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Concerns About Busway Stops

Design Would Affect Intersections

March 2, 2006
By KATIE MELONE, Courant Staff Writer

WEST HARTFORD -- Town officials and residents raised concerns Wednesday night about the design of two local stops along the proposed New Britain-Hartford busway.

The concerns came up as transportation officials emphasized that the line would ease traffic congestion in the region and that the plan, while "fairly well-defined," is not final.

"I think there is a development piece missing, that just looking at the architecture and construction piece is not going to solve," resident Patricia Williams said at a busway open house held in Elmwood by state Department of Transportation officials. "I support mass transit, but it can't have a lot of collateral damage to everything around it."

At one point, after a few attendees commended and echoed Williams' comments, DOT transit administrator Michael Sanders told the 40 or so in the audience, "We're not here to drive businesses away, we're here to do something for businesses and the community."

The 9.4-mile, two-way rapid bus line would start in downtown New Britain, run through Newington and West Hartford and end near Union Station in Hartford.

In West Hartford, the plan calls for the state to take businesses by eminent domain to build a station in Elmwood at the intersection of New Britain and New Park avenues, and a second station less than a mile north at the northeast corner of New Park and Flatbush avenues.

The second station, behind the Shell station and Dunkin' Donuts on New Park Avenue, would require the DOT to spend about $45 million to elevate Flatbush Avenue roughly between New Park Avenue and Newfield Avenue. Raising the road would allow the busway and existing Amtrak train to run under Flatbush without crossing car traffic.

Business owners and town officials are especially concerned about the effect that the reconstruction of these intersections would have on existing businesses, a few of which would operate in the shadow of retaining walls and with fewer entrances and exits.

"As we look at it now, it doesn't seem to work for us," said Maureen McClay, a Democrat on the town council who lives in Elmwood.

But DOT officials say that the intersection at Flatbush and New Park has always been a dangerous one, with trains and cars at odds, and that the proposed busway gives them the opportunity to improve it. They also reminded residents that a rebuilding of the intersection was on the horizon anyway, given proposals to increase traffic along the Amtrak rail line.

"We may not like what it looks like, but I don't think in the long run we can change that it has to be done," Sanders said.

Stephen Sacks, a resident who owns a business in the Parkville section of Hartford that is slated to be taken by eminent domain for the project, asked how the towns would make up the tax revenue lost by the taking of businesses. About a dozen are slated to be taken.

Mark Rolfe, manager of construction operations, told Sacks that transportation officials expect that towns would make up the tax revenue through the increase in value of business properties near the new stations as a result of their proximity to the busway.

Officials in Newington, the other suburb along the route, have also raised questions about the effect the $336 million line would have on economic development and existing business, and whether it is a sound overall proposal.

DOT officials say the bus line, featuring 12 stops, would cut down dramatically on commuter times because it would be dedicated exclusively to buses and run mostly unimpeded along an abandoned rail line.

Buses of different types - neighborhood circulators and long-distance commuter buses from as far away as Waterbury - also would be able to use the line. The officials say ridership would come largely from the towns west of the route.

The project would also reduce the area's dependence on cars, project supporters say, and provide the disabled and those without cars with better access to jobs, shopping and medical care.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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