Sen. Andrew Maynard, proponent of a bill to put tolls on Route 11, said he felt like he was trapped on the bus from the movie “Speed” after discussion of his bill was hijacked by a debate on the New Britain-to-Hartford busway project.
Maynard referenced a 1994 film in which Keanu Reeves is trapped on a bomb-rigged bus that can’t slow down. But Thursday’s hijacking occurred when Sen. Joe Markley attempted to actually stop buses.
Markley, a vocal opponent of the project to build a high-speed bus route alongside abandoned railroad tracks, attempted to tack an amendment onto the Route 11 bill aimed at scrapping the project.
Maynard’s bill was held captive for hours with a debate focused on the busway.
Some Senate Democrats seemed to consider the amendment, which would have gotten rid of the project and taken some of the money and dedicated it toward bridge and road repairs. Early on in the debate, Sen. Majority Leader Martin Looney called for a break to talk over the issue with other Democrats.
When the Senate took the bill up again, Markley listed Department of Transportation statistics on areas where the state’s roads and bridges are in disrepair. He described the busway project as a certain failure that will make worthy projects suffer.
“I would urge you to take this very real opportunity to use this money effectively and more wisely,” he said.
Maynard opposed the amendment but wanted to remind his colleagues what bill they were debating.
“I will remind the Senate that I’m actually the proponent of the underlying bill on Route 11, and feel a little like one of the passengers on that bus in the movie ‘Speed,’ having had things here hijacked with another discussion,” he said.
Still, Maynard took the opportunity to argue against some of Markley’s points, which he said haven’t been rebutted over the past several months as Markley has opposed the project “widely throughout the state, and on our airwaves, and now here in the Senate.”
He said the state will only pay $112 million on the project — 20 percent of the total $567 million — and the federal government was picking up the tab for the rest.
“If we were to reject this as the amendment suggests, and attempt to repurpose that money, we would find ourselves in quite a difficult situation. In fact there would be no money to repurpose,” he said.
The state has already spent money in the process of planning the project, which would have to be repaid to the federal government, he said.
Wrapping up his opposition to the amendment, Senate President Donald Williams seemed eager to return to the underlying bill.
“I can’t wait until we can get back to the Route 11 project,” he said.
Though the amendment went down in a 19-15 vote, several senators gave Markley kudos for his tenacity on the busway issue, even if they disagreed with him.
“He’s like a dog that’s got a bone — he’s not letting go,” Sen. Gary LeBeau said.
All 14 Republican senators and Democrat Sen. Paul Doyle, D-Wethersfield, voted for the amendment.
After the debate returned to the placement of tolls on Route 11, a proposal to fund the completion of the road, Markley said hijacking Maynard’s bill wasn’t his intent. It was one of several pieces of legislation he had identified as a potential vehicle for his amendment.
“My intent was to beat the busway,” he said.
The underlying bill which would allow the establishment of tolls on Route 11 to complete the unfinished stretch of highway passed along party lines, 22-14.