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Hamzy, Former GOP State Chairman, Endorses Hartford-To-Waterbury Rail Line

By DON STACOM

March 01, 2010

BRISTOL

In another sign that the dispute over the Hartford-to-New Britain busway isn't splitting along partisan lines, a prominent Republican has endorsed a Hartford-to-Waterbury rail alternative instead.

Rep. William Hamzy of Plymouth, a former GOP state chairman, said Thursday that re-establishing passenger train service would be more cost-effective than spending about $569 million for a 9.6-mile, bus-only highway.

The rail alternative "is necessary for the continued vitality of our region and will bring substantial economic, social and environmental benefits to Bristol and the surrounding region," Hamzy said recently in a letter to Connecticut's congressional delegation.

Hamzy is going against the position of at least two Republican leaders; Gov. M. Jodi Rell's administration has backed the busway for years, and New Britain Mayor Timothy Stewart is one of its most vocal supporters.

Democrats are also divided. U.S. Rep. John Larson, 1st District, and U.S. Sen. Christopher Dodd support the busway, as does state Rep. Tim O'Brien of New Britain. But the leader of New Britain's legislative delegation, state Sen. Donald DeFronzo, opposes it. West Hartford's Democratic delegation to the General Assembly also opposes it, as do many Democratic legislators and city officials from Bristol.

The political differences could prove pivotal as the busway vs. rail debate heads to the General Assembly. Rell's transportation chief, Joseph Marie, says that Connecticut probably will get its final federal approval along with more than $200 million in funding for the busway this year. Opponents hope to block the project before then, but admit that the political momentum favors the busway.

The three chief points of contention are money, location and the future. Busway advocates say that Connecticut would be foolish to throw away hundreds of millions in federal aid that's almost locked in for the busway; they add that the Hartford-to-Waterbury rail route has no chance of coming close to federal aid for years at least. Busway opponents say the project will devour badly needed federal and state transportation funds for years.

The battle over location will determine whether New Britain or Bristol gets the chief economic development boost. Bristol prefers returning passenger trains to the lightly used rail line because that route goes directly past a 17-acre downtown property that's awaiting development. New Britain wants the busway because the last station would be in the heart of its downtown.

Busway advocates say their project would attract 15,000 riders a day, including 4,000 who currently add to rush-hour congestion on I-84. They say a system of express and feeder buses is more flexible and economical than rail. Train advocates warn that if the busway is built, it will forever block top-quality commuter rail service on the Bristol line. The busway and the rail line both would use a stretch of abandoned rail bed between New Britain and Newington.

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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