Bond Commission pressured to block Busway funds ahead of Friday decision [Bristol Press]

April 28, 2011

By Steve Collins
Bristol Press
Story as it appeared in the Bristol Press on April 28, 2011

HARTFORD — The State Bond Commission is feeling heat from critics who hope it will block much of the funding for the Busway proposed between New Britain and Hartford.

The panel will consider Friday whether to approve $90 million in state bonding to cover the remainder of the state’s share of the $573 million project.

Given the support for the project from Gov. Dannel Malloy and the makeup of the commission, which includes two people who work for the governor and a host of Democrats, it’s unlikely that the panel will vote down the Busway money.

Even so, two Republican state senators from central Connecticut — Jason Welch, of Bristol, and Joe Markley, of Southington — have urged residents to contact members of the bond commission to urge them to kill the project.

Markley said “no reasonable person sees the need” for the Busway given that “there are roads already from New Britain to Hartford,” with many nearly empty buses using them each day.

Welch called the plan a boondoggle.

But Malloy said a month ago that he backs the Busway because it made no sense to give up $459 million in federal assistance for the shovel-ready project. He also pointed out that it would begin creating badly needed construction jobs this year.

Supporters of the project, which follows the path of an old rail line, insist that it will speed commuters to work and provide development opportunities near the 11 bus shelters that will line the 9.6-mile, dedicated road.

State Rep. Tim O’Brien, a New Britain Democrat, said the project will generate jobs as well as “new development opportunities.”

Construction is scheduled to begin as early as this year and the road should be open, for buses only, in 2014.

But Markley called the project “a bridge to nowhere that we cannot afford. Any jobs it might create will only be temporary and we as a state will have to pay more than $110 million to get the project off the ground. We just don’t have the money.”

There are at least two Busway opponents among the 10 bond commission members, both of them GOP lawmakers.

State Sen. Andrew Roraback of Goshen and state Rep. Sean Williams of Oakville, both members of the legislature’s Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee, are against the project.

But it appears unlikely that critics can sway the outcome.

Also serving on the commission are Malloy; Ben Barnes, the Office of Policy and Management secretary; state Treasurer Denise Nappier; state Comptroller Kevin Lembo; Attorney General George Jepsen; Jonathan Holmes, public works commissioner; state Sen. Eileen Daily, D- Westbrook; and state Rep. Patricia Widlitz, D-Guilford.

The commission is scheduled to meet in the legislative office building at 10:30 a.m. Friday.