State Officials: Busway Construction On Time And On Budget
By DON STACOM
June 17, 2013
Along busy Flatbush Avenue in West Hartford or at the East and Allen Street intersection in New Britain, the message couldn't be much more dramatic: Towering new bridges announce that the busway is arriving swiftly.
Engineers estimate they're about 35 percent to 40 percent done building CTfastrak, the rapid transit bus system. The $567 million project is on time and on budget, they say.
In just the past several weeks, contractors have installed massive steel girders that will eventually carry Flatbush traffic above the busway. In New Britain, crews have erected the structure for a 600-foot-long bridge for the busway above East and Allen streets, and the steel for a 650-foot span across Route 9 near exit 28 is in place, too.
Those three bridges are among the biggest components of the busway, and crews are working to get them built during Connecticut's peak construction season. At Flatbush and at East and Allen, workers have assembled much of the abutments that rise as high as 20 feet, and are using preformed molds to break up flat expanses of concrete by creating the more attractive appearance of rough granite blocks.
Along the 9.4-mile route between downtown New Britain and downtown Hartford, the three bridges are some of the costliest structures, other than the stations. Each span runs between $6 million and $8 million, and they've required traffic detours and delays as mammoth cranes hoisted each section of support beam into place.
Motorists will appreciate the work when it's done because two of the bridges head off, perhaps even improve, traffic congestion.
"There would have been a lot of traffic backup at East and Allen if the busway went through at grade," said Brian Cunningham, program director for the state transportation department, "and at Flatbush, the Town of West Hartford was very happy to have a bridge over the busway [and adjacent Amtrak tracks]. There are 21,000 vehicle trips a day on Flatbush, 15 trains are going through and we'll be running buses every 3 to 4 minutes at peak times. There would have been a lot of delays."
Instead, the grade separation makes the intersection safer by doing away with the Amtrak crossing altogether. Buses and trains can pass below at full speed, and there'll be no effect on pedestrians or drivers when Amtrak eventually adds another dozen or so trains a day when it launches commuter rail service between New Haven and Springfield, Cunningham said.
While the bridges are the most visible part of CTfastrak right now, there are scores of lower-profile jobs going on simultaneously. Cranes are putting into place nearly 5 miles worth of 20-foot-long, 17-ton concrete dividers to separate the busway lanes from Amtrak's rails.
A contractor in Hartford is preparing the Park Street railroad overpass for the addition of two busway lanes, and workers in Newington are preparing utility connections, curbing and a bike lane that will run alongside the southern half of the busway. Elsewhere, engineers are working on the fare-collection system, designers are preparing logos and architects are overseeing the initial work on 11 stations to be built before the system opens in early 2015.
A software team is creating the GPS-based system that will monitor the position of every bus on the route, passengers at each station will get automated updates about arrival times, and a central operations office will keep track of schedules and implement contingency plans for anything from mechanical breakdowns to sick passengers.
Meanwhile, a convoy of dump trucks arrives at the Flatbush Avenue site each day to deliver crushed stone from a plant in Wallingford, necessary as ballast because of the uncommonly porous soil in the area. Earlier in the year bulldozers and bucket trucks had to haul away tons of it. Last month, the American Society of Civil Engineers gave CTfastrak an award for overcoming that condition by using geotechnical innovations; contractors dug a system of reverse drains to soak moisture from the deepest soils quickly so they could support the bridge's enormous concrete piers.
Project Manager Richard Symonds and Marketing Manager Thomas Strand anticipate that motorists will see the work paying off fairly soon: Cars and pedestrians will be switched over to the new Flatbush bridge sometime this fall if everything goes to plan. And drivers in downtown Hartford can expect the Broad Street bridge reconstruction to wrap up around the same time, eliminating the delays from temporary lane closures.
Last week, New Britain Mayor Tim O'Brien says his city is already seeing benefits. He believes the long-awaited restoration of a gutted four-story brick apartment building on the edge of downtown is advancing because developers want residential properties near CTfastrak.
"This will be in walking distance of the busway terminal downtown. We're seeing a lot of interest in transit-oriented development in that whole area," O'Brien said.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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