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Busway Gains Crucial Federal Funding

Governor, Federal Transit Chief Sign $275 Million Deal For Mass Transit Project

Don Stacom

November 21, 2011

Declaring that they can deliver thousands of construction jobs and a break from I-84 traffic jams, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and federal officials signed a deal Monday for $275 million in aid for the New-Britain-to-Hartford busway.

The $567 million, bus-only expressway will save money and time for thousands of commuters who get stuck in time-burning backups on the highway west of Hartford every morning and afternoon, Federal Transit Administrator Peter Rogoff said at a press conference and ceremonial contract signing at Central Connecticut State University.

"This is a great day for jobs in Connecticut," Rogoff said. "It's a great day for congestion relief on I-84."

Connecticut plans to have as many as 20 buses an hour running each way on the 9.4-mile busway when it opens in 2014.

Malloy called it a valuable part of the state's economic revival plan, and dismissed critics who say it's horrendously overpriced and unnecessary.

"They're wrong. This project is going to work," Malloy told reporters. "This system will be delivering people to work and to home in a timely fashion at a bargain price."

Malloy was flanked by Sen. Joseph I. Lieberman, but the rest of the state's Congressional delegation usually eager to be on hand for such events didn't appear.

Among those who sent aides or written statements were U.S. Rep. Chris Murphy, who represents New Britain, and U.S. Rep. John Larson, whose seniority in Congress helped keep the long-delayed project alive over the past 13 years.

Most opponents have conceded that the federal aid deal essentially scuttled their chance to block the busway project, but state Sen. Joe Markley, R-Southington, insisted he's not giving up.

"Nothing will stop us from fighting this outrageous busway boondoggle, which is a massive waste of taxpayer money and a monumental example of government arrogance," he said in a statement. "Every dollar spent on it, state or federal, will be a dollar wasted that's what we aim to prevent."

Federal money will pay 80 percent of the project's cost, but critics point out that more than $100 million of that funding was diverted from regular federal aid to maintain Connecticut's highways and bridges.

Malloy noted that the busway budget includes more than $50 million to rebuild intersections, ramps and overpasses that would have needed the work anyway.

Rogoff, Malloy and other proponents say the busway will reduce I-84 rush-hour traffic jams by attracting thousands of commuters to ride instead of drive.

Rogoff acknowledged that central Connecticut has a long-established culture of using cars and highways, but pointed out that car-centric cities like Phoenix and Dallas have built enormously popular mass transit systems in recent years.

"In a tough economy with gas prices around $3.50, this can make the difference between a family having two cars or one. If you can get rid of one car payment, you have a real opportunity to help a family budget work," Rogoff said.

He endorsed state projections of 16,000 passengers a day, saying "This wasn't done on the back of a napkin."

Malloy said Connecticut families spend an average of 19 percent of their income on transportation. People living within a half-mile of established mass transit routes can cut that cost to 9 percent, he said.

Lieberman praised Malloy for "a characteristically strong" decision early in his administration to support the busway. Malloy inherited the stalled project from Republican Gov. Jodi M. Rell, and it originated 13 years ago during the administration of Republican John Rowland.

When Malloy took office, two of the Democratic legislators most knowledgeable about transportation then-Sen. Donald DeFronzo, and then-Rep. David McCluskey, both of New Britain were publicly deriding the busway as an outdated idea with ballooning costs and a fuzzy budget. They instead supported using the identical route for a commuter rail line that could be extended through Bristol to connect with Metro-North's route in Waterbury.

But Rogoff and Larson told him the $275 million that was in the pipeline for Connecticut would be lost if the state scrapped the busway. Regional planning agencies, the cities of Hartford and New Britain, and a series of business, labor, transit and environmental groups endorsed the busway. Malloy this spring concluded that the state would build it and spend $112 million of its own money toward the work.

"If you want to bank on failure, do nothing," Malloy said.

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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