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Let's Get Going On Busway

Anton Rick-Ossen

May 02, 2010

The General Assembly will soon decide whether to fund the Hartford- New Britain busway. I urge a "yes" vote.

For starters, public transportation is a solution to many of today's challenges. Poverty, urban decline, climate change and oil dependency can all be alleviated by reliable public transit. As our population ages, more and more people will be dependent on transit for trips to the grocer or doctor. Without transit, our cities will remain unimportant and undesirable. There won't be economic development in cities that don't have reliable transit because too much of their land is given up to surface parking. Look at downtown Hartford.

Also, the cost of car ownership is an increasing burden. At almost $9,000 per year on average, car ownership takes what otherwise would be disposable income away from many families and raises the cost of living. A lower cost of living would help many of us who live here and would attract more employers to the state. Think of the jobs.

With all of the benefits of public transit, one would think we'd have done something about it by now. As it is, we're still debating the busway, despite more than a decade of studies and planning. Critics continue to claim it is a bad idea, for two reasons: It's not light rail, and it's expensive.

At more than $560 million to build, the busway sounds expensive. Current estimates put initial ridership at about 15,000 per day. Over time, if the service is clean and reliable, that number will grow and the busway will prosper. But even assuming no passenger growth and a 40-year life span, about as long as the I-84 viaduct has lasted, the capital cost of the busway is about $2.50 per passenger per day, or the cost of round-trip bus fare.

Factoring in fuel savings, reduction in pollution and economic development, it isn't that expensive it is more an investment than a cost. And let's not forget, about half of the capital cost will be covered by federal grants.

The second critique is that light rail would be better than the busway. This is wrong. Light rail is effective in a dense corridor.

Connecticut's diffuse development and suburban sprawl is best served by buses that can come on and off the busway at their convenience and draw passengers from diverse locations into the corridor. Over time, the busway may turn into the type of densely populated corridor that suits light rail, but it isn't that way today. Nor is the Hartford-to- Waterbury corridor, which some have promoted as a better alternative.

While the legislature ponders the fate of the busway, I offer one last consideration: The I-84 viaduct in Hartford is at the end of its useful life. In the next 10 years or so, it will require major overhaul.

Whether I-84 is rebuilt as is, or buried (which would be the better choice), the project is going to choke off traffic and make commuting into downtown more of a headache than it already is. If we don't have alternatives in place by then, commuters and their employers may head for the hills.

For so many reasons, public transportation is good public policy. Now that we are on the verge of doing something about it, we should put our fears aside, embrace the change that the 21st century demands and build the busway.

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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