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Busway Opponents, Advocates Ramp Up Campaigns

Controversy Over New Britain Rapid-Transit Bus Plan

By DON STACOM

July 31, 2011

WATERBURY Insisting that there's still time to stop the $569 million New Britain-to-Hartford busway, three Republican state lawmakers are calling for taxpayers to rally against it in mid-August.

"The cost works out to $1,000 an inch. That's a sobering thought, or a nauseating one," Sen. Joe Markley, R-Southington, said during a public meeting at the Rotella Magnet School in late July. "There has got to be a way to prevent this."

Markley, Rep. Selim Noujaim, R-Waterbury, and Rep. Rob Sampson, R-Wolcott hosted the meeting to fire up opponents of the long-planned busway, one of the state's most expensive mass transit initiatives.

But turnout was minimal, with an audience of fewer than three dozen sprinkled across the school's auditorium. Markley didn't appear dissuaded, though, eagerly handing out anti-busway petitions and fliers for an Aug. 11 Department of Transportation meeting about the project.

Busway critics want to organize a show of opposition at the DOT public meeting, and again at a Department of Energy and Environmental Protection hearing in October. Markley acknowledged that he would be happy to derail the project on economic grounds, environmental grounds or any other grounds that succeed.

"We'll do this by hook or by crook," he said.

The DOT doesn't want to sign construction contracts for the bus-only highway until Congress and the Federal Transit Administration confirm that they will kick in $275 million. The DOT has been waiting for that approval for more than a year, and Markley and other opponents contend that the plan will be scuttled if delays drag on long enough.

Advocates of the busway are building their own case to present at the DEEP session. The Connecticut Fund for the Environment declared that fighting the busway is hurting Connecticut.

"As has been said time and time again, by attempting to block the busway, the opponents are effectively blocking an influx of thousands of jobs that are badly needed to revive our struggling economy, " said Rebecca Kaplan, director of communications for the organization. "It is estimated that the project will create more than 4,000 jobs, putting construction workers, engineers, bus drivers and everyone in between back to work. It will offer bus riders a 21st century rapid transit option, the first of its kind in Connecticut."

The New Britain Chamber of Commerce, the city of Hartford and the entire delegation of New Britain state legislators all favor the busway, saying it will ease I-84 traffic backups and spur the region's economy.

Bristol legislators and most of its city leaders oppose the project; they'd prefer Connecticut re-establish commuter rail on a line that cuts through their downtown.

Michael Nicastro, president of the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce, said at the Waterbury meeting that Connecticut can create jobs much less expensively by rebuilding the rail line that parallels the busway corridor. The rail option is better because it would also serve Bristol, Plainville and Plymouth as well as provide a new link between Hartford, Waterbury and Fairfield County, Nicastro said.

Nicastro dismissed the DOT's projections of 15,000 daily riders on the rapid-transit bus system, saying part of that would come from newly proposed express bus routes from Hartford to Bristol, Southington and Waterbury. He pointed out that when Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's administration planned potential budget cuts this year, those routes were eliminated.

"This is ridiculous. It can't go forward," Markley said.

Deborah Schultz, a Woodbury resident, said she plans to speak against the busway at the DOT's meeting Aug. 11 at 6 p.m. at Central Connecticut State University.

"I'm not opposed to public transportation, but I don't see where there's a need for this," she said. "We can't pay for this and still keep up our roads and bridges."

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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