New Rail Plan Aims to Eliminate Three At-grade Crossings in Stonington

STONINGTON — Three of the town’s five at-grade railroad crossings are slated for closures and possible workarounds in the recently announced Northeast Corridor Commission Connect 2035 plan.  The plan is expected to receive funding in the recently announced federal infrastructure bill.

The plan appendix of projects targets crossings at Elihu Island Road, Wamphassuc Road and Latimer Point through the New England Grade Crossing Elimination Program. 

Asked what the reasons are for the eliminating the crossings, Jason Abrams, public relations manager for Amtrak, said that grade crossings are an inherent safety risk.  

“Each year, approximately 2,000 people are killed or injured in grade crossings and trespassing incidents nationwide,” wrote Abrams in an email to CT Examiner on Tuesday. 

Walkers Dock At-Grade Crossing (Cate Hewitt, CT Examiner)

The plan calls for permanently eliminating the crossing at Elihu Island Road “by building a connection to an upgraded Walker’s Dock grade crossing or a locally preferred alternative.” 

According to Abrams, the two crossings are 435 feet apart and one possible workaround included constructing a road parallel to the tracks connecting Walkers Dock to Elihu Island Road. 

Those crossings were not included in a 1990s modernization of the corridor, which the first selectman at the time, Rob Simmons, said was a mistake in a phone call on July 23.

“Both crossings should have been equipped with underground sensors and quad gates, which would eliminate the need for horns and would substantiate the safety of both crossings,” said Simmons.

According to Abrams, the projects likely were left out of the funding at the time because of the narrowness of the roads.

“Basically [they’re] one lane. Quad gates usually aren’t installed on one lane or excessively narrow roads, which is likely why no upgrade was performed in the 1990’s.”

The Connect plan also calls for closing the Wamphassuc Road crossing, and building a new access route by “building a connection to Joy Avenue or a locally preferred alternative” to Wamphassuc Road south of the tracks.  That would likely require an access road through the 40-acre Marcia Woolworth Porter Preserve, which is owned by Avalonia Land Conservancy. The conservancy were not available for comment on the plan at the time of publication. 

The plan would also close the crossing at Latimer Point and “build a bridge or a locally preferred alternative close to Latimer Point Road.” 

Walkers Dock At-Grade Crossing (Cate Hewitt, CT Examiner)

Nearby in New London, the program also includes closing the Miner Lane at-grade crossing and constructing a connection to CT 213, Great Neck Road, or “a locally preferred alternative.” 

Abrams said the funding for the projects has not yet been determined, but that the closures and workarounds would likely be paid for with federal funding and some state funding.

“I doubt local funding will be involved,” he said.

A federal official, who agreed to answer questions on background, explained that the projects were part of the NEC Future blueprint for the Northeast Corridor that was finalized in 2017. That blueprint included a long-term program of infrastructure investments, including the removal of at-grade crossings, to improve safety and performance on the corridor.

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