After More Than 12 Years, Work Starts In Earnest On Busway
By DON STACOM
May 22, 2012
HARTFORD —— It took three governors, more than a dozen years, and the pledge of better than $400 million in federal aid, but construction of the New Britain-to-Hartford busway officially began Tuesday.
The controversial mass transit system — now called CTfastrak — is scheduled to begin shuttling thousands of passengers through central Connecticut in late 2014. It may carry something else, too: the political futures of government leaders who've staked out positions for or against it.
The most prominent proponents are Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, U.S. Rep. John Larson and the overwhelming majority of Democratic state legislators. They portray the 9.4-mile, bus-only highway as an express route to economic recovery, higher employment and reduced congestion on I-84.
"This project is right for the current time and right for the future," Malloy told a crowd of more than 100 at a groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday afternoon in Hartford's Parkville section.
On the other side are a handful of Democratic lawmakers and the entire Republican caucus, who dismiss the $567 million project as Connecticut's version of a "Bridge to Nowhere." They predict a long procession of mostly empty buses draining $7 million a year or more in operating subsidies.
"We needed this money for bridge and highway repairs — public safety," state Rep. Whit Betts, R-Bristol, said in the back row of the ceremony Tuesday. "I think some candidates will pay the price in November for turning their back on taxpayers."
Either way, the busway will become a large part of the legacy of the Malloy administration, which gave the crucial green light for the project last spring. The busway idea was created under conservative Republican Gov. John Rowland and kept alive for years by Republican Gov.M. Jodi Rell. But Malloy's reputation is the one that will benefit or suffer.
Also riding on CTfastrak will be the hopes of federal transportation leaders, who advocate busways as lower-cost, flexible alternatives to the more popular alternatives of light rail or commuter trains.
Larson has lobbied for years to keep the New-Britain-to-Hartford busway plan on course, insisting that scrapping it would damage Connecticut's standing in Washington and cost hundreds of millions in transit grants.
The financially struggling cities of Hartford and New Britain are also banking on the busway's success. While Newington and West Hartford have been indifferent or openly hostile, New Britain and Hartford are counting on it to build their tax bases by spurring retail and residential development.
Michael Sanders, the DOT manager who has shepherded the busway through the past decade of political attacks and bureaucratic obstacles, predicted that the busway will be the key link connecting Amtrak's Springfield-to-New-Haven line, Metro-North's Waterbury branch and CT Transit's Hartford, New Britain and Waterbury regional bus operations.
Sanders' team at DOT will be designing graphics and logos for CTfastrak buses, stations and signs, part of the elaborate branding campaign to promote the operation — known in the industry as bus rapid transit — to the target audience of commuters who now drive.
The DOT wants to lure them from their cars with the promise of fast, reliable and convenient public transit, and emphasizes that no light rail system could sustain anywhere near the frequency of service that the busway will offer.
It's scheduled to operate 21 hours a day, and at peak weekday periods there will be a bus running each way every three to five minutes, the DOT said.
"This is not your grandmother's bus system," said Mary Glassman, chairwoman of the Capitol Region Council of Governments.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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