Busway-related construction on Broad Street won’t be an issue Saturday for runners of the ING Hartford Marathon, but the state transportation commissioner thinks the busway could play a more central role in the race’s future.
Last year around this time, the Transportation Department was alternately praised and criticized for spending $20,000 before the race to repave the road. At that time, portions of Broad Street were torn up as a result of construction that had been under way for about a month for the New Britain-to-Hartford Busway, known as CTfastrak. After the race, construction resumed.
Broad Street includes a bridge that runs over the rail line along which the busway will run. Although some lanes were still closed, the road is open to vehiclular traffic and officials said it was ready for tens of thousands of runners on Saturday.
Transportation Commissioner James Redeker said the Broad Street “opening” was one of many ribbon cutting events he expected to participate in as the busway project heads toward its expected completion next year.
“It’s just in time for the ING Marathon,” Redeker said. “This is a terrific event. We closed the bridge after the marathon last year, committed to opening it before the marathon this year so there was no interruption of that event. It’s been done with great contractors three months ahead of schedule and on time for the marathon.”
Beth Shluger, executive director of the Hartford Marathon Foundation, praised the DOT last year as a “hero” for paving the road and removing jersey barriers that she said represented safety hazards for runners.
Opponents of the busway project called the situation an embarrassing failure to plan by the state for the annual event.
The 9.4-mile dedicated bus route has had its share of detractors. While proponents point to the construction jobs the project has generated, critics point to the price tag — $455 million in federal funds and $112 million from the state — and say the money is wasted on a project that, once completed, no one will use.
The Transportation Department has attempted to combat disparaging nicknames like “the busway to nowhere” with an aggressive public outreach campaign and rebranding effort.
During Thursday’s press conference, Redeker said he expected that in the future, the busway may play a more central role in the Hartford Marathon.
“Someday I’m looking forward to having CTFastrak be the route of the marathon. That will be a great event and that should be coming, I think, shortly,” he said.
After the event, Redeker said he was serious about the suggestion. Although the 9.4-mile busway would be too short to host an entire marathon, he said it could be used for a portion of the event.
“It would be a great part of the route. A nice right-of-way, people can line it because you’ve got the trail for miles you could observe. That would be great,” he said, referring to a trail running along the busway from New Britain to Newington.
“I think it’s an opportunity and I don’t know that it can be done, but [CTFastrak] certainly can be used for other types of walks, races, bike things, whatever. We would like to make that available,” he said.
Redeker said his department has already been contacted by bicycle groups interested in using the the busway for fundraiser events. He said they are beginning to put a list of interested parties together and working on the logistics of how they might accommodate those types of events.
“Before it’s officially open, I’d love to have some events just to get people to see it, to be part of it and appreciate it,” he said.
Once it is open, buses will be running the route every three to six minutes during peak traffic hours. Redeker said the department could detour the buses if the busway was being used for some sort of event.