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Panel pushes cash for rail plans

Panel pushes cash for rail plans

A second rail track between Schenectady and Albany and reconstruction of the downtown Schenectady Am

A second rail track between Schenectady and Albany and reconstruction of the downtown Schenectady Amtrak station should get funding under the federal economic stimulus plan, the region’s transportation planning agency has decided.

Both are long-desired projects that haven’t had sufficient funding, and Thursday’s action by the Capital District Transportation Committee will get them serious consideration for money to be spent under the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Schenectady city and county officials said both will help economic revitalization efforts.

“The new train station and the improvements planned for Erie Boulevard create major new investment and development opportunities in downtown Schenectady. This is a very good use of stimulus dollars,” said Mayor Brian U. Stratton.

The committee, meeting Thursday in Colonie, voted to include the rail projects among nearly $200 million in plans to be submitted to the governor’s office for stimulus funding consideration.

The second railroad line between the region’s two largest cities would cost about $60 million but would reduce existing delays and conflicts between passenger and freight trains, said John Poorman, CDTC’s executive director.

“It improves reliability for freight and passenger, and if you’re ever going to talk commuter rail, a second track is essential,” Poorman said.

The committee recommended the intermodal rail station in Schenectady receive $4.5 million in stimulus funding, giving it in total the $9 million needed for track improvements and station upgrades.

“With the new station and hopefully the funding for a new second track between Albany and Schenectady, we can look forward to much better rail service, and that will be very beneficial to our economic development efforts,” said Susan E. Savage, chairwoman of the Schenectady County Legislature.

The Capital District Transportation Authority is taking the lead on the project, as it did in rebuilding the Rensselaer and Saratoga Springs railroad stations within the past decade.

“It is one of the three primary train stations and the only one that has not been upgraded,” said Ray Melleady, CDTA’s executive director.

The regional priority list emphasizes projects ready for bidding within 120 days because of congressional concern that the $787 billion bill create jobs quickly.

Also on the regional list are reconstruction of Delaware Avenue in Albany for $13 million and more than $4 million for repairs to or construction of biking-hiking trails in Schenectady, Ballston and Saratoga Springs.

Approval by the transportation committee doesn’t guarantee that any of the projects will get funding but is essential for their further consideration.

The regional list is for more than is likely to be funded, acknowledged Dave Rettig, a state Department of Transportation planning director.

“The amount of demand for transportation projects is incredible,” he said at the meeting.

The stimulus money will help the state with a backlog of needed infrastructure maintenance and improvement projects, Rettig said, but won’t be enough to clear the backlog.

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