How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Busway
November 21, 2011
You too can learn to love the political punching bag known as the New Britain-to-Hartford busway.
After flirting with the opposition for months, I'm jumping aboard the $567 million mass transit line that critics like to deride as the bus to nowhere. The great irony here is that it may actually make it easier for a lot of folks to get in and out of Hartford.
For those of you still listening to those self-serving guys on AM radio who can't stop talking about how nutty the busway is, let me show you the reasons why I overcame my loathing and learned to even like the idea of the 9.4-mile bus highway that was officially announced Monday at a New Britain press conference.
The busway is actually a pretty sweet deal for Connecticut. Huh? Sure the price is $567 million, but the federal government is picking up $455 million of a project that will create or sustain 4,000 construction jobs over the next few years. With 8.7 percent unemployment, I'll take that deal. In a competitive process, Connecticut won a huge federal prize — let's not play that game of rejecting federal money to score political points with the Tea Party set. If that's the game, then I can think of a few submarines we don't need.
16,000 trips a day, are you crazy? Actually, bus rapid transit systems, based on the same conservative models used to forecast ridership here, are showing success around the country, from Cleveland to southern California. The projected 16,000 daily figure for the busway comprises 11,000 trips already being made, plus 5,000 additional new rides.
Lyle Wray, executive director of the Capitol Region Council of Governments — which prepared the New Britain-to-Hartford ridership estimates — told me that "bus rapid transit is not about the 9.4-mile road. It's the network." This may be the most underlooked argument of the busway debate. Wray means that the busway is a major new artery that will be attached to feeder routes, speeding up travel and adding options for many riders who take a bus — or who are thinking about it. For example, it is estimated that almost 36 percent of busway trips will come from transfers from a feeder bus.
The busway isn't a big fat Democratic boondoggle. Here I must thank, of all people, U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman, who graciously pointed out Monday that the busway, ever since planning began back in the late 1990s, has been a bipartisan affair. The project began when Bill Clinton was in the White House and continued through George Bush, steadily moving forward under former Gov. John Rowland and through the administration of former Gov. M. Jodi Rell.
"This has always enjoyed broad support,'' Lieberman said, pointing out that it stands in stark contrast to the partisan meltdown unfolding in Washington, D.C. "This project didn't just spring out of nowhere … It really has been bipartisan all along the way."
I'm also willing to bet that the busway is up and running successfully before we ever see a lively entertainment district at the Adriaen's Landing development at Front Street, another state-financed development that many Republicans had no problem with.
High-speed rail is a long way off and it's going to remain that way. You bet I'd like a high-speed commuter rail from New Haven to Springfield and beyond, but keep dreaming. There's almost zero likelihood that President Obama will convince Congress to embrace the billion-dollar investment that rail would require. We should grab the second best, and affordable, option of creating better mass transit while we have it.
People will change their habits, if it's an easier ride. The busway isn't designed like MetroNorth, where commuters drive to train stations. Commuters who take a connector bus to the busway corridor will find a bus showing up as often as every three minutes. Right now, 60 percent of the area's traffic congestion is between Hartford and New Britain on I-84. With no traffic except commuter buses, the busway will be a dramatic alternative to this.
"If you want to bank on failure, do nothing,'' Gov. Dannel P. Malloy told a crowded ceremony at Central Connecticut State University Monday morning in remarks that also pretty much sum up his administration thus far.
"If you want to bring about success, do everything in your power on as many fronts as you can, all at once, to get your state, your community moving ahead."
The busway moves us forward.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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