Hartford Isn't Backing Away From Battle Over Busway Plan
By DON STACOM
February 15, 2013
HARTFORD –— The city and two neighborhood organizations insist they support the new busway, but are pressing their fight to keep it from shutting down pedestrian traffic along Flower Street.
Leaders of the Frog Hollow and Asylum Hill Neighborhood Revitalization Zones are arguing that the state transportation department is hurting neighborhoods and local businesses in its zeal to build the $567 million busway to New Britain.
If Flower Street is closed as a pedestrian thoroughfare between Capitol and Farmington avenues, "our businesses would be suffocated, and our investments in economic development would be undermined, resulting in the loss of jobs in our NRZ and the deterrence of future private investment in the neighborhood," David Corrigan, Frog Hollow NRZ chairman, said in a letter to DOT Hearing Officer Judith Almeida.
The state transportation department is eager to get a quick go-ahead to permanently close Flower Street's sidewalks at the Amtrak crossing. The crossing was closed to cars and trucks earlier this winter, but Almeida directed that the pedestrian route stay open while the DOT studies alternatives to closing it.
The busway is being built alongside the tracks, and the DOT says the area will be unsafe during heavy construction. Workers who've already been through safety training will be required to wear hardhats and vests at the site, but leaving a sidewalk opens means that anyone — including children, the elderly and the disabled — will cross through without protection.
And once the busway is constructed, the sidewalks at that spot won't be safe to use because there'll be too many lanes between the red-and-white crossing gates, the DOT argues.
Pedestrians and cyclists currently cross just a single set of railroad tracks, and only 12 to 14 trains pass through on an average day. But the busway will add two full lanes of pavement, with buses running in each direction every three minutes at rush-hour peaks, according to the DOT. A second set of railroad tracks is planned for 2014 or 2015, making the crossing even wider and more dangerous, the DOT says.
Neighborhood associations say the DOT's proposed solution — a paved pathway under I-84 — isn't acceptable or safe. The DOT says cyclists and walkers on Flower would be detoured merely a block away to Broad Street, but Corrigan says Broad isn't safe for them and the pathway wouldn't be, either. Neighbors also say the DOT has created its own trouble by designing the busway in that spot, and shouldn't be allowed to solve it by hurting nearby businesses that rely on foot traffic along Flower.
"Millions of dollars of private investment in our NRZ will be undone, and it cannot be the intent of this project or the purpose of state government to undermine the legitimate efforts of our residents and businesses to prosper," Corrigan wrote.
The DOT says it's willing to build a $3 million to $4 million network of pedestrian ramps over the Flower Street crossing, but couldn't complete it until sometime in 2016 at earliest. But meantime, it is determined to close the Flower Street accessway in June to keep on its construction timetable. Neighbors say that's not reasonable, and complain that the DOT has been "disingenuous" when it claims to be working cooperatively with them.
The decision will be up to Almeida. She is assigned to the DOT's administrative law unit and is evaluating whether to approve the plan put forward by DOT's construction unit. At a hearing last month, she asked the city and the NRZs to put forward alternatives. They complained that CTfastrak staff didn't give them fair notice of the hearing, and Almeida last week agreed to continue it on April 4 at 10 a.m. at DOT headquarters in Newington.
Hartford indicated it plans a full-scale presentation on why the DOT plan is faulty. It will present testimony from both NRZs, local businesses, police and fire officials, its public works department and its economic development director, along with a construction engineer and the director of the University of Connecticut's construction oversight office, according to a memo from Deputy Corporation Counsel John Van Norden.
Van Norden also said the city has filed Freedom of Information requests to review DOT engineering documents in advance of the hearing.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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