Federal Agency: New Britain Link `Not Recommended'
February 9, 2005
By MIKE SWIFT, Courant Staff Writer
Federal transportation officials
on Tuesday downgraded their rating of Greater Hartford's top
mass transit priority, a proposed rapid bus link between Hartford
and New Britain - a decision that leaves the $337 million plan
The so-called New Britain-Hartford busway would create a 9.6-mile
bus-only roadway, a transit route that would pass through Newington
and the Elmwood section of West Hartford as it followed railroad
rights of way to connect the downtowns of Hartford and New Britain.
In dropping the busway's designation
to "not recommended" from "recommended," Federal
Transit Administrator Jennifer L. Dorn criticized cost increases
and said federal officials were concerned about the state Department
of Transportation's financial capacity to build the project,
as well as the state's overall commitment to its transportation
"The Hartford project has been plagued with some problems," Dorn
said in a conference call with reporters Tuesday. "The financial
capacity of DOT to support this project is also of concern to
us. The cost has tripled since the original estimate."
The busway's scheduled completion
had already been delayed from 2007 to 2010, one reason costs
have grown, local officials said. But the Federal Transit Administration's
report had other criticisms of the project, among them the
fact that "critical right
of way agreements remain unexecuted."
"ConnDOT must better document its ability to rehabilitate
and replace not only capital assets allocated to its Hartford
Bus Division, but to its entire transit and highway infrastructure," said
the Federal Transit Administration's annual report for the 2006
fiscal year. "Failure to demonstrate progress in advancing
the [busway] project in the coming year could result in the removal
of the project" from the list of projects competing for
Local officials and a top DOT administrator said the busway
could be saved with assurances to federal officials that it is
being properly managed and that there would not be further delays
or cost increases.
"The project is not dead," said Hartford Mayor Eddie
A. Perez. "As the capital city's mayor, I'm going to take
some regional responsibility for pushing this."
Transit advocates said the decision was more evidence of their
long-held belief that the state transportation department favors
highways over public transit projects. All Aboard!, a transit
advocacy group, recently commissioned a report that said the
state needs to reform the way it raises revenue for and spends
money on transportation projects.
"I'm not surprised [about the busway decision]," said
Toni Gold, a board member of All Aboard! "It was always
just a crumb thrown to transit advocates."
The busway project is intended
to take pressure off I-84, the region's most congested highway,
and to provide access to jobs for people in Hartford and New
Britain, where half of the region's residents without cars
live. The project was also intended as a spine for the "transit oriented development" of
housing and businesses around the 12 station stops planned
for the route. The busway was expected to carry 17,200 riders
The New Britain-Hartford busway grew out of a regional transportation
plan completed by the Capitol Region Council of Governments in
1999, after the DOT killed the regional agency's plan to build
a light rail link between Hartford and Bradley International
News of the federal recommendation was viewed as a major setback
in New Britain, where some city leaders championed the busway
as a way to resuscitate its struggling downtown.
An advisory committee spent 17 months studying ways to turn
the transportation project into an economic development opportunity.
The panel drew up proposals to cluster restaurants, retail shops
and housing along the New Britain station stops.
"It was quite promising," said Mayor Timothy Stewart. "There
were some pretty unique concepts out there."
The city and the council of
governments have put a lot of time into the project, he said. "To
have it pulled out from underneath you is pretty disheartening."
Indeed, the federal report said planning done by local officials
to use the busway as a link to projects such as Adriaen's Landing
in Hartford and to development in New Britain was a strong point
of the proposal.
Tuesday's announcement caught local officials by surprise, although
the DOT has known about the impeding federal downgrade since
December. The state agency hired a full-time manager for the
busway after federal officials urged them to, at a meeting between
Transportation Commissioner Stephen E. Korta and federal officials.
"We didn't have a full-time project manager; now we do.
There were projects with Amtrak [which owns the rights of way]
that we did not attack in a timely fashion," said H. James
Boice, chief of policy and planning for DOT, explaining other
causes for the busway delays.
"[The busway] has always
been the top priority for the region from our perspective.
It's not like we haven't been doing anything. The project is
at about 30 percent design."
Boice said he disagreed with the federal officials' criticism
of DOT's support for buses and other transit, saying the state's
buses carry over 30 million passengers a year.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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