(Updated 4:11 p.m.) Opponents of the 9.4-mile New Britain-to-Hartford busway rallied at the Legislative Office Building Wednesday morning where they were booed by dozens of construction workers who support the nearly $570 million project.
Republican lawmakers such as Rep. Whit Betts of Bristol and Sen. Joseph Markley of Southington continued to argue against the busway, saying they would rather see the millions of dollars spent on repairing existing highways and bridges.
“The reason why we’re here today is we want to show and reinforce to all the folks across the state opposing this to let them know the fight is not over,” Betts said.
Markley promised to introduce an amendment to another piece of relevant information to get lawmakers on the record regarding the busway. About $275 million in funding for the project comes from the Federal Transit Administration. The state is contributing $112 million and has already bonded $89 million for the project.
“We will get legislators on the record on it,” Markley insisted. “And we will remind voters come November how those legislators voted ,because we know the overwhelming majority of the people in the state of Connecticut are against this project.”
Markley and Betts admitted they want the Democrat-controlled legislature to vote on this so they can use it against in the November election. What Markley and Betts may not have known since they weren’t in the legislature at the time was that the General Assembly already voted on the busway pending approval of federal funds.
The General Assembly voted in 2006 to allow the Commissioner of Transportation to move ahead with plans for the busway, which had been in the planning phase for more than a decade.
While there may be opposition to the busway, Markley acknowledged that there were a large number of construction workers in the room supporting it.
“You can’t believe I don’t want to see you employed,” Markley said. “Just this is not the project.”
“Don’t build this busway,” Markley urged as he was shouted down by construction workers who booed him.
“The one advantage to building this is it will prove I was right that this is Gov. Malloy’s folly,” Markley said.
The governor wasn’t going to allow the comment to go unchallenged.
“If it’s Malloy’s folly, it’s Rowland’s folly, Rell’s folly, and everyone else’s folly and it’s not folly at all,” Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said Wednesday after an unrelated event. “The reality is this is an important project to the future of the state of Connecticut.”
But during Markley’s talk, he reiterated that he is not against paying workers to fix the roads.
“There’s plenty of construction projects out there to keep people busy that we need desperately,” Markley said, speaking directly to the construction workers who had booed him. But, he said, it’s “not building a nine-mile busway at the cost of $1,000 a inch.”
Ed Reilly, who represents the Hartford Building Trades Council, told Markley and Betts that he thinks they need to look at “the economically disadvantaged” members of the community.
“Transportation can provide opportunities for education and job creation,” Reilly said. “I think we need to support the weakest members of society at times.”
Department of Transportation Spokesman Judd Everhart said the rally “undermines the entire process for investing in our transportation infrastructure within the state and with our federal funding partners.”
He said the busway remains the best way to alleviate congestion along the I-84 corridor west of Hartford.
Opponents had plenty of time to speak against the busway. There were more than 200 public meetings during the planning, environmental assessment, and design processes, Everhart said.
But there is lingering opposition to the project, which is slated to begin construction in late 2014.
Michael Nicastro, president and CEO of the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce, said the state has a bad habit.
“We love to cut ribbons, but we really hate maintenance afterward,” Nicastro said.
He said no one is saying bus-rapid transit isn’t important at some point, but Hartford and New Britain don’t have the density. He said that by 2030 the bus will have an operating deficiency of $22 million.
“Look, we have a 1997 solution here we’re trying to solve in 2012 and the elements have changed. They’ve all changed,” Nicastro said. “Thirty percent of the workforce is virtual – they’re not commuting into the city.”