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Malloy To Pursue Hartford-New Britain Busway

Also Wants Study of Waterbury-To-Bristol Rail Line

By DANIELA ALTIMARI and JON LENDER

April 04, 2011

HARTFORD Gov Dannel P. Malloy on Monday threw his support behind construction of a $567 million New Britain-to-Hartford busway that he said could begin operating in 2014.

Malloy's decision follows years of debate about the future of mass transit in central Connecticut.

"It is clear Connecticut can no longer afford the status quo," Malloy said. He said his decision was partly motivated by a desire not to leave federal money on the table.

Advocates have argued that Connecticut is on the verge of landing $270 million in federal aid and could soon put hundreds of unemployed construction workers to work on the project.

The busway would travel along a 9.6-mile route that includes an abandoned railroad bed. It would run through Hartford, West Hartford, Newington and New Britain.

Supporters say the busway is the best way to relieve I-84 traffic congestion, revitalize downtown New Britain, and benefit much of central Connecticut. The Department of Transportation projects 15,000 commuters a day would use the busway, which would cost about $10 million a year to operate. The department has said that fares would cover $2.5 million, and that taxpayers would subsidize $7.5 million a year.

Opponents have countered that the busway is 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.

The rail right-of-way included in the busway plans isn't wide enough to accommodate both the busway and train tracks. If the busway is built, it will consume the best route for any passenger rail system from Hartford to Bristol and beyond, critics say.

Malloy's announcement Monday was hailed by Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra as an economic boon for the area, though a disappointed Scott Slifka, mayor of West Hartford, said he was concerned about construction and maintenance of the busway, among other issues.

Malloy said he entered into a deliberate process regarding the busway, meeting with both advocates and critics.

"I did something that hasn't been done around here in a while: I brought everybody together and had a conversation. And gave everyone an opportunity to make their arguments," he said at an afternoon press conference at the Legislative Office Building.

While both sides made "good and sound arguments," Malloy said, he ultimately came to believe the project deserved to be built. It will create untold new jobs, he said.

"I believe the busway should move forward with all due course. but at the same time I also believe we need to move rapidly toward making money available to do the early work on the reintroduction of a Waterbury to Bristol [rail] connection," he said.

Malloy said he would request $1 million to begin the process of planning the rail project.

The busway and the Waterbury-to-Bristol line are not mutually exclusive, he said.

"I believe we can continue down these two avenues or tracks,'' he said. "It is clear Connecticut can no longer afford the status quo on any front, including our current transportation system."

Hartford Mayor Segarra, who was part of a team of busway supporters including New Britain Mayor Timothy Stewart, Rep. Tim O'Brien, D-New Britain, and construction union leader Jeff Merrow, said: "It can really help the capital city to grow and develop. It's going to make it easier for people to reach us, and it's going to make it easier for workers within the city to go out into surrounding communities to access jobs."

"It's very important, as we're trying to grow our economy," Segarra said, noting that when companies decide whether to locate in an area, "they want to know about what transportation systems are in place for making their workers more mobile."

He said he sees the busway as "a component of many future efforts to provide more connectivity between our cities." The schedule of buses, he said, will be "very aggressive" with "eight or nine stops along the way, strategically located" to connect the busway with "entire communities."

Rep. Christopher Wright, D-Bristol, a backer of the rail connection, wasn't so enthusiastic. He said the rail link would ultimately let people travel down the line to New York from Bristol, an important improvement that, for example, would help his city's most famous corporate citizen, ESPN. "The busway does nothing for ESPN," Wright said.

"Not only does bus rapid transit have little or no economic impact on commercial property, but in fact has a negative impact on residential property," said Michael D. Nicastro, head of the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce in Bristol, who was on the pro-rail, anti-busway team that made a presentation to Malloy last month. He said the team supported its argument with documents from two respected organizations, including the Brookings Institution in Washington, D.C.

Slifka, mayor of West Hartford, called Malloy's announcement "disappointing." In a letter to the governor, Slifka outlined a number of concerns, including construction issues, maintenance costs and the location of bus stops. The busway will travel through the heart of West Hartford's Elmwood section, a densely populated commercial corridor.

"[T]he Department of Transportation must work with us to institute appropriate construction times and traffic flow/detours, replace the many mature trees slated for removal and institute an overall communications plan to keep residents and businesses apprised of project progress and changes,'' Slifka wrote.

Slifka is also asking the governor to transfer the responsibility of maintaining a bridge and two bus stops from the town to the state. And he is seeking a commitment that a West Hartford stop will be included in the proposed Springfield-to-New Haven rail line.

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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