, composed of freight, passenger train and labor groups, cited the replacement of the Niantic River Bridge as a “success story” that proves federal help to railroads is a good investment.

Replacement of the bridge, built in 1907 and used by Amtrak and freight trains, was completed last year.

The project cost $154 million, all paid with federal funds. Half consisted of federal stimulus funds, the other half came from Amtrak’s capital fund, which is also financed by the federal government.

The One Rail Coalition also highlighted other rail projects it said made passenger rail travel safer, faster, and less costly.

But Congress has not authorized a central source of funding for passenger rail. Funding comes from various sources and is not dependable, said Amtrak spokeswoman Petra Todorovich Messick.

“Our funding in unpredictable, and it’s difficult to initiate capital projects,” she said.

Highway funding has also been unpredictable recently. Congress has been unable to come up with a new transportation bill, the result of partisan bickering, and extended current transportation funding to Connecticut and all other states until May 31.

While the replacement of the Niantic River Bridge may be a transportation success story, Connecticut has many bridges in need of repair or replacement.

The U.S. Department of Transportation has identified 413 of the about 4,200 bridges managed by the state as “structurally deficient” — meaning inspectors determined the bridge is safe but found at least one major component in poor condition.

The Walk Bridge over the Norwalk River, used by Amtrak, Metro-North and freight trains, is near the top of the state’s transportation agenda.

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