NEW BRITAIN —— A state agency is scheduled to hold a hearing Wednesday on the $569 million busway proposal, but it's not a session designed for general comments supporting or criticizing the controversial project.
Instead, the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection wants information about the busway's potential impact on wetlands along the 9.6-mile route.
The bus-only highway between New Britain and Hartford can't be built without a state wetlands permit. The department reported in May that it had tentatively decided to approve one.
Staff members concluded that the busway wouldn't worsen the threat of flooding along the route and wouldn't create other environmental hazards. However, opponents circulated petitions this summer and gathered enough signatures to force a public hearing.
At various forums in the past two years, public remarks about the busway have focused on its cost, its prospects for relieving congestion on I-84 and its potential for economic development.
Advocates maintain that it's a cost-effective alternative to widening I-84 that will create commercial and residential development, especially in downtown New Britain. They also portray it as Connecticut's best chance for a major mass transit initiative, a guarantee of good-paying construction jobs and an opportunity to land $275 million in federal aid.
Opponents contend that it's an overpriced white elephant that will draw few riders, provide no long-term job growth and do little to ease highway backups. Last week, three Republican legislators — Rep. Whit Betts of Bristol, Sen. Jason Welch of Bristol and Sen. Joe Markley of Southington — proposed diverting more than $150 million from the busway budget to rebuild roads damaged by Hurricane Irene.
"Let's use the money for our most urgent needs," Betts said.
At this week's hearing, however, regulators want to concentrate on environmental issues. The busway would fill in or damage a little more than 2 acres of wetlands in New Britain, Newington, West Hartford and Hartford. In exchange, the state Department of Transportation proposes to create nearly 5 acres of new wetlands and pay for environmental protection for 3.7 existing acres.
The DEEP hearing is scheduled to start with a presentation from the state DOT of its plan at 6:30 p.m. Afterward, the public will be invited to speak, and the hearing could be continued to Thursday if necessary.
The hearing is planned for the Welte Auditorium on the campus of Central Connecticut State University.
Details about the hearing, the busway project and the DOT wetlands application are available at http://1.usa.gov/qHitUg.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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