It’s been referred to by critics as the “Busway Boondoggle,” the “Magic Bus,” and the “busway to nowhere,” but at a rainy groundbreaking ceremony Tuesday the New Britain-Hartford busway project was officially branded “CTfastrak.”
On the corner of Park Street and Francis Avenue in Hartford, the future site of one of the project’s 11 planned stations, proponents heralded the project as a job-creator that will decrease traffic congestion.
The 9.4 mile dedicated bus route will be built on an abandoned railroad corridor, running from New Britain to Hartford. When it opens in 2014, buses will be running the route every three to six minutes during peak traffic hours.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said the project—funded by $455 million in federal funds and $112 million from the state—will create 4,000 temporary jobs and 100 permanent jobs.
“We’re talking about 11 stations being built, we’re talking about buses running every three to four minutes,” Malloy said. “… This is really quite exceptional. If you think about transit oriented development, this opens a whole new corridor for that kind of development, to grow our economy.”
Ed Reilly of the Hartford Building Trades Council said building the busway will create desperately needed construction jobs.
“For two years in the state of Connecticut, we have been in an economic depression in the construction industry. Not a recession, a depression with 40 percent unemployment. Today is a great day for us,” he said.
Malloy said the busway will also be instrumental when the state begins repairing or replacing the Aetna Viaduct, the long elevated section of I-84 in Hartford.
“When that project gets underway in earnest, we’re going to need alternative ways to deliver more people to Hartford and this also needs to be seen in that context,” he said.
However, the project has been met with criticism from opponents who say it’s a waste of money that won’t be used.
Though the governor’s office said the New Britain-Hartford Busway was an informal title used during the project’s planning phase, Sen. Joseph Markley, R-Southington, said the state rebranded the project because it’s unpopular.
“Because the old name has such a stink about it. They’re trying to make people forget how much they dislike the project,” Markley said.
“They do this a lot with things that have a bad name about them. So prisons become correctional institutions. It doesn’t make people more anxious to go there,” he continued.
Of the new name, Markley said it could be considered accurate in a sense, if they’re talking about a fast-track to throwing money away.
Speaking with reporters earlier in the day, Malloy joked that he hadn’t heard the criticisms of the busway. He said the project needed a name.
“It is to appropriately be named, I think is the reason that that’s been done,” he told reporters. “Listen, I think this is a very important project. In the short run it puts up to 4,000 people to work. In the long run it creates permanent jobs.”
Judd Everhart, spokesman for the Department of Transportation, dismissed Markley’s claim, saying the “Busway” was never the official name for the project, it was shorthand.
“The ‘Ctfastrak’ name was developed to conceptually describe this new type of ‘hybrid’ public transportation service – the first of its kind in Connecticut.” he said in a statement. “… CTfastrak combines the fast, traffic-free service of a train with the frequent, direct-to-your-destination flexibility of a bus.
“The idea of using a new name to somehow make people ‘forget’ about the project is absurd. We believe the project stands on its own merits,” Everhart said.
Markley said he didn’t think voters would agree. He said he attended Tuesday’s groundbreaking ceremony just to see who was taking ownership of the project. At the end of the day, it was pretty clear the governor was, he said.
“I think the governor, as we speak, is digging his own political grave up there with those shovels,” he said.
While Markley is not alone in his opposition to the busway, the project is not universally hated by Republicans. MetroHartford Alliance CEO Oz Griebel, who ran an unsuccessful bid for the Republican gubernatorial nomination in 2010, praised Malloy’s efforts on the project.
However, he said just because the busway’s being built doesn’t mean people will actually ride on it.
“So as this project unfolds, it’s going to be critical to all of us to make sure we’re promoting the busway, promoting the options that are out there so that people embrace this as a true commuter option and that ridership that DOT has projected becomes a reality,” he said.