Senate Supports Controversial New Britain-To-Hartford Busway By 19 To 15

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State senators clashed sharply Thursday over whether the controversial busway between New Britain and Hartford is a brilliant transportation project or a potentially costly white elephant.

After nearly four hours of debate, the Senate voted 19 to 15 to reject a Republican de-funding amendment – thus paving the way for the busway to move forward.

The Senate also voted 22 to 14 in favor of permitting electronic tolls on Route 11 in southeastern Connecticut in order to pay for the eight-mile extension of the highway from Salem to Interstate 95 at the border of East Lyme and Waterford.

The 9.4-mile busway has been pushed by Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy as a job-creator that would relieve highway congestion, but it has been blasted by Republicans as a wasteful boondoggle, a heavily subsidized government project, and an ill-conceived road to nowhere.

The buses would run on a dedicated, bus-only roadway from downtown New Britain, through Newington and West Hartford, before ending at Union Station in Hartford. Supporters say it will cost relatively little for the state at $112 million because 80 percent of the $567 million total costs will be paid by the federal government. Overall, it will cost about $60 million per mile.

An official groundbreaking is expected next month, and the long-delayed busway could begin operating in late 2014 if everything goes as planned.

\”I think it\’s irresponsible for us, whatever the political pressures that are on us\’\’ to spend money on the busway, said Sen. Joseph Markley, a conservative Republican from Southington who is the chief opponent. \”People may say, it\’s federal money. … Insofar that it runs over price, we are responsible for every single dollar. … All of that money is our money.\’\’

The debate focused on Markley\’s amendment to slash funding for the 11-stop busway and redistribute the money for other purposes. He said that the state has huge transportation needs in all areas of the state, noting that six of the seven bridges in Stamford are structurally deficient. Overall, 30 Connecticut bridges \”are rated below the Minnesota bridge\’\’ that collapsed several years ago, Markley said.

During the middle of the lengthy debate, Senate Majority Leader Martin Looney abruptly called for a time-0ut and a Democratic caucus as insiders were unsure whether the Democrats had enough votes to defeat Markley\’s amendment. Both Republicans and Democrats said there was definite uncertainty over whether the Democrats could defeat the Republican amendment because some conservative Democratic senators were in favor of having money diverted to their districts in order to repair ailing infrastructure. But Democrats were assured that they had the votes, and the debate resumed more than an hour later.

The vote was relatively close at 19 to 15 with two Democrats absent and Democrat Paul Doyle of Wethersfield joining with Republicans against the busway.

The debate on the amendment lasted for much of the day, and a Democrat said he felt that the issue was hijacked because the underlying bill focused on Route 11 and not the busway. After the busway debate was finished, senators then clashed over whether the state could allow the installation of electronic tolls to collect money on the highway.

\”The completition of Route 11 is not just a public safety issue. It\’s an economic development issue,\’\’ said Sen. Andrea Stillman, a Waterford Democrat. \”This possible tool is one we should look at.\’\’

On the busway, Markley pushed for a roll call vote on the matter as a standalone project, which in the past has been part of a much larger legislative package.

The $567 million busway would generate an estimated 900 construction jobs for the workers who would build it over three years. The estimated subsidy for operating costs is $12 million per year, and after 10 years, that total would rise to an annual subsidy of about $22 million, Markley said. About 100 jobs would be created to operate the buses. The $567 million cost includes $300 million to build the busway, plus the costs of purchasing the buses.

Nearly $90 million has already been spent on land acquisition along the proposed 9.4-mile route. Six major contracts have already been signed, and construction is expected to begin soon.

Proponents say it will have 16,000 daily rides – meaning 8,000 people making round trips between the two cities. But the opponents are highly skeptical of the ridership projections.

Democrats said the project would have ancillary benefits, spilling over into different towns along the way. Sen. Theresa B. Gerratana, a New Britain Democrat, said there are plans for a $35 million mixed-use development near the busway in her hometown.

\”This is indeed what I believe is the future of our region, the future for our children,\’\’ she said. \”If you drive I-84 every morning to Hartford every day, as I do, you see the congestion and the pollution.\’\’

But Senate Republican leader John McKinney of Fairfield said that traffic congestion is far worse in lower Fairfield County, adding that the busway would not even be on his list of the Top 10 needed projects statewide.

