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Rally Behind Busway

March 6, 2005

The New Britain-Hartford busway is the most innovative transit project in the state and a key to a brighter future for this metropolitan area. It's the cornerstone of the plan to build a true rapid transit system in Greater Hartford, which reduce congestion and create more livable communities

So innovative is the busway that the Federal Transit Administration views it as a national demonstration project. A busway is like a surface subway in that it has its own road, called a "dedicated guideway," stations and frequent and extended service (buses every 5 to 15 minutes from early morning to late night). Busways have been in use for years in Canada, Europe, South America and some U.S. cities, notably Pittsburgh. Our busway will run along active and inactive railroad lines in four municipalities: New Britain, Newington, West Hartford and Hartford.

Half of the busway's construction costs, some $175 million, could come from FTA. Recently, however, the FTA has raised concerns, with the result being that the project slipped off its "recommended" list. This is a loud call to action for everyone involved in this project. While FTA's downgrading is reversible, we must respond quickly and with a sense of urgency.

The Capitol Region Council of Governments was an early and strong advocate for the New Britain-Hartford busway. In our discussions with FTA since the announcement, the agency unequivocally stated that this is a strong transit project. We can regain recommended status by answering FTA's questions on costs, financing and schedule. There is much work to be done, and the Connecticut Department of Transportation, the project's sponsor, along with everyone else involved must commit the necessary resources to accomplish this by August. This will take a cooperative effort by the DOT, CRCOG, Central Connecticut Regional Planning Association, the four affected municipalities and our congressional delegation.

We can take heart from the fact that other regions have recovered from unfavorable ratings. Portland, Oregon's Interstate MAX light rail project and Cleveland's Euclid Avenue busway project were both given "not recommended" ratings by FTA in previous years. Both regions succeeded in correcting their problems and FTA is now funding the construction of both projects. We can do the same.

For the Hartford region, this essential transportation investment is not only the first leg of our regional transit system, but also proof of our commitment to more balanced transportation. Furthermore, it supports local, regional and state goals to integrate land use and transportation. CRCOG has spent nearly two years working with the busway municipalities to prepare transit-supportive land-use plans that use the busway as a catalyst for economic development. Finally, the busway will effectively address congestion on I-84 west of Hartford and at a fraction of the cost of widening the highway.

Rather than viewing this as a setback, we should view it as an opportunity. It is time to rally around the project, improve it and look for opportunities to accelerate the schedule.

We thank Gov. M. Jodi Rell for her recent statement of support for this project, and her commitment to take the steps necessary to restore its recommended status. The governor has demonstrated leadership in addressing the transportation crisis facing the state, and we welcome her willingness to support critical projects in central Connecticut. Like the governor, we recognize that our transportation system is essential to economic vitality and that we need to take action now to prevent even greater problems tomorrow.

CRCOG has promised the public that it will help deliver this rapid transit system to the region and we stand by that pledge.

Stephen T. Cassano is the mayor of Manchester and chairman of the Capitol Region Council of Governments' policy board.

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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