If the description by two Charlestown, R.I., town council leaders of Amtrak’s plan for an alternate route through that town are accurate, the proposal must be stopped. It is no less than “rural removal,” same as the old “urban removal” that cut a huge swath through urban America in the 1950s and ’60s. Fortunately, Providence was spared most of what had been planned during our urban-renewal era, but many big cities were largely ruined by it, with many poor but viable black neighborhoods demolished, their families cruelly dispersed and replaced by highways or less-civilized neighborhoods, often with ugly “Brutalist” architecture inflicted. Now this creature of a policy seems to have returned in rural form and is breathing down the neck of Charlestown. All to save an estimated one minute in travel time.
Here is how Amtrak’s plan was described in the two councilors’ letter to the editor today:
Straightening the track in Charlestown, as near as we can determine, will save only one minute of travel time between Boston and New York. One minute. The price for this is enormous and unsupportable. In Charlestown alone, it will cost the nation’s taxpayers more than $1 billion and cause the destruction of numerous homes, family farms, historic districts, drinking water aquifers, a wild and scenic river, critical habitats and conservation areas, and it will invade Narragansett Tribal Lands.
The bypass would also destroy the bucolic Burdickville village, demolish the historic districts of Columbia Heights and Kenyon, ruin the productive fourth-generation Stoney Hill Farm, divide the Nature Conservancy’s treasured 1,100-acre Carter Preserve, demolish the Revolutionary-era Amos Green Farm, and invade other protected conservation lands, all to enable long-distance passengers to traverse our town one minute faster.
The plan also brings the threat of eminent domain with a real loss in property value. Real estate values along the Connecticut route have already taken a 25 percent hit.
How can this be so? If it is, the Journal’s online headline got it right: “Charlestown is being railroaded.” Are the disruptions planned for the Connecticut stretch of the route equally dismaying? Maybe the Charlestown councilors, Virginia Lee and Julie Carroccia (president and vice president, respectively, of the council), are exaggerating, or wrong. If so, I will write a post retracting what I have said above. But from what they say, it sounds as if a tragic era long ago put behind us has re-emerged from the Black Lagoon.