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Busway Struggle Is In End Game

By DON STACOM

March 21, 2011

HARTFORD After years of debate, a crucial decision about the future of mass transit in central Connecticut is coming down to Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.

Supporters and critics of the proposed $569 million busway spent three hours Monday pitching their cases to the governor in a private meeting at the Capitol.

Advocates argued that Connecticut is on the verge of landing $270 million in federal aid, and could soon put hundreds of unemployed construction workers into jobs building the bus-only highway between Hartford and New Britain.

Opponents countered that it's a boondoggle that does nothing for the state's larger-scale transportation needs and ruins the chance for any future commuter rail system linking Hartford, Bristol, Waterbury and Fairfield County.

Malloy ended the meeting by giving both sides a couple of days to submit rebuttals. Sometime after that, he'll make the call on whether to put out construction bids this spring or scuttle the long-planned project altogether. His staff has said previously that he is leaning toward approving it.

At issue is whether to build a rapid transit bus system along a 9.6-mile route that includes an abandoned rail bed between Newington and New Britain. The right of way isn't wide enough to accommodate a busway and train tracks, so Connecticut can use it for only one. If the property is set aside for a potential rail system in the future, there can be no busway. If the busway is built, it will consume the best route for any passenger rail system from Hartford to Bristol and beyond. Trains could still link the cities, but would have to make a long detour down to Berlin.

"We made our case, and I thought we made a good one," New Britain Mayor Timothy Stewart said soon after the session. "This project speaks for itself. It's 99 percent designed, it creates close to 1,000 jobs. Sure, the cost is a big number but remember that $275 million is coming from the feds. And $150 million of this budget is for bridges that have to be built or repaired regardless of whether there's a busway."

Stewart was part of a team of busway supporters including state Rep. Tim O'Brien, D-New Britain; Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra; construction union leader Jeff Merrow; New Britain Chamber of Commerce President William F. Millerick; and Lyle Wray, executive director of the Capitol Region Council of Governments.

"I felt like we had a fair hearing. We made our points," said Michael Nicastro, head of the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce and a railroad supporter.

"The key to success on this is a private-public partnership. We talked about how that's working in the Knowledge Corridor and with [Boston-to-Maine's] Downeaster line."

Nicastro and his brother, Rep. Frank Nicastro, D-Bristol, were joined in opposing the busway by council member Maureen Klett representing Newington, rail consultant Ken Briggs of HDR Engineering, Inc., University of Connecticut professor Norman Garrick and Dr. Rick Liftig, a dentist in West Hartford's Elmwood section. The busway would pass through West Hartford and Newington.

Proponents say the busway is the most realistic way to relieve worsening traffic congestion on I-84 west of Hartford, and say it would stimulate economic development along its route. Opponents argue that rail offers a Fairfield County and New York connection that vastly improves the economic development potential at a substantially lower price.

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.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
     
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