The well-documented congestion on Interstate 95 \”makes the traffic on I-84 look like a walk in the park,\’\’ he said. \”The issue is: is this the right priority for spending in Connecticut?\’\’

Currently, there is bus service between New Britain and Hartford, and it costs $1.25 for a round-trip ride. Now, there are 11,000 rides per day, and that number is projected to increase to 16,000 rides per day. The buses will be running 21 hours a day – from 4:30 a.m. to 1:30 a.m.

\”We have a chance here to move ahead – to show some vision,\’\’ said Sen. Gary LeBeau, an East Hartford Democrat. \”The density will grow around the rail line. … It\’s a bargain. It is time for us to get this job done.\’\’

Sen. Andrew Maynard, the Democratic proponent of the underlying bill on completing the Route 11 highway to Interstate 95 in southeastern Connecticut, said he felt like a passenger who had been hijacked because the busway debate was clearly overshadowing the Route 11 discussion.

Sen. Andrea Stillman, a Waterford Democrat, agreed with Maynard and thanked him for \”doing his homework\’\’ on the project.

\”We will be thought as a state that is so fickle that it can\’t make up its mind what it wants to do,\’\’ said Stillman, adding that the state should not turn down millions of dollars in federal money. \”I\’m very concerned about the message this sends to the federal highway administration.\’\’

\”The busway\’s existence will help grow jobs,\’\’ she said.

Sen. Beth Bye, a West Hartford Democrat, agreed.

\”The bus has left the station, and it\’s time to move forward,\’\’ Bye said.

Senate President Pro Tem Donald Williams said that investment in transportation had built the nation, citing the intercontinental railroad. He said there has \”always been opposition\’\’ to new transportation projects, but the lessons of history show that transportation can provide economic growth.

Throughout the early part of the debate, Markley dominated the discussion as he answered questions about his amendment.

\”I never was on it when people had to stand, either,\’\’ Markley said of the current twice-per-hour trips that run generally now during business hours. Saying he lived in Europe for years without a car, Markley said that train service is the preferred manner of transportation.

The route would increase from 2 buses per hour to 20 buses per hour – a ten-fold increase.

Markley calculates the cost at $1,000 per inch, while others had different estimates of about $10,000 per foot.

\”We\’re going to find ourselves with a boondoggle on our hands,\’\’ said Sen. John Kissel, an Enfield Republican with 20 years\’ experience in the Senate. \”There is not one person that I have met that supports the busway project.\’\’ 

Sen. Len Suzio, a Meriden Republican, was highly skeptical of the project and its costs.

\”Are we going to be paving the busway with something like gold instead of tar or asphalt?\’\’ Suzio asked on the Senate floor. \”In a day of fiscal austerity, it\’s important to prioritize our public projects. … It just seems ludicrous that we would be spending that kind of money. … There are many more projects that could benefit far more people.\’\’

Suzio said his daughter lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico, and she lives near a high-speed train that runs between Alburquerque and Santa Fe.

\”We found out there was four hours between train boardings,\’\’ Suzio said, telling the tale of visiting his daughter. \”It turns out it was a tremendous waste of taxpayers\’ money.\’\’

But Sen. Steve Cassano, a Manchester Democrat, said the busway has been in the works since 1996 – allowing the costs to almost double because of all the delays during various administrations. He said the amendment was \”scary\’\’ because it would take money that was allocated to the busway and send it in other directions.

\”We will never had a project funded if that\’s the way we\’re going to do business in the state of Connecticut,\’\’ Cassano said on the Senate floor. \”You can\’t take that away and give it to someone else in good faith.\’\’

Pittsburgh and St. Louis have looked at light rail, he said.

Some of the biggest beneficiaries of the busway will be students going to Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, he said. \”It\’s efficient and effective,\’\’ he said.

Sen. L. Scott Frantz, a Greenwich Republican, said that the state has at least seven bridges that are more than 100 years old – and thousands of bridges have far exceeded their lifespans. He said that the money could be better spent by widening Interstate 84 in certain areas in New Britain and Hartford to unclog the traffic jams.

