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CON: The Busway Is No Longer Valid Transportation Solution

By Mike Nicastro

November 01, 2010

Over the last few weeks, residents and businesses in Central Connecticut may have seen the media blitz lead by the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce, Sierra Club of Connecticut, National Corridors and Rail TEC exposing the high costs and low value of the proposed New Britain/Hartford Busway.

Using traditional print media, online and social networking, we have urged those in state and federal leadership along with private citizens to pause and give serious consideration to the issue before a mistake of generational proportions is made.

In response, the proponents of the Busway have argued that, “the project is “too far along,” “opponents are late to the issue,” “this is a battle between Bristol and New Britain” and the ultimate fall back of creating fear, uncertainty and doubt, “changing now will take another 10 years.” All of which are expected emotional or “can’t do” bureaucratic responses that fail to deal with the reality of the changed times and economics of the project.

Here’s the deal on the busway:

The project was first conceived in the late 1990’s and was first estimated at approximately $80 million. Originally the plan called for upwards of 20 stations with each having full service stations and parking locations. The goal — alleviate congestion on the I-84 corridor.

Today the overall costs have ballooned to $570 million. There are now only 11 stations. The amenities have disappeared with the majority of the stations now becoming simple bus shelters and parking. As far as the alleviation of congestion on I-84 is concerned, the projected numbers of new riders provides very little in relief. We now know that validation studies failed to take into consideration any of the commuters west of Plainville. Nor does the project remove one truck from the road.

In addition, a currently unused right-of-way with long term strategic value for both passenger and freight rail will be taken on a permanent basis. Considering the depth of which rail is once again being looked at from both a private and public (Warren Buffett’s investments) perspective, this is not a smart idea. Especially when you consider that extending the busway any further west is a virtual impossibility from both a physical and investment standpoint.

Even the most ardent of bus rapid transit (BRT) proponents will concede that the argued cost advantages of BRT routes are lost when the plan is designed in the same fashion as the proposed New Britain/Hartford Busway. The amount of capital required for land acquisition, design and ultimate construction become significant as has been validated by DOT’s current plan.

By comparison the Euclid Avenue Busway in Cleveland, Ohio, was built along an existing road corridor. Most of the work needed to make this project come about was accomplished by segregating a bus specific lane along an existing road and then building station shelters and developing a schedule of cross-street light timings to keep the buses moving and on schedule.

Our project is nowhere near that level of simplicity. It is for all intents and purposes a light-rail line with rubber wheels that is not reasonably expandable. As such it has required huge sums of capital while at the same time taking property from tax rolls and eliminating rail rights-of-way. This results in a cost of over $60 million per mile and more than $147,000 per new projected rider.

This is not to say that BRT does not have a place in the vision for Central Connecticut. In fact, with some creativity and new thinking, much of the design around the busway could be used with a plan based on rail extending the existing Waterbury line to Bristol, New Britain, West Hartford and Hartford. Existing and new feeder routes could be used in the same way as envisioned with the busway.

At the same time, existing rail infrastructure can be improved and brought online for far less investment and much sooner as has been validated by projects in Maine and Massachusetts. Check out the Downeaster extension to Brunswick and the Knowledge Corridor as great examples.

Reality is that time has run past this bloated project. It is now simply too high on cost and too low on long-term strategic value. We should expect more for our dollar and this project certainly fails to meet that expectation.

For those seeking more information, you can join us on our web site at www.CentralCTChambers.org or at www.facebook.com/buswaywrongway.

Michael Nicastro is president and CEO of Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce. Reach him at M.Nicastro@CentralCTChambers.org

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Business Journal. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Business Journal Archives at http://www.hartfordbusiness.com/archives.php.
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