In his first major transportation decision, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy today gave the go-ahead to the Hartford-New Britain busway project, putting an end to a years-long tug-of-war between advocates for bus and rail projects.
“The busway project is ready to go,” he announced Monday. He is promising to have the state’s bond commission vote to dedicate $89 million for the busway project between New Britain and Hartford.
But Malloy also offered a consolation prize to critics who had favored a local rail link between Bristol and Waterbury: A $1 million study of that plan.
Malloy, who has repeatedly endorsed increasing the state’s investment in mass transit as a way to immediately produce construction jobs and eventually encourage economic development, said his decision does not mean funding for the rail project is off the table.
“Although I think many people have thought of the two options as mutually exclusive, I do not and I reject that belief,” he said. “I believe we can continue down these two avenues or tracks.”
Lyle D. Wray, executive director of the Capitol Region Council of Governments, said the busway decision means 5,000 fewer cars will be on the road during rush hours, which is almost 5 percent of total traffic.
“And that’s just the first year,” he said. “That number will grow a lot.”
And with service every five to 10 minutes starting in 2014, Wray said, the project would be Connecticut’s first true rapid-transit system and build ridership in a way that limited rail service to Waterbury would not. The 9.4-mile busway would run mostly along a rail right-of-way from Hartford to New Britain, bypassing a congested stretch of I-84 that slows to a crawl every morning and evening.
“That’s huge,” he said. “We are getting the beginnings of a functional system.”
Malloy said his decision was made to “maximize” bringing in federal dollars, and the bus project would do just that.
“I am unwilling to run the risk of losing additional federal funds,” he said. “If we had chosen to abandon the busway in favor of the rail project… that decision would make it more difficult for us to access additional rail dollars.”
The Federal Transit Administration wrote Malloy last month informing him the state is set to be reimbursed for 80 percent of the $572 million costs of the busway project. The state is responsible for paying $113 million.
“The Busway project is considered ready-to-go,” said the letter. “A decision to withdraw this project and seek FTA funding for an alternative rail project in the region would require Connecticut to reenter the competitive” grant process.
Michael D. Nicastro, president of the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce and an advocate of the Bristol-Waterbury rail line, was disappointed but philosophical.
“There is a huge challenge to getting funding for both [the busway and the rail line]. That is why we have been against it from day one,” said Nicastro. “You have to give [Malloy] credit, he stopped kicking the can down the road and finally made a decision. It’s just not the decision we were hoping for.”
His chamber was so opposed, they launched an advertising campaign last fall, calling it too expensive at an estimated $60 million a mile for the 9.4-mile busway.
Hartford Mayor Pedro Segarra said the startup costs may high, but the economic impact will make up for that.
“This is what companies look for when moving into the city,” he said. “This will help facilitate bringing people into the city.”