Some of the region's largest corporate, educational and hospital employers are investing millions of dollars to improve and expand their operations in Hartford and New Britain. These extraordinary investments demonstrate confidence in the future of Central Connecticut and are critical to job retention and growth in both cities and the region. We must take advantage of these major investments by moving forward with two long-standing transit projects, the Hartford-New Britain busway and the Springfield-Hartford-New Haven rail initiative.
Completion of these projects will enhance intra-regional commuting along the busway corridor and allow rail passengers to go from Union Station in Hartford to Boston or New York without changing trains. They will also make Central Connecticut more attractive for capital investment, for students and for the best and the brightest in business, education and health care.
Studies of the busway and rail projects clearly demonstrate their feasibility, costs and benefits. Suggestions that we need another study to reassess the busway are unwarranted. Ten years of comprehensive analyses show the busway is a key component of an integrated mass transit system. It will reduce congestion, improve air quality, provide commuters with attractive transit options and complement the significant investments of Hartford, New Britain, and St. Francis hospitals, Aetna, Central Connecticut State University, The Hartford, Travelers and UnitedHealthcare in their complexes.
Additional studies will jeopardize $275 million of federal funds that will generate 1,400 construction jobs per year and undermine more than a decade of efforts to build a rapid transit system. As the Bristol Press editorialized, our failure to move forward could result in the U.S. Department of Transportation awarding the $275 million to a region more united and innovative in exploiting transportation opportunities for economic growth.
With construction scheduled to begin this spring, the busway could be running in three years. This rapid transit line with its exclusive right of way, permanent stations and frequent, fast and reliable service will give residents easier access to some of our most important educational, employment, entertainment and health care assets.
The busway, at 9.4 miles in length with 11 stations between New Britain and Hartford, is a simple but highly effective concept. It will have a dedicated corridor to make bus travel faster and more reliable. Commuters will avoid congestion on I-84 and will be able to remain on the buses as they follow expanded routes onto the streets of New Britain and Hartford. The busway also includes innovative concepts such as pre-boarding fare payment, level platform loading, real-time schedule information, improved bike and pedestrian station access, specially equipped vehicles that are environmentally green and timetables designed with three to six minutes between buses at peak periods.
The busway will also be a critical feeder to the rail initiative and help increase passenger counts to minimize the public subsidies required for railroads. Commuters from towns along the busway (as well as from Bristol, Cheshire, Southington, and Waterbury) will be able to board a bus at any one of the 11 stations and then switch to a train at Union Station with direct service to Grand Central in New York and South Station in Boston. In addition, many busway routes will extend to other major destinations such as Westfarms mall and the University of Connecticut Health Center. With the combination of green vehicles, expanded routes, the speed and frequency of service and the integration with the rail service, busway ridership is projected at more than 15,000 people a day during the work week.
Under the leadership of Gov. M. Jodi Rell, Sen. Chris Dodd, Rep. John Larson, numerous state legislators and the Capitol Region Council of Governments, we have made substantial progress in moving the busway and rail projects forward. Now is the time for the private sector to voice its strong support of our elected officials so that we can secure the funding, hire the workers and start the construction.
Oz Griebel is president and CEO of the MetroHartford Alliance.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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