But Opponents Travel To Washington In Last-Minute Attempt To Block $569 Million Transit Project
By DON STACOM
October 10, 2011
Federal approval of $275 million for the New-Britain-to-Hartford busway appears to be imminent, but opponents aren't giving up and have gone to Washington to press Republicans and anti-tax groups to intervene.
Two Republican state legislators traveled to Washington, D.C., to pitch their case for scrapping the $569 million busway plan.
But as it stands now, the Federal Transit Administration is on track to formally approve funding contract for the project shortly after Nov. 7.
That means the next several weeks will be crucial for both sides of the busway battle.
"My strategy has been to slow this down — if we can do that, eventually we can stop it," state Sen. Joe Markley, R-Southington.
With no fanfare, the FTA signed a notice of intent on Sept. 7 to fund the busway.
That notice triggered a 60-day period when Congress can review the project. After Nov. 7, the FTA expects to formally sign the funding deal.
The contract, called a Full Funding Grant Agreement, would cap a 14-year-long drive to get a federally backed mass transit project in central Connecticut.
Markley and Rep. Whit Betts, R-Bristol, met in Washington Tuesday with a senior member of U.S. Rep. John Mica's staff in hopes of getting a Congressional committee hearing about the project before Nov. 7.
Mica, the Republican chairman of the transportation committee, has been battling with the Obama administration for the past year over mass transit funding. Markley and Betts want him to work with other fiscal hawks to kill the busway.
"We were able to raise some questions with Rep. Mica's staff about environmental issues with the busway, about how some expenses aren't being included in the numbers presented in Washington," Markley said.
Proponents have kept quiet about the FTA's Sept. 7 decision, partly out of concern that the busway could become part of the national debate over federal spending.
Big-money transportation initiatives have become grounds for partisan battles in recent years, and Markley calls the busway a prime example of government waste.
"This thing costs nearly $1,000 an inch for a roadway on land that's already graded," Markley said. "That's an incomprehensible number. It's like paying $50,000 for a toaster."
Markley and Betts on Tuesday also called on the National Taxpayers Union to fight against federal funding for the busway.
The state transportation department has invested more than 12 years of work in planning and designing the bus-only highway linking Hartford andNew Britain.
Business leaders, environmental groups and politicians from around central Connecticut have split opinions about the idea, with advocates calling it the best way to reduce traffic congestion on I-84, cut pollution and spur economic revival along the 9.6-mile route.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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