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Forward On Busway: Benefits Of Transit Corridor Are Clear

Karen Burnaska

March 20, 2011

By this summer, hundreds of people could be put to work on the New Britain-to-Hartford busway project, helping to jump-start the state's economy while serving commuters along I-84. The same cannot be said of the proposed revitalization of the Waterbury-to-Hartford commuter rail service that opponents of the busway are touting.

In fact, it is unknown if the commuter rail is even a feasible option for central Connecticut. Nixing the busway a project that will create more than 4,700 jobs in the long run, relieve commuters from sitting in hours of traffic and make the state a national model for bus rapid transit would be unwise and detrimental to the state, politically and economically.

The facts and benefits of the New Britain-to-Hartford busway are clear it will connect the 9.4 miles between New Britain and Hartford and speed bus travel from the surrounding region, providing thousands of commuters with access to high-speed transit to and from their jobs. It will spur economic growth along the corridor, creating thousands of new jobs and making it more desirable for new businesses to open in the region. And it will encourage drivers to take their cars off the roads, helping to lower our carbon footprint.

The cost of the project includes more than just constructing the busway. It covers the purchase of the right-of-way where the busway will be located from Newington Junction to New Britain; the cost of building a bicycle path adjacent to the busway; the construction of bridges and all other structures for the busway; the construction of all 11 stations and the purchase of buses.

The project is funded 80 percent by the federal government, leaving the state to cover only 20 percent of the total cost. With that expenditure we get true rapid bus service, operating every three to six minutes during rush hour (faster at times than traditional subway service) and shortening the ride from New Britain to Hartford from 45 to 20 minutes.

If Gov. Dannel P. Malloy decides not to go through with the busway, after a decade of planning and gaining the support of the Federal Transit Administration and President Barack Obama, funding for any future transportation projects may be in jeopardy.

The project has a significant amount of support from federal, state and local legislators, businesses, labor unions and large institutions, including Central Connecticut State University. Developers are already lining up, ready to work on transit-oriented development projects surrounding the 11 stations on the busway, which would coordinate housing with places of employment to make the region more sustainable and desirable.

Opponents of the busway say that rail would best serve central Connecticut. However, the 1999 study that identified the busway as the transit mode of choice also looked at rail as an option. The study found that rail was less flexible than a busway and would serve fewer riders. Multiple buses serving the same routes can run concurrently; trains sharing a track cannot.

Additionally, buses are able to enter and exit the busway, serving a far broader geographic area. Trains are stuck to serving only the towns along the track, which limits their coverage.

There have been no studies of the suggested Waterbury-to-Hartford rail line to demonstrate its viability. There is no funding in place. The cost of the project is unknown, but could be high because it could require new rail to be laid and double-tracking of the line. In addition, rights-of-way would have to be purchased and widened. It would also have to go through the complex Federal Transit Administration's New Starts project development process, which could take six years or more.

Pursuing a Waterbury-to-Hartford commuter rail line instead of the busway would be giant leap backward for our transit infrastructure.

Karen Burnaska is coordinator of the Transit for Connecticut Coalition, a program of the Connecticut Fund for the Environment based in New Haven.

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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