For a state that dearly needs to complete a transit project, it's been a good year so far. First, Connecticut landed $40 million for the New Haven-to-Springfield rail corridor. Then the White House proposed a $45 million allocation for the New Britain-to-Hartford busway.
The grant, which would come from the U.S. Department of Transportation's "New Starts" program if approved by Congress, positions the project for full federal support, meaning the federal government will pay 80 percent of the busway's $569 million cost. "It's a very strong signal that the federal government wants to do this project with us," said state Department of Transportation Commissioner Joseph Marie.
The busway is essentially a bus-only private road that will run along rail lines for 9.4 miles between the Hardware and Insurance cities.
The project was proposed more than a decade ago in response to a study that showed increasing traffic congestion in the I-84 corridor. Though the busway languished for a time, it's had the full attention of state and regional officials in recent years. If the service is rapid and reliable, it will draw cars off the highway, reduce pollution and energy use, and make commuting more pleasant.
Like the rail project, the busway should offer economic development opportunities to the towns along the line, and it should be a huge boon to nearby institutions such as Central Connecticut State University.
There has been a debate about whether this project should be bus or rail. If it were starting anew, it might be a rail project. But the busway is the bird in the hand. It can be operating by 2014. The increasing success of busways and bus rapid transit in cities as disparate as Pittsburgh and Los Angeles strongly suggests it can work here.
The massive, virtually exclusive emphasis on highways in the post-World War II period ruined transit as a system in this state. With the imperatives of climate change and dependence on foreign oil, we need to re-establish the system. Instead of debating bus vs. rail, we need both bus and rail, to develop the kinds of multi-modal networks that are bringing prosperity to metropolitan regions around the world.
The busway is an integral piece of the puzzle; Congress, in its wisdom, should keep the funds in its final budget.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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