Conceived nearly a decade ago to reduce traffic on I-84, the proposed New Britain-to-Hartford busway remains on the drawing board.
The project's price tag, about $335 million a few years ago, has ballooned to $570 million; the completion date, originally 2006 or 2007, is now late 2013 at the earliest.
Much is riding on the busway — development plans in New Britain and elsewhere along the route are dependent on this transportation link — and frustration is mounting among project supporters such as New Britain Mayor Timothy Stewart.
"I'm not pleased with the time frame — it's taking far too long," Stewart said Tuesday. Stewart, who remains committed to the project, said the state Department of Transportation must speed up the planning and do a better job keeping local officials, residents, commuters and regional groups up to date.
Starting tonight at 6:30 at the Faxon Library, 1073 New Britain Ave., West Hartford, the DOT will host a series of public meetings over the next two weeks to gauge what Hartford, West Hartford, Newington and New Britain residents want out of the proposed 9.4-mile route.
Should it be an express line? Should buses circle on and off the line, running local routes to malls, universities, hospitals and businesses? Would you take the bus?
The DOT also has to update its ridership projections — pegged a couple of years ago at 15,200 people per day — as it seeks final federal approval for the busway.
Michael Sanders, the DOT's transit administrator, said the agency has bought nearly all the land it needs for the 11 stations on the route. He said the state is negotiating with Amtrak over the use of its right of way, which would become the bus line.
But state Sen. Donald DeFronzo, D-New Britain, co-chairman of the legislature's transportation committee, acknowledged Tuesday that there has been talk among panel members about a Waterbury to Hartford railroad as an alternative to the busway — in the event the project isn't funded or is delayed again.
"I've asked the DOT for details on what a rail line would cost, as a backup if the busway doesn't come to fruition," DeFronzo said. "The busway remains the top regional transportation priority, but there is some concern, and some skepticism, about whether the federal government will approve such a costly project."
The state would be responsible for 20 percent of the cost, and DeFronzo said $50 million has been authorized for the busway. As the price tag approaches $600 million, that authorization would have to be more than doubled, DeFronzo said.
Stewart bristled at the notion of a rail line, which he said would cost billions of dollars. "The skepticism is coming from the legislative side," Stewart said. "Instead, why don't they work on changing the culture of the DOT, which is to mire these projects in bureaucracy?"
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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