Senator Welch: Busway a “Patchwork Solution” that Doesn’t Make Sense [Bristol Press]

April 29, 2011

By Steve Collins
Bristol Press
Story as it appeared in the Bristol Press on April 29, 2011

HARTFORD — The State Bond Commission approved the rest of the money necessary to cover the state’s share of the proposed $573 million Busway between New Britain and Hartford Friday.

On a 7-3 vote, the panel gave its blessing to spend another $90 million to cover the remaining piece of the state’s responsibility for the project’s financing. The federal government is picking up 80 percent of the tab.

“It’s worth the money,” Gov. Dannel Malloy said. “It’s an important project.”

The commission also agreed to spend $1 million on a study of commuter rail possibilities between Waterbury and Hartford, including possible stations in Bristol and New Britain.

“That’s an important step as well,” Malloy said.

The governor said he doesn’t think either project “should overshadow the other” because, in the end, they may both prove critical to the region’s transportation needs.

State Reps. Frank Nicastro and Whit Betts, both of Bristol, said they were disappointed with the commission’s vote, but expected the Busway to be approved.

State Sen. Jason Welch, a Bristol Republican, said it didn’t make any sense to spend “all this money on a patchwork solution” when there are crumbling bridges, pothole-covered roads and other issues that are more pressing.

State Department of Transportation officials said the 9.4-mile Busway project could be under way as soon as this fall, assuming that an expected final agreement with the federal government is in place.

The state has already spent $23 million on the project. The bond panel also allocated funds Friday for a $40 million bridge over the Amtrak rail lines and the Busway at Flatbush Avenue, a necessary related measure.

State Sen. Andrew Roraback, a Goshen Republican who serves on the bond panel, said he had been overwhelmed with calls to hit the brakes on the Busway.

For the same price tag, he said, the state could buy a Jeep Patriot for every man, woman and child in New Milford, which has more than 28,000 residents.

Breaking down the cost, the Busway will cost residents $952 per inch, he said.

“I’m not convinced this is the wisest use of scarce transportation resources,” Roraback said.

Also opposing the project were state Sen. Eileen Daily, D-Westbrook, and state Rep. Sean William, R-Oakville.

Welch said that if the state can’t rein in its spending, people are going to give up and move away.

If that happens, the rationale for a Busway — that it will relieve congestion on Interstate 84 — will evaporate, he said.

“Pretty soon, you’ll be able to skateboard down I-84,” Welch said.