New Canaan residents voice concerns over rail changes
STAMFORD — Proposed cuts that would drastically slash rail service to New Canaan provoked dozens of town residents to charter a bus Tuesday night to make sure state leaders heard their strong disapproval.
“We need better train service, not cuts,” said New Canaanite Lori Kelly. “This is going to impact businesses in town and make it less vibrant not to mention that property values will go down — this will lead to a domino effect that will harm New Canaan.”
The Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT) has proposed fare hikes of 10 percent and the elimination of off-peak weekday and all weekend service for New Canaan to balance the Special Transportation Fund (STF). These measures would be put into effect as soon as July 1 if the additional revenue is not obtained.
Nes Jaffre, owner of the Roger Sherman Inn, came on a charter bus that transported around 50 residents from New Canaan to Stamford.
“I’m hoping the CTDOT considers our concerns as business owners in town as these cuts won’t help us at all,” Jaffre said.
The bus was funded by the Barker family, owners of the Elm Restaurant in New Canaan according to Tucker Murphy, executive director of the New Canaan Chamber of Commerce.
Waves of people entered the UConn auditorium minutes before 5 p.m. By 5:10 p.m., there was standing room only for the downstairs while others continued to trickle in to head to the upstairs balconies. The energy in the room was palpable as residents from New Canaan and surrounding cities conversed and discussed among themselves.
CTDOT Commissioner James Redeker and Public Administrator Carl Jackson gave a presentation to an auditorium of approximately 200 regarding the circumstances that had led to the proposed plans for service cuts.
“The STF is essentially the budget for transportation and like any budget, there are revenues and expenses. Over the years a number of factors have led to the current strain on the STF — debt service and cost to maintain the transportation system have increased and the STF has not grown enough to cover these costs,” Redeker said.
Without additional revenue, the STF is unable to sell bonds forcing Redeker to find places to cut the budget which has already resulted in the indefinite postponement of $4.3 billion in transportation projects statewide as announced earlier in January.
Following the presentation, speakers were allowed three minutes each to voice their concerns, signaled when their time was up — this was of no use as the vast majority of the speakers simply ignored this, with some unloading their grievances against Hartford.
First Selectman Kevin Moynihan was in attendance, motivated by his fellow residents.
“Curtailing off-peak train service on weekdays and weekend trains would wreak havoc on the lives of these workers that have built their lives around the availability of regular daily train service on Metro-North to and from New Canaan,” Moynihan said.
“I implore the state to not destroy New Canaan’s economy with these draconian and unjust proposed weekday off-peak and weekend service cuts,” Moynihan concluded. A standing ovation led by New Canaanites cheered the Selectman as he took back to his seat.
There was an ebb and flow in the energy of the room with some citizens taking the opportunity to arouse laughter, applause or scattered cheers among the crowd.
State representatives Fred Wilms, R-142, Tom O’Dea, R-125 and Sen. Toni Boucher were also at the hearing. Each voiced their opposition to the proposed service cuts to New Canaan. Town Council members Mike Mauro and John Engel were also present.
A mix of residents from New Canaan, Stamford, Westport, Greenwich and surrounding towns attended the event.
Redeker and Jackson listened to speaker after speaker in a hearing that stretched from 5 p.m. to after 8 p.m. when the hearing was originally scheduled to end.
“We decided that we needed to get people fired up and we thought of taking the train as a symbolic gesture to the event but there is a fair amount of distance from the Stamford station to the UConn auditorium so we took residents in a bus,” Murphy, who was unable to attend the event, said Wednesday morning. “The business community is completely opposed to this as many of our employees come via train and we will continue to follow this.”