Opponent optimistic he can kill Conn. bus route [Associated Press]

August 23, 2011

STEPHEN SINGER, Associated Press
Updated 04:57 p.m., Monday, August 22, 2011

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — An opponent of a proposed $573 million bus-only corridor between Hartford and New Britain said Monday he is optimistic that the project will be killed because full funding has yet to be approved.

Republican state Sen. Joe Markley of Southington, attending a public hearing Monday, lobbied against the nine-mile busway that state transportation officials say would reduce congestion along Interstate 84, cut pollution and improve transit time.

“I am optimistic that I’ll be able to kill this project,” he said. “I don’t think that anything that requires environmental hearings and $600 million, much of it not committed, is inevitable.”

Federal transportation officials say they already have approved $54 million. The State Bond Commission has approved nearly $90 million in bonds, with the state committing about 20 percent of the cost, or about $100 million.

However, the state cannot tap into that money until Washington signs off on a request by Connecticut for federal money, said Michael Sanders, transit administrator at the state Department of Transportation. Construction is set to begin in the fall.

Sanders acknowledged that the project will be in jeopardy until hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding is available.

“I suppose until everyone signs on the bottom line the project could be killed,” he said.

Opponents say the route would carry few bus passengers, is too costly and that the money could be better used for other transportation projects such as widening portions of I-84.

The project also must go through an environmental review because it would have an impact on some wetlands. The state would create wetlands elsewhere to make up for the loss where the busway is built.

Michael Nicastro, president of the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce and an opponent of the busway, said the project ultimately will be funded because political pressure is being applied to create jobs. The state says construction of the busway would create an average of 942 jobs a year over four years, drawing strong support for the project from unions.

“The fact is all I’ve seen is a lot of demagoguery about jobs,” Nicastro said. “It’s no longer a transportation project. It’s a jobs program. We don’t need to build nine miles of cement that no one’s going to ride.”