NEW BRITAIN —— The $569 million busway to Hartford would be an environmental bonanza for central Connecticut by reducing air pollution and blocking urban sprawl, proponents declared at a state hearing on the project Wednesday night.
Building the busway could save some Hartford children from developing asthma, and would encourage developers to salvage long-abandoned industrial properties along the route, speakers said at the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection hearing.
"Air quality, brownfields and greenfields — this is a very important step forward for the region," said Lyle Wray, executive director of the Capitol Region Council of Governments.
Most speakers at the hearing at Central Connecticut State University encouraged DEEP to grant a wetlands permit for the busway. The state transportation department has acknowledged that building the 9.6-mile bus-only highway would damage a small area of wetlands, but is willing to spend $9 million to create new wetlands and beef up protection for others.
Also, the busway would reduce rush-hour congestion on I-84 that might be leading to an unusually high rate of asthma among Hartford children, speakers said.
"The project is estimated to take 5,000 cars off of Connecticut's roadways and support 16,000 transit trips a day, both of which will reduce traffic congestion, carbon emissions and greenhouse gases dramatically," said Ryan Lynch, senior planner with the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a nonprofit advocacy group.
"The busway will promote environmental justice by reducing air pollution for citizens in Hartford County, especially those in the inner-city neighborhoods, and by increasing transit options," said Kirsten Griebel of the Connecticut League of Conservation Voters.
Several busway opponents have gained intervenor status, and will present their case on Friday when the hearing resumes in Hartford. The Connecticut chapter of the Sierra Club is among those who argue that the busway would ruin the chances for a better and less expensive transit option — a Hartford-to-Waterbury rail route that requires some of the same rights-of-way that the busway will take.
Gail Budrejko, one of the few busway critics to speak up at the hearing, argued that the DOT's plan to build a concrete barrier along the route would be "a Berlin wall." That prompted Richard Stowe, another opponent, to ask whether the barrier would harm wild animals on the route by blocking their access to water and food.
The DEEP is expected to decide later this summer or in the fall whether to authorize a wetlands permit.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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