It's taken much longer than it should have, but the Hartford-New Britain busway is now, thankfully, a go. Officials will announce the commitment of $275 million in new federal aid to the project at a ceremony this morning at Central Connecticut State University. The money will allow the state to break ground, probably in March, for the 9.4-mile bus-only roadway between downtown New Britain and downtown Hartford.
The project, begun after a 1998 study, should relieve some of the increasingly severe congestion on I-84, provide a quicker and less stressful means of getting in and out of both cities and provide opportunities for transit-oriented development near the stations along the route. The total cost is $567 million, 80 percent of will be federal money.
With the funds in hand, focus shifts to the execution of the project. To that end, the state Department of Transportation must have clear lines of authority and responsibility for the construction and operation of the busway, something that has been a problem over the years with the project. State officials must do whatever they can to leverage the investment in the busway. That means locating state facilities near it, creating incentives for the development of housing and business along the route and encouraging state employees to ride the new buses.
In addition, plans should step up for bus rapid transit along the HOV lanes coming into Hartford from the north and east. With that and the New Haven ? Hartford ? Springfield commuter rail project in the offing, the city has the hope of a real transit system. This is essential to its future. The city was virtually sacrificed to cars in the postwar era. Now residents are asking for fewer highways and parking lots and more buildings, sidewalks and bike lanes. They'd like their city back. Transit is the way they get it.
Some 11th hour critics said the busway should be scrapped in favor of a rail line. That is not realistic; as former DOT Commissioner Joseph Marie said, a rail line is "20 years and a billion dollars." The busway is real, it's the bird in the hand, it's what we've got and it can work.
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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