He noted the state\’s failed and now-abandoned monorail system from Hartford to Bradley International Airport in Windsor Locks, saying that one of the few successful monorail systems in the entire nation is at DisneyWorld.

 \”Everybody is running out of money,\’\’ said Frantz, a fiscal conservative. \”I know what it\’s like to have a bridge come down. The Mianus River Bridge is practically in my backyard. … It was horrible.\’\’

 State Sen. Tony Guglielmo of Stafford Springs said, \”This just lacks common sense. I hope it works. This is a freight train. We\’re trying to slow it down. It\’s going to happen. To spend $100 million of state money when we can\’t even do the core function of the state.\’\’

Guglielmo said that none of his constituents are in favor of the busway.

\”They laugh about it. They think it\’s ridiculous,\’\’ Guglielmo said. \”I\’m afraid we\’re going to create another white elephant.\’\’

Sen. Rob Kane, a Republican from Watertown, asked, \”Who do we expect to get on and use this bus?\’\’

\”My personal expectation is it\’s the same people who are [now] riding\’\’ between New Britain and Hartford, Markley said. \”It has benefitted people of that immediate area who don\’t have cars or need to make that trip.\’\’

Kane responded, \”At some point, you need to cut your losses. … I think this is the time to do it.\’\’

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21 thoughts on “Senate Supports Controversial New Britain-To-Hartford Busway By 19 To 15

  1. Lost in CT

    Didn’t thos 900 jobs for the construction go to an out of state or non-union contractor? I remember one Union leader threatenting in the paper how closely his union was going to watch the project for violations (i.e. further delays & expenditure).

    We could call it the “Dannel P Malloy Busline of Lost Hopes” as neither city seems to be getting an econimic rejuvination.

  2. Fred Young

    A lot of talk on the news about WalMart & illegal bribes in Mexico. Avon doing the same in China. What do we call it here in CT? Business as usual in the Land of Steady Habits? This project is just another CT way to grease the palms of politically connected people, the landowners, lawyers, unions, pawn shops/liquor stores/scrap metal recyclers, at each end of the roadway. Ticket sellers, drivers, mechanics, road maintainence, will all be more state union employees. This project will end up being CTs equivalent to Bostons Big Dig, never ending.

  3. Fred Young

    Like I want to get off the bus at Union Station because I have a job somewhere in the Hartford area. Or I am going to park my car near Union Station, travel to a non existent job in New Britain, then return to Hartford & my stripped/vandalized car? These proposed urban areas are not where you want to be if you are a non criminal type. These buses will be “worked” by professional panhandlers that will get free passes because they are legally unemployed. Risk your life if you will, and Good Luck.

  4. Catspaw

    No one has shown that there is any public interest or support for the $600,000,000.00 ten mile road. Either the public is served or it’s a pipe dream two other administrations have already passed on, since 1996.

    Stories of development around the busway ignore its path along Amtrak rail lines. No one is interested in living or working next to a railroad, that’s why these right of ways have been undeveloped except for warehouses and manufacturing.

    The DOT, and the Hartford Courant, have not published who will receive the $45,000,000.00 in right of way compensation package in the budget. Although, Kevin Rennie has reported Aetna did receive a fivefold windfall for their parking lot during the Rell administration as part of the rights of way funding.

    So far the public does hear loud and clear that a Massachusetts construction firm received the $130,000,000.00 initial bid on construction with no report if, or, if any Connecticut residents are employed in the reported 900 temporary construction jobs.

    Bottom line. A billion for a ten mile road and some lucky Brownsfield land holders will chuckle all the way to the bank.

    Add that there is limited and no parking at the stations on the line and the proposed goal of easing traffic on I84 appears for what it is, a cheap bait and switch sales pitch. Did they think 18,000 riders couldn’t be served by the already existing DATTCO express service?

    With thirty percent of Hartford commercial space empty who do they think is riding a fancy bus each way?

    A more comical plan is available, but hot air balloons are impractical and the hot air is coming from the DOT and Governor’s office on this one.

