Busway or Boondoggle?

May 30, 2012

Last Tuesday, Governor Malloy joined state and federal officials in the Parkville section of Hartford for the official groundbreaking of the New Britain to Hartford busway. The controversial project has been 12 years in the making and has gained much attention in recent months. Supporters say the project means jobs and improved transportation, but opponents call it a boondoggle. I do not support using hundreds of millions of taxpayer dollars for this project, but I would like to share some of my concerns with you.

What exactly is the busway? The 9.4 mile bus-only route will link New Britain to Hartford, with additional stops in Newington and West Hartford. The route will run along abandoned railroad tracks and then run parallel to an existing Amtrak line. Since being rebranded as the Connecticut Fast Track, or CTfastrak, this project is intended to ease traffic gridlock on I-84 and improve connections between the cities. While this project may be well-intended, the complications far outweigh the benefits.

First, its price tag is excessive. At a cost of $567 million, I believe the project is simply too expensive and that taxpayers deserve to have their hard-earned money go to projects that can really make a difference. Supporters say the project is a bargain because the federal government will spend $455 million, while our state will be responsible for covering the remaining $112 million. This works out to about $912 per inch! In addition, there is an estimated annual operating cost of $12 million, rising to $22 million after 10 years.

Second, the ridership may not exist to support the program. With buses operating 21 hours per day from 4:30 a.m. until 1:30 a.m., it is hard to imagine enough riders to sustain the system. While supporters have argued that people in New Britain without cars need this busway to get to work in Hartford, workers can currently take CT Transit’s Route 41 bus between the two cities. About 11,000 riders use this existing bus route today. According to the state, the busway will have 16,000 riders once it is completed. Many have noted that the service exists already, and that the ridership may not fully develop, meaning taxpayers will have to pay increased subsidies to keep the system running.

Third, property owners and residents living near the route have real concerns over noise, construction and other issues. Many will have their property taken by eminent domain, requiring sheds and porches to be moved. Promises of six foot tall sound barriers have eroded to simple chain link fences. A rail company also recently filed a lawsuit over property that will be taken.

Current projections may not turn out the way supporters have hoped. When it comes to local jobs, one of these concerns has already come to light. The state Department of Transportation awarded a $130 million contract to an out-of-state company to begin building a 5.8 mile stretch of the busway. Unions have promised to watch the situation to make sure that subcontracts will include local workers, but the concern remains. Recently asked about potential concerns, our Governor said, “Worst case scenario? People don’t respond – and we end up with a new road system in and out of Hartford.”

These are just some of my concerns over the busway. I simply cannot justify spending nearly $600 million of taxpayer dollars on this project. During the legislative session, Republicans proposed real alternatives, including redirecting funding to repair the many deficient roads and bridges throughout our state. Introduced by State Senator Joe Markley and State Representative Whit Betts, an amendment to redirect the funds gained bipartisan support from Democratic legislators, including all three of West Hartford’s representatives. Unfortunately this measure did not pass, and the busway will now be built. To learn more about the CTfastrak, please visit their website at www.ctfastrak.com.