A contingent of local business leaders said restoring Hartford-to-Bridgeport passenger train service through Bristol could spur economic development up and down the line, benefiting Plymouth and New Britain as well as their own city.
Representatives from local construction unions and New Britain-area developers insisted that such a plan is long-term as well as a long shot, and argued that proceeding with the Hartford-to-New Britain busway project is the much better choice.
A forum Monday night about the controversial busway plan drew about 30 people, with speakers alternately condemning it as wasteful or declaring that it should be supported unanimously. The back-and-forth illustrated how debate over the $567 million busway has bogged down over the past year; both camps now agree on most of the central facts, but aren't wavering in their opinions for or against the project.
State transportation planners want to solicit bids in March and have commuters riding rapid-transit buses on the system by late 2014, but they must wait for a federal commitment of $275 million in aid before awarding contracts. Rail advocates say the concept is outdated and does nothing to serve major employers like ESPN that want mass transit to New York City, which a rail route would offer.
"We have a lot of people working in Bridgeport and Stamford. Rail gives us access to the west as well as access to Hartford," said chamber President Michael Nicastro, a busway opponent.
"Hartford and New Britain want this busway to boost their economies. We need something now," said Mike Petosa, a Bristol Labor Council official and busway supporter.
Both sides insist this isn't a struggle between New Britain and Bristol or a choice between rail and bus rapid transit. But the state transportation department acknowledges that if the busway is built, it will consume the existing right of way available for a direct rail route. And Bristol leaders acknowledge that train service would be a huge benefit for redevelopment of their old downtown mall site, while New Britain leaders are counting on the busway to revitalize their downtown.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has declared he'll decide by the end of March whether to build or scrap the busway project.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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