NEW BRITAIN—The state’s New Britain to Hartford rapid bus route project took a step towards becoming a reality Monday morning, when a Federal Transit administrator formally announced that the agency had approved a $275 million full funding grant agreement.
At Central Connecticut State University, Federal Transit Administrator Peter M. Rogoff said the funding for the 9.4 mile bus route would be transferred to the state Department of Transportation later that day.
The busway’s total cost is estimated at $575 million, 80 percent of which will come from federal funding. The state is contributing $112 million and has already bonded $89 million for the project.
The dedicated bus route will be built on an abandoned rail right-of-way and will have 11 stations between the two cities.
Rogoff credited Gov. Dannel P. Malloy with making the decision early in his administration to go through with the project which has been in the works for over 12 years.
“Quite frankly there are women who worked on this project that went on maternity leave that are now sending those kids to middle school,” he said.
Rogoff said the project will improve the quality of life for commuters in the Hartford area by reducing traffic. People who chose to use the bus system after it is completed in 2014 will shave significant time off their daily commutes, freeing them up to do other things, he said.
Malloy said the project will create around 4,000 construction jobs, 100 permanent jobs, and will act as an economic multiplier in the communities it passes through.
However, opponents of the project say it is a waste of taxpayer dollars. State Sen. Joseph Markley, R- Southington, issued a statement Monday calling the press conference a “charade” to convince opponents that “resistance is futile.”
“Busway advocates have been determined all along to make the people of Connecticut think that this project is inevitable. They don’t want public examination of the proposal because they know it just doesn’t make sense,” he said. “The taxpayers can see that we don’t need it and—at a thousand dollars an inch—we can’t afford it.”
Markley even went down to Washington D.C. earlier this year and tried to convince Republicans now in charge of the House to defund the project to no avail. The Department of Energy and Environmental Protection is still considering an inland wetlands permit for the project, which is currently Markley’s last chance to kill the project before construction begins. Markley said the hearing officer has not yet begun her deliberations on that permit.
Michael Dudko, an adjunct physics professor at CCSU, agreed with Markley. Dudko showed up at the announcement holding a sign calling the project “a terrible waste of money.” Dudko said he rides the bus from his home in Bristol to New Britain and does not believe anyone will actually use the new bus route.
“This is a lot of money being spent on something I don’t think a lot of people will use,” he said, adding there are plenty of other investments the state could make in infrastructure.
But Malloy defended the project and other infrastructure investments as appropriate, even in a tough economic climate.
“If you want to bank on failure, do nothing. If you want to bring about success, do everything in your power on as many fronts as you can, all at once, to get your state, your community moving ahead,” he said.
U.S. Sen. Joseph Lieberman said the project was the result of studies that indicated the bus route was the most cost effective way to get people to use mass transit and reduce congestion on the state’s highways.
Lieberman said that history shows the investments like the bus route have a positive impact on the economies of the surrounding areas.
He said there is some chance that funding for the project will be impacted by Congress’s deficit reduction supercommittee’s failure to produce an agreement. Lieberman called the lack of a debt reduction program “infuriating” but said the project will continue to be funded for the time being.
However, if automatic cuts are triggered it could slow the funding process, he said. Lieberman said those triggered cuts would be draconian and would decimate government. But he said he thought senators would take one of the bipartisan debt reduction plans to a vote in December.
“That’s the way to avoid the terrible cuts that will affect everybody here in America,” he said.