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Traffic plan could bottleneck boaters

Expanded rail service could result in less boat traffic for marinas, warns a Connecticut marine group

Expanded rail service could result in less boat traffic for marinas, warns a Connecticut marine group

Connecticut boaters and boating advocates are concerned that a proposed expansion of the Shore Line East commuter rail service could force at least three of the shoreline’s five movable bridges to be closed more frequently, which would hold up boating traffic more often.

Grant Westerson, executive director of the Connecticut Marine Trades Association, says the expansion could affect marinas and other marine-related businesses on waterways north of the railroad bridges as well as recreational boaters.

“Right now the bridges are kept open 48 percent of the time. The rest of the time the bridges are down to allow rail traffic to cross,” Westerson explains. “If the service in this region is doubled, well, do the math.”

In March Westerson testified against the proposal at a state Transportation Committee public hearing.

“We’re not arguing only about recreational boaters trying to enjoy their days off,” Westerson says in an interview with Soundings. “If those bridges are closed, and boats can’t get by, then this is about the entire marine industry. Slips, property values of marinas upriver will plummet. It’s about tourism. It’s about business. It’s about jobs.”

The proposal (Senate Bill 1401, House Bill 6366), in part, is meant to convince more commuters to ride the train instead of driving cars on Interstate 95 between New Haven and New London, an increasingly congested corridor. If approved, expanded service to New London would require agreements between a number of groups, including the Coast Guard, Department of Environmental Protection and Marine Trades Association.

“While legislators from eastern Connecticut strongly support the expansion of Shore Line East rail service, they are equally as concerned that it not be achieved with a disregard for the interests of the maritime industry and related businesses,” Sen. Don DeFronzo (D-New Britain) writes in an e-mail to Soundings. DeFronzo, who is the senate chairperson of the transportation committee, admits that expansion of the rail service to New London could, to some degree, restrict boating traffic.

Connecticut’s movable bridges are open for boating traffic between May 15 and Oct. 15. The bridges that could potentially be affected include the Connecticut River (also known as the Old Lyme drawbridge), NianticRiver and Shaw’s Cove. Two other moveable bridges, Thames and Mystic, are in Southeastern Connecticut.

“I don’t have any easy solutions,” Westerson says. “I’m not arguing the point that we shouldn’t get more traffic off of 95, but we can’t do it at the expense of our marine industry.”

To track House Bill 6366, visit the state’s General Assembly Web site at