Buoyed by winning a long-awaited permit, the state transportation department on Monday hired a Massachusetts company to build part of the New Britain busway for $130 million.
Middlesex Corp. offered the lowest price of eight companies that bid for the job of building a 5.8-mile stretch of bus-only highway through sections of Newington and Hartford, according to the DOT.
The DOT announced that it received a crucial inland wetlands permit on Friday from the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection. Opponents of the busway had tried to block the permit, saying the DOT had ignored at least two more efficient and cleaner alternatives. DEEP concluded that the Block the Bus organization's arguments weren't relevant to the wetlands issue.
"[The wetlands] proceedings was not, and is not, the appropriate venue for a mass transit strategy discussion," wrote Mackey McCleary, a deputy commissioner at DEEP.
DOT on Monday awarded the single-biggest construction contract of the $567 million project to Middlesex of Littleton, Mass. The job includes building 5.8 miles of the 9.4-mile busway and constructing seven stations and a new bridge at Flatbush Avenue in West Hartford. DOT expects to break ground this spring and start service in 2014.
The Connecticut Fund for the Environment, one of the environmental groups and business associations supporting the busway, praised the DEEP decision.
"This is just one more roadblock that the New Britain-Hartford busway project has overcome and we are looking forward to seeing a shovel finally hit pavement," said Charles Rothenberger, staff attorney for the organization.
Michael Nicastro, a prominent busway opponent, said Monday that it's not surprising an out-of-state company got the contract. He predicted that the trade unions that supported the busway plan last year will be disappointed when they see how few Connecticut people get jobs.
"We kept telling people to be careful what they wished for -- this is federal money, so the contracts had to be open to everyone," said Nicastro, president of the Bristol-based Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce. "I'm sure this company will hire some local people, but there'll be nowhere near the jobs boom that people were talking about. Companies usually bring in their leadership, their managers, their best workers from out of state."
The busway will run from downtown New Britain into Newington along an abandoned railroad right of way, and then continue alongside the Amtrak route through West Hartford to Union Station in Hartford. The DOT plans to build 11 stations and run buses from 4:30 a.m. to 1:30 a.m., with peak rush-hour service operating every three minutes.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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