15 Years After Transit Planners Suggested The New Britain-to-Hartford Route, The Bulldozers And Cement Mixers Have Arrived
By DON STACOM
December 08, 2012
Behind the state Armory in Hartford, workers operate the backhoes and cranes that are carving a two-story retaining wall beside the Amtrak rail line.
Roughly nine miles away, more crews are preparing a new off-ramp from Route 72 up to New Britain's Truman Overpass.
In between runs a two-lane passageway of back-to-back-to-back job sites: The path of CTfastrak.
Between now and February 2015, the busway is expected to change the look of a dozen neighborhoods in its path by adding stations with parking lots and raising two new bridges. Such large-scale highway work hasn't been seen in central Connecticut in a generation, and it's getting plenty of reaction — cheers and complaints — from homeowners and merchants along the route.
"The younger generation is going to love us for what we're doing here," predicts Nick Augustino, owner of the East Side restaurant in New Britain. "People who work in Hartford can get there in 20 minutes instead of 45. And people in Hartford can say 'Let's go out for German,' they come here, have a few beers and get home safe on the bus."
In Newington, Dan Patriss is also a fan.
"If it's going to take all those cars off the road, I can't see how it's going to hurt," says Patriss, whose Chapman Street home is about 100 yards from where the Newington Junction station will be built. "But I feel for the guys across the street."
Indeed, a half-block away on Sumner Street, Louie and Chris Lombardo have a different view.
"We hate it, we hate it, oh my God we hate it," Chris Lombardo says.
And the Lombardos are not alone.
"I've been hearing 'bang, bang, bang' every morning," says Helen Mierzejewski, whose Flatbush Avenue home is near the jumbo pile-drivers that are putting down piers for a new bridge in West Hartford. "I'd just rather it not be here."
The architects of the bus-only route have heard it all over the years, and they say the real story will come when the buses start rolling.
"This will always be a unique project because of where you're going through — the development is already there," says Michael Sanders, the state Department of Transportation administrator in charge of the busway. "No other project is visible to so many people at so many points."
Building a two-lane highway for buses over the path of a long-abandoned rail line would be simple near rural villages, but CTfastrak runs through some of central Connecticut's most densely built-up communities.
Most segments butt up against houses or businesses, and controversy arose in even the quietest spot: New Britain's Fairview Cemetery. Detractors warn of burial services interrupted by buses zooming down the 0.7-mile stretch through the middle of the graveyard. Sanders says the buses will be much quieter than the trains that most busway opponents had preferred.
Just north of the cemetery, newly completed concrete piers tower over Allen and East streets in front of the Papa's Dodge dealership. They'll carry the busway nearly 20 feet above the busy intersection, preventing the nightmare of a busway slicing through heavy traffic. The bridge is the kind of expense that explains why the $567-million busway is more complex and costly than simply paving over an old railbed, the DOT says.
The East Street work hasn't generated many complaints, unlike the new $18-million bridge that will raise West Hartford's Flatbush Avenue above the busway and the Amtrak line. Construction has made traffic in already heavily traveled area worse, says neighbor Alice Steves.
"The traffic is horrendous," Steves says. "It has changed the neighborhood drastically. I think they should have put it somewhere else."
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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