Busway battle: Union jeers at opponents at their Hartford press event [New Britain Herald]

April 19, 2012

Article as it appeared in the New Britain Herald

Busway battle: Union jeers at opponents at their Hartford press event

By SCOTT WHIPPLE
STAFF WRITER

HARTFORD — The continuing efforts of Republican state Rep. Whit Betts of Bristol and state Sen. Joe Markley of Southington to block the $567 million New Britain-Hartford Busway drew hoots from union members at a Wednesday press conference.

Betts and Markley, who said their opposition is based on taxpayer concerns, announced they will introduce amendments in each legislative chamber to stop the proposed 9.4-mile, buses-only corridor project.

They said that if completed, the project will be an embarrassment for Gov. Dannel Malloy and the legislators who support the project.

The governor, however, defended the Busway Wednesday, calling it “an important project that will help to address future traffic problems.” He said it will be helpful around Interstate 84, a highway that is scheduled for major infrastructure improvements in 10 to 20 years.

When Markley pleaded at the conference for the chance to stop “this extraordinary waste of taxpayer dollars,” one union official yelled: “We’re taxpayers, too.”

Another shouted: “We don’t want to hear about your goals. We want jobs.”

The purpose of the Markley/Betts press conference was to rally support for their plan to scuttle the Busway. Markley, who calls the project “a financial boondoggle,” wants to transfer funds from the project and use them for badly needed bridge and road repair. When asked when Markley and Betts decided Busway money should be spent for bridge and road repair, Betts replied “when public safety becomes a high priority.”

Malloy and supporters have also said the project will generate thousands of construction jobs while it is being built, and 100 permanent jobs after it is up and running.

“Let Malloy run on this project and we’ll see who’s right about it,” Markley said.

Michael Nicastro, president and CEO of Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce, said busways do not spur economic development or generate an increase in land values and they mainly benefit out-of-state construction workers. He also challenged the state Department of Transportation’s claim that as many as 16,000 passengers a day will ride the Busway.

Remarks from Nicastro and the two Republican lawmakers were met with the angry response from a group of union leaders and construction workers. They argued that the project will be a much-needed remedy for unemployment in the building trades.

Jeff Merrow, president of the Waterbury Building and Construction Trades questioned Betts and Markley’s commitment to bridge and road repair.

“If they care about the roads and bridges, where have they been when we were holding our bridge repair meetings?” Merrow asked. ”Congressmen [Chris] Murphy, [John] Larson, and [Jim] Himes have all done press conferences under structurally deficient bridges in the state. If we really want to fix our roads and bridges, we need to fund the federal highway bill, but the Republicans have refused to do this.”

Though the completion date has been pushed back by a few months to late 2014, the Busway project is progressing. The DOT has signed more than $200 million in construction contracts. In January, state environmental officials said the state’s design for the corridor would not damage wetlands or sensitive areas nearby.