The wheels on the busway go round and round [CT Mirror]

May 24, 2012

Article as it appeared in the Connecticut Mirror

Hartford — Critics of the Hartford-to-New Britain busway have called the project a lot of bad things recently: “boondoggle” and “folly,” to name a few. On Tuesday, when breaking ground on the project, supporters of the $567 million busway got their turn to brand the project.

The 9.4-mile road for buses will be called Connecticut Fast Track, or CTfastrak, as the logo appears. The project includes a five-mile trail for bicycles and pedestrians.

“This opens a whole new corridor. I can’t think of a better project,” said Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. The busway is the Democratic governor’s first mass transit project, and he is responsible for securing the $112 million in state support for it to become a reality. The remainder of the funding comes from Washington.

Supporters at the groundbreaking — which took place in the Parkville section — said the project will not only ease congestion on I-84 for commuters between Hartford and New Britain, but it will also create a quick boost of 4,000 construction jobs.

“We have been in an economic depression in the construction industry — not a recession, a depression with 40 percent unemployment,” said Ed Reilly, president of the Greater Hartford and New Britain Building Trades Council, which represents construction union members. “Today we know we are going to put thousands of Connecticut construction workers to work.”

Jack Frigon is one of those unemployed workers.

“I want to go back to work,” he said, and then pointed to the bus with the new CTfastrak logo displayed on it. “This hopefully will get me back to work.”

But not everyone is enthusiastic about the project, including Sen. Joe Markley, R-Southington. His attempts to get the legislature to shut the project down failed this past legislative session.

“Gov. Malloy has dug his political grave with that shovel up there. He has taken ownership for this mistake,” Markley said, standing at the back of the crowd gathered for the ceremony. He predicted the busway will never get the ridership expected.

Others have also been skeptical, including then-Sen. Donald J. DeFronzo, former co-chairman of the legislature’s Transportation Committee, who wrote committee members saying the project should be reconsidered in light of the cost almost doubling.

“Today’s $600 million busway is not what was proposed and sold to the legislature in 2006,” wrote DeFronzo, who has since joined Malloy’s administration as commissioner of administrative services.

Oz Griebel, the leader of the MetroHartford Alliance, a regional business collaborative, blamed the rising costs on the delay in breaking ground. The initial planning occurred during the administration of Gov. John G. Rowland, now a radio host critical of the busway.

“Time is money,” said Griebel, who is cautiously supportive of the busway. State transportation officials have said the busway will draw 16,000 daily weekday riders.

“Just because they build, it doesn’t mean they will come,” Griebel said, noting the state has a lot of promoting to do.

The 11-stop busway trail will resemble a trolley or light-rail system, using custom buses instead of trains. Buses also would run over city streets to the busway from Westfarms mall and the University of Connecticut Health Center in Farmington. Express buses to Hartford from Waterbury and Cheshire would enter the busway in New Britain. Buses will operate from 4:30 a.m. to 1:30 a.m., Malloy said.

Twelve years after planning and studies for this project began, Malloy said Tuesday he’s glad he decided to move forward with this project. Early in his tenure as governor, Malloy faced a critical decision on the project’s future. Some hoped he would chose a train connecting Bristol and Waterbury instead, which he has said he is considering.

“Let’s get moving,” he said Tuesday at the groundbreaking. “This is a great day.”

The busway is slated to open in 2014.