Busway Opponents Urge Denial Of Wetlands Permit For Project
By DON STACOM
March 02, 2012
HARTFORD —— The Block the Bus group took another shot at scuttling the planned New Britain busway Thursday, but acknowledged that it was a longshot.
Busway opponents urged a senior state environmental protection official to deny a wetlands permit for the $567 million project. They argued that there are at least two better, cleaner alternatives to building a 9.4-mile bus-only highway between Union Station and downtown New Britain.
In a hearing that lasted nearly two hours, Deputy Commissioner for Environmental Quality Mackey McCleary heard arguments for and against the busway.
Defending the project, Assistant Attorney General Charles Walsh argued that the hearing was the wrong place to discuss transit policy, ridership projections, cost efficiency or other issues raised by the opponents. Instead, McCleary's jurisdiction is limited to determining whether the busway conforms with state regulations on protecting wetlands, Walsh said.
Engineers estimate that construction will damage about 2 acres of wetlands along the route, but the state transportation department has committed to creating more than 5 acres of new wetlands and improving another 4.
Busway opponent Molly McKay encouraged McCleary to base his decision on a section of state regulations that say no wetlands permits should be issued when a "feasible and prudent" alternative exists. The DOT wants the busway to alleviate traffic on I-84, but could accomplish the same result with commuter trains or just by designating bus lanes on existing roads, McKay and Richard Stowe, another busway opponent, asserted.
"A rail corridor is right there," ageed McKay. "To restore rail service in that corridor does not involve construction of a new concrete highway with walls, which is in reality what the busway will be."
Stowe, a rail and cycling advocate, agreed, saying, "This construction project is good for contractors but not so good for the wetlands or the actual users. With the height, bulk and scale of this busway, the visual impact on neighborhoods would be pretty severe."
Walsh noted that the DOT has already made the choice of a busway, so there is no alternative for McCleary to consider. Wetlands hearings aren't intended as a back-door way to debate transportation policy, he argued.
"Alternatives — we believe that is beyond the scope of this hearing," Walsh said.
Recently, a lower-ranking staff member with the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection declined to consider busway alternatives before she recommended granting the wetlands permit. Walsh said that was the right decision.
McCleary will review her report when making his decision. He is expected to do that shortly.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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