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Opponents Want To Scuttle New Britain-Hartford Busway Plan

By DON STACOM

September 21, 2010

NEW BRITAIN Opponents of the long-delayed $572 million busway to Hartford are mounting an advertising campaign aimed at scuttling the project, or least halting it until after the new governor takes office.

The busway's progress stalled last spring because of delays in landing $275 million in federal aid, and critics hope that gives them an opportunity to kill it.

"We're big believers in mass transit, but this thing is not the right solution," said Michael Nicastro, president of the Greater Bristol Chamber of Commerce. "It will be a waste of money. At that price, we should be getting a lot more."

The chamber on Monday launched an ad campaign with the theme "The busway is the wrong way." Co-sponsors include the Sierra Club of Connecticut, an environmental group, and the National Corridors Initiative and Rails*Trains*Ecology*Cycling, both rail-advocacy groups.

The state transportation department has been working for more than 13 years to develop a bus-only highway connecting downtown New Britain and downtown Hartford on an abandoned rail right of way. Planners say it would handle 15,000 riders a day, including a significant number of commuters who currently get stuck in the daily traffic jam on congested I-84.

The DOT had hoped to secure an assurance of $275 million in federal aid last spring. But that now isn't expected to come through until sometime this fall, according to the agency.

New Britain Mayor Timothy Stewart and other supporters say the busway would spur residential and business development around the proposed stations in New Britain, West Hartford and Hartford.

Bristol officials and several state legislators contend that a better, less expensive plan is to rebuild the passenger rail system from Hartford to Waterbury, which passes through New Britain and Bristol.

"To pay for this busway, they want to siphon off $120 million from Connecticut's federal highway funding when we have bridges and highways falling apart, billions of dollars in structural deficits," Nicastro said.

DOT officials insist that switching plans now would lead to years of additional delays and would probably cost Connecticut its chance for $275 million in federal funding.

They also maintain that a bus corridor would be more flexible than a passenger train system because buses from Southington, Cheshire, Waterbury, Bristol and elsewhere could use it to bypass rush-hour backups between New Britain and Hartford.

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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