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