(Updated 6:22 p.m.) It’s no secret that Sen. Joseph Markley, R-Southington, doesn’t like the state’s decision to move ahead with a $569 million, 9.4 mile rapid transit bus route from New Britain to Hartford.
“Any bar I can put up in their way to building this, I will,” Markley said Wednesday in a telephone interview. “Eventually I hope to find a hoop they can’t get through.”
That’s why Markley will be in Blue Back Square on Thursday gathering the necessary 25 signatures he needs to get a public hearing on an inland wetland permit.
The dedicated bus route will be built on an abandoned rail right-of-way and buses are expected to operate on three- to six-minute intervals from 5 a.m. until 1 a.m.
“We are very concerned that the waterways in these towns will be destroyed without regard to the environment,” Markley said in press release. “For such a large project, paid for by the taxpayers of Connecticut, a public hearing should be held to make sure we are not throwing the environment under the bus — literally.”
The waterways along the route are Piper Brook, Bass Brook, Kane Brook, Trout Brook, and the Park River. The proposed activity will affect about 2.11 acres of wetlands, 7,108 linear feet of watercourse, and 4,086 cubic yards within the stream channel encroachment lines.
Dennis Schain, spokesman for the Department of Environmental Protection, said Wednesday that the staff at the agency already recommended an inland wetland permit be granted for the impacted areas.
But if the public submit’s a petition with 25 signatures before June 29, there will be a public hearing and instead of the staff, a hearing officer will make a recommendation about whether to grant the inland wetland permit. That recommendation will be given to DEP Commissioner Daniel C. Esty, who will have the final say.
Markley said he had initially thought the DEP planned on waiving the “environmental study”, but Schain said it’s just the public hearing for the inland wetland permit that would be waived. DEP staff had already granted the inland wetland permit, but if Markley gathers the 25 signatures the permit will be the topic of a public hearing and a hearing officer will make a recommendation to Esty about whether it should be granted.
Regardless, Markley said this opportunity to have a public hearing presented itself as a way to slow the progress of a project he believes is a waste of taxpayer funds.
Markley maintains that there’s still a lot that hasn’t been explored and the project seems to be moving at a rapid pace.
Proponents of the project feel the opposite.
A draft environmental impact statement was made in March 2001 and final design of the project didn’t even start until 2006 after several public hearings were held to gauge public input on the project. The busway hadn’t even received any substantial state funding until Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the state Bond Commission approved a plan to borrow $89 million two months ago.
Malloy announced in April that his administration would be moving ahead with the long-stalled busway, which will be mostly funded with federal transportation dollars, after hearing from both opponents and proponents of the project.
Karen Burnaska, coordinator of the Transit for Connecticut Coalition, praised Malloy’s decision to proceed.
It “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,” she said. “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.”
There’s also an environmental benefit from reduced emissions.
“It’s discouraging that Senator Markley is using an environmental process with the deliberate, expressed intention to delay a project that would, in fact, help the environment greatly,” Rebecca Kaplan, communications director for Connecticut Fund for the Environment, said. “While the DEP must consider legitimate issues raised in this process, we hope they do so efficiently and expeditiously in a way that will keep the New Britain – Hartford Busway on track to bring real benefits to the state, economically and environmentally.”
Click here for a history of the project.
While proponents praised the project as progress toward economic development opportunities, Markley is hardly alone in his opposition to the busway. A Yankee Institute poll Tuesday found that 60 percent of 500 likely voters believe the busway is “bad” use of taxpayer money.