After a decade of discussion, the proposed $569 million Hartford to New Britain busway was given the green light by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy Monday afternoon. More than two weeks ago Malloy sat down with supporters and critics of the proposal and allowed them to argue their case.
Proponents say the state is on the verge of landing $270 million in federal aid, and allowing the busway to move forward will put hundreds of unemployed contractors back to work. Opponents say it does nothing for the future of commuter rail in the state. Proponents counter that the federal funds can’t be transferred to those rail projects.
Following the announcement supporters hailed the decision as a job-generating move that will save Connecticut commuters time.
“Today is a great day for Connecticut residents,” said Karen Burnaska, coordinator of the Transit for Connecticut Coalition. “Gov. Malloy’s decision to move forward with the busway project means there is now an end in sight for those commuters who spend hours a week sitting in traffic on I-84 west of Hartford. It will also help us to become more environmentally friendly by removing cars from the roads and reducing our carbon emissions. But more significantly, it means in the next several months there will be a major influx of jobs to the region — labor and transit jobs. And these jobs will not be outsourced to other states; they will be local Connecticut residents being put to work, from construction workers and managers to bus drivers to material suppliers. The busway project will greatly stimulate our economy in a time when we need it badly.”
The busway will be built along 9.6 miles of abandoned train tracks eliminating the use of those tracks for any future commuter rail projects. The busway would help get commuters through the I-84 bottleneck and the buses would continue along the local routes.
Rep. Peter Tercyak, D-New Britain, has said he would appreciate not having to sit on traffic in order to get to the Capitol. Tercyak and New Britain lawmakers are supportive of the proposal. West Hartford Mayor Scott Slifka isn’t a fan of the busway proposal and would rather see the state focus its efforts on high speed rail or use the tracks to get commuter rail from Bristol to Waterbury.
Malloy said he didn’t think the state should have to give up one in favor of the other. He said even if the state decided to give up the promise of $275 million in transportation funds for the project there’s no evidence those funds would go toward other projects.
“Connecticut has a track record of leaving federal funds on the table. I am unwilling to run the risk of losing additional federal funds,” Malloy said. “It is time to break with history. The timing is right to undertake this project. Taxpayers can get more transit for less money given the competitive bidding environment, and while it may not be a perfect project, it is the first step in creating a comprehensive multimodal transportation system in central Connecticut.”
Malloy said he’s will also look to bond $1 million next month to study commuter rail alternatives from Bristol to Waterbury.