Essex Jct. officials are asking Amtrak to slow down planned upgrades to the local train station until the village can vet the plans and possibly sync its own project with the rail company’s timeline.
Amtrak is pushing an “aggressive” itinerary for improvements that would ensure the Essex Jct. station complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act, according to a letter sent to the village dated December 8.
The improvements include new curb ramps, pavement repair and crosswalk markings; connecting new platform lighting to what’s already on site; and linking to the village’s existing stormwater system.
Amtrak requested the village’s approval within two weeks, but village officials have said they need more time.
“A two- or three-week window is simply not enough time for our staff to give Amtrak’s plans the careful scrutiny they deserve,” village president George Tyler wrote in a response to the rail company.
Tyler said preliminary reviews by village engineer Rick Hamlin show there may be some components of Amtrak’s plans that don’t conform to the village’s land development code. And Jim Jutras, the village’s water quality superintendent, called it a “prime opportunity” to tie in a local project and therefore minimize the disruption to downtown.
That will require some easements from Amtrak, since the company’s property extends onto Railroad Avenue. Jutras said the village could also look for some grants to offset its projects in the area.
“Every time we have a hole in the ground, we should be looking at all the infrastructure,” Jutras said.
Village and Amtrak officials planned to teleconference Monday to discuss the project. If unable to coordinate, the village will at least be aware of the timeline and not overlap, Jutras said.
Coordinating with outside entities isn’t a new practice. Public works has done so several times before, Jutras said, hooking on replacement or repair projects with improvements to the railroad. Sometimes that even involves private property: Jutras said the village is currently eying some grant-funded projects that would coincide with a project by a condominium association.
Since Jutras’ experience shows long-term projects can negatively impact surrounding businesses, any chance to lessen the impact is preferred.
“We’re always acute to that,” he said.
Amtrak has historically struggled to achieve ADA compliance. When Congress passed the law in 1990, it gave Amtrak two decades to ensure all stations were fully accessible.
In 2011, Amtrak’s Office of Inspector General, which performs audits and investigations, found that just 48 of the rail company’s 482 stations met the benchmark. A 2014 report from the same office found only three more stations became ADA-compliant.
A year later, the U.S. Department of Justice said Amtrak’s failures constituted discrimination against people with disabilities and threatened a lawsuit if the rail company didn’t make substantial headway toward compliance.
In reports to Congress, Amtrak has blamed its slow progress on budget constraints, funding limitations and the “complexity” of determining station facility ownership and responsibility, according to the DOJ report.
An Amtrak spokesman did not return a request for comment by The Reporter’s deadline.