  5. bill

    First off, let me say that i am pro-busway for many reasons. But let me remind people that these politicians who are heading up the efforts to block the busway are also not telling you the truth. Sen. Joseph Markley and Rep. Whit Betts are against the busway, because they prefer trains. They made that very clear early in this process. The train tracks already run through their towns and Bristol/Southington would benefit if this project was for trains instead of buses.
    All of their BS about the environment damage from the busway, concern for neighborhoods impacted by the busway, cost of the busway, EVERYTHING is 100% political BS. A train service would have the same impact on the environment, cost MUCH more to operate and maintain, and have a much worse impact in the condensed neighborhoods that the train would go through. whats louder a train or bus?
    For those that dont know, they are arguing to put our money from the busway to fix the highways and bridges. A year ago they were advocating us to put that same money into commuter trains. But since 2/3 of the cost is from the Feds, that money cant be used on light rail. So rather than work with this project, they want end the whole thing. In other words…cry, take their ball and go home.
    If this project was for light rail and serviced Greater Bristol to Hartford, all of your concerns would still be valid (even more so, since the cost skyrockets.) only there would be no phoney politicians against it.
    There is nothing more that i detest than phoney politicians. Which is almost all of them, since even those who are for this project are too scared to say so in a vote and have to explain themselves. VOTE EM ALL OUT!

  6. Prescott Bill

    Another huge waste of taxpayers money, where do you think the Federal dollars come from???? An annual subsidy of get this $22,000,000 and create 100 permanent jobs. What a plan, this could only be supported by the unions and the Democrats. Lets see that’s $220,000 per job. Nice return on an investment of $567,000,000

  7. Insanity

    I commute from Southington to Hartford everyday. The drive time from the 84/72 exit (presumably where I would have to get off the highway to get to bus station) to Hartford on a good day is about 15 min. and on a bad day (accident etc.) is about 30 min.

    Now compare that with the alt…driving from 84/72 exit to the bus station, waiting for the bus and the bus ride into Hartford, best case 30 minutes, worse case 45 minutes.

    What am I missing? So much for Government for the people

  8. Marc

    Bill you are just as bad as the democrat senate that voted for this. Our highways and bridges are in serious need of repair that this money could go to. I just hope none of my friends or family are on any of these bridges when they collapse.

  9. Palin Smith

    When people are killed in a future bridge collapse, another $500,000,000 will be appropriated. Government always reacts after the fact.

  10. 60MillionAMile

    It’s unbelievable that a busway proposed to be built on an existing railbed that will cost 60 million dollars a mile is even under consideration.

    Why don’t you restore the rail line and purchase refurbished commuter equipment to get started???? Just because large amounts of money have been spent on a bad idea does not justify more money being poored into a bad idea.

  11. SmGovGood

    $600,000,000 to build it, $15,000,000 in taxpayer annual support and the 20 year Total cost to CT Taxpayers is One Billion Dollars!!! WHAT A WASTE!!!

    We pay gas tax to go to Road and Bridge repair – but the money goes to the general fund!

    The Bus should be cancelled and the taxpayers money should be spent repairing roads and bridges!

    Spend, Tax, spend more and Tax tax tax, Dannel has to go!

  12. LovingThis

    I take the bus to Hartford from New Britain and I loved for this to happened. Sometime the bus comes 10-20 late when it should be a 30 min ride everyday, meaning it may take 45 to 55 mins which is like driving from New Brtain to New Haven! I love the 6 min high-speed transportation of this thing from NB to Hartford. I’m all for it! TO correct the article it’s not 1.25 anymore, it has changed fare to 1.35. And also sometime the bus can be over crowded that 10 people would have to stand up the whole ride. I believe there are 4 or 5 different New Britain-Hartford bus and normally ends at 6:30 pm unlike this one would end around 1 am. I’m all for it. I think people who are against this does not even understand or never take the bus everday for couple of years. I notice more and more people taking the bus and it’s getting too crowded.

  13. Todd Zaino

    One Party-Rule!

    Who cares if it’s wasteful, who cares if 82% of the state doesn’t want this, who cares how the tax money is spent?

    Open for business!

    Malloy has become CT’s Kim Jong-il

  14. jamie mills

    Senator Suzio is simply wrong in his facts about the highly successful Rail Runner in New Mexico. It is not