Controversial $567 Million Busway Moves Forward | NBC Connecticut

Controversial $567 Million Busway Moves Forward

Critics say the New Britain to Hartford busway is a waste of money.

    processing...

    NEWSLETTERS

    For more than a decade, the New Britain to Hartford busway has been a source of controversy.  Opponents have said it is too expensive, while proponents have said it will add jobs and provide transportation for thousands of people.

    Now that the funds for the long-planned, much-debated $567 million project have been approved, the plan is moving forward.

    New Britain To Hartford Busway Battle

    [HAR] New Britain To Hartford Busway Battle
    The new busway is projected to cost $567 million dollars or $912 per inch.
    (Published Tuesday, Feb. 7, 2012)

    Here is the breakdown in costs: $455 million will come from federal funds and $112 million will be state money.

    "That is $912 an inch. In my view, that money could be much better spent in many other places," Sen. Andrew Roraback, R-Goshen, said.

    Roraback, who represents 15 communities in Litchfield County, said the likelihood someone from his district will use the busway is small.

    "When I did the math, the biggest town in my district is the town of New Milford. We could buy a new Jeep Liberty for every man, woman and child in New Milford," he said. "We could buy 28,000 new Jeep Liberties or Fords or Chevys -- you name it -- for the money we're spending on this busway. That is a lot of money and, in my view, when you look at this issue, it's clear that it's not a wise investment," he said.

    The Connecticut Department of Transportation expects to break ground this spring on the busway, which will start in downtown New Britain and end at Union Station in Hartford.

    The corridor will run along an abandoned railroad of way from New Britain to Newington Junction. After that, it lies along the existing Amtrak line.

    There will be 11 stations along a 9.4-mile route. 

    For commuters who can't get on the bus at any of those 11 stops, there will be a mix of shuttle buses and existing bus routes that will take you to those stations so you can transfer to a bus that travels the busway.

    Roraback was one of only three on the bond commission who voted against the project.

    Republican State Rep. Sean Williams and Democrat Sen. Eileen Daily were the other two on the bond commission who opposed the appropriation of funds for the busway project.

    Plans for the busway first began 13 years ago. Studies done by the DOT determined the best way to relieve congestion on Interstate-84 was a busway.

    "They looked at widening the highway, putting a high-occupancy vehicle lane in, running a commuter rail, light rail and actually, bus rapid transit came out to be the solution that solved the most problems. It addressed the most congestion reduction at the same time as being most cost-effective per rider," Michael Sanders, DOT Transit Administrator, said.

    Proponents contend that the busway will benefit the state as a whole. The ride from New Britain to Hartford will be cut down to 20 minutes and the DOT estimates it will have 16,000 passengers a day.

    "It's going to be similar to a rail line except it's going to be rubber tired buses running on a regular roadway, We like people to just give it a chance. Let's see it get built and operate," Sanders said.

    One of those riders who will be giving the busway a chance is longtime bus rider Saahir Jenkins, who works at Aetna Insurance.

    The company subsidizes ticket purchases to encourages its employees to take the bus.

    Right now, Jenkins goes down the street from his Newington home and takes the 6:46 a.m. bus every morning.

    "From my front door to the office, is probably about an hour," he said. "I can definitely drive, but I'd rather not. You can save on gas. You can save on parking fees, wear and tear on the the car."

    Jenkins welcomes the busway, but others do not.

    "I don't use the bus myself. There's definitely a lot of other things they can use that money for," one West Hartford resident said.

    Francina Smith, of Newington, rides the bus everyday and said it's her only mode of transportation. When asked if she was aware of the plans for the busway, she said, "No."

    "I haven't heard anything about it," she said.

    Rick Cyr who owns Cyr Woodworking in Newington, said the state plans to take portions of his land, and the land of others, through eminent domain.

    "I'm not very happy with it. It's definitely going to impact my property.  We're going to lose the loading dock, the entrance," Cyr said.

    State officials said those losing land will be fairly compensated and the project is expected to create 4,000 construction jobs and 100 permanent positions.

    Gov. Dannel Malloy has said he hopes the busway will spur business growth along its route.

    State officials expect the busway to open in 2014.