It took more than 15 years and spanned the terms of three governors, but CTfastrak, nee the Hartford-New Britain busway, is now under construction.
Officials broke ground Tuesday in Hartford's Parkville neighborhood for the 9.4-mile bus rapid transit link from downtown New Britain through Newington and West Hartford to downtown Hartford. The busway also will serve express buses coming from west of New Britain.
When planners first met in Hartford in 1997, their goal was to reduce traffic congestion on I-84, which in turn will reduce energy use and air pollution. That it took 15 years to get going illustrates how hard it is to change the road-centric thinking of the postwar period, when the country built a world-class highway system and mostly ignored other modes of ground transportation.
But cars take up space. Highways get congested. Widening them attracts more cars. Congestion causes huge losses in time and productivity, vastly increases fuel consumption and sends more pollutants into the air. The busway is expensive, at $567 million, but considerably cheaper than oil wars in the Middle East.
The state, and country, cannot keep jamming more cars onto the highways. May CTfastrak — the name will take some getting used to — be just the start of a program that brings bus, train and bicycle transportation to all regions of the state.
Tuesday's ceremony was encouraging on several fronts. It will mean several thousand jobs to the state's construction industry, which has endured high unemployment during the recession. It showed that once Gov. Dannel Malloy greenlighted the project, it was possible to get state permits while commuters were still young enough to enjoy their fruits. In a country that so often seems gridlocked, it showed that it was still possible to build a major public works project.
But as MetroHartford Alliance president and CEO R. Nelson "Oz" Griebel said at Tuesday's ceremony, the work is far from done: "Just because you build it doesn't mean they will come."
The state Department of Transportation must market the product. (The new buses are quite nice.) The state and towns along the line must develop commercial and residential properties near the stations, and locate government facilities there. There must be station parking and shuttles to get riders to the bus stops.
Connecticut will be greener, more prosperous and more fun if all of its major corridors can offer good bus and train service in addition to highway travel. Tuesday was a long-awaited start.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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