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State Senator Questions Busway Project

Don Stacom

December 01, 2010

With expenses rising and gas tax revenue stagnant, the state may have to postpone more of its big-ticket transit initiatives, said the co-chairman of the General Assembly's transportation committee.

Among the projects that needs a second look: the New Britain busway, Sen. Donald DeFronzo, D-New Britain, said.

"A number of projects have to come in for additional scrutiny," DeFronzo said in an interview.

DeFronzo might have even more influence over those projects after Dan Malloy is sworn in as governor next month. At the Capitol, DeFronzo is widely rumored to be on Malloy's short list of potential appointees to run the Department of Transportation.

Recent estimates by the Office of Fiscal Analysis show the Special Transportation Fund, which pays for most of Connecticut's big-ticket highway and transit initiatives, will slip into deficit in the next fiscal year.

"That's three to four years ahead of what we expected to be the case. We won't have the money to fund everything, so we'll have to prioritize," he said.

Last year, then-Transportation Commissioner Joseph Marie offered a similar analysis, and put forward a series of potential reductions to Connecticut's long-term list of major transportation projects. The fiscal outlook has worsened since then, and the transportation fund shortfall is projected to total $140 million between mid-2011 and mid-2014. That means the state must consider more reductions, DeFronzo said.

Marie never suggested the busway as a potential cut, and his successor, current Commissioner Jeff Parker, has supported the project. New Britain Mayor Timothy Stewart has consistently said it's a component of his plan to revitalize the city's downtown, and most of the New Britain's legislative delegation has supported it, too.

But DeFronzo, along with several Bristol-area lawmakers and Rep. David McCluskey, D- West Hartford, have said the 9.6-mile bus-only highway is too expensive to build.

The DOT estimates the project will cost $567 million, with the federal funds covering 80 percent of that. The state had hoped federal transportation officials would formally commit to their share of the costs this year, but that didn't happen. The DOT is now looking for that commitment before March, when it plans to begin seeking construction bids.

"We're in a favorable bidding environment now, and we want to get out to bid," said Mike Sanders, manager of the busway initiative.

The project already has some state funding committed, but would need another $22 million in state bonding, according to the DOT.

Connecticut has already spent $60 million on the busway, including about $48 million in federal funds. Marie warned last year that the state might have to repay the federal money if it scraps the busway.

The DOT projects that 15,000 people a day will use the busway, alleviating some of the rush-hour congestion on I-84 between West Hartford and Hartford. After this year's delays, the DOT's new timetable is to begin construction next year and start daily service in Augut of 2014.

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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