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Stewart Still Upbeat About Busway

Mayor Set To Meet Today With State Officials About Project's Future

February 22, 2005
By JOANN KLIMKIEWICZ, Courant Staff Writer

NEW BRITAIN -- Mayor Timothy Stewart will meet with state transportation officials today to talk about the future of the stalled New Britain-Hartford busway proposal - a project some local officials still hope will be developed.

Earlier this month, federal transportation officials downgraded their rating of the mass transit project to "not recommended," citing ballooning costs and a concern over the state's ability to build the project.

As proposed, the 9.6-mile bus-only roadway would pass through Newington and the Elmwood section of West Hartford as it followed railroad rights of way to connect the downtowns of Hartford and New Britain.

"I've already heard some feedback from [Gov. M. Jodi] Rell's office and my understanding is that somebody may have overreacted to that [federal] statement," Stewart said Monday. "I don't think it's a dead issue and we'll find out more details [today]."

Department of Transportation officials and busway project managers will meet with chief executives from the affected towns to explain the obstacles and what can be done to save it.

In New Britain, some hailed the busway as a unique opportunity to spur economic development by clustering housing, shops and restaurants around the route's station stops. Others doubted the project could get off the ground and cautioned that the city should not depend on it to help a downtown rebirth. Its last estimated cost was $337 million.

"I think it's a significant piece in what ought to be a major commitment to redefining downtown," said Art Helfgott, chairman of a panel that studied development possibilities on New Britain's portion of the project.

Stewart said he found some of the development plans promising. But, "I never viewed the busway as an economic development engine."

What's been problematic now, Stewart said, is that while the project has inched along - and now hangs in limbo - it has also been tying up development of key properties in the downtown area.

For example, Stewart has been looking at the former Greenfield's Supermarket site on Columbus Boulevard and Main Street for construction of a new police station. That property, however, has been tied to busway plans.

Stewart said he wants "an answer one way or another. ... don't want to be waiting for five years for this thing to get the OK."

State Rep. Tim O'Brien, D-24th District, said he would like a similar meeting with DOT officials and state legislators.

"We spend a lot of money on highway expansion and we need to divert a lot more to some of the longer-term needs of the state," he said. For New Britain, the busway would "connect us to our region in a way that we're not."

O'Brien said he was glad to hear Rell's support of the project. He urged the state's Republican leaders to work with their GOP colleagues in Washington to get support for the project.

"I can't help but think that the blue state factor is one of the things that comes into play here," he said.

"All of our long-term plans for downtown were centered on this busway coming into play," said Jason Jakubowski, the city treasurer.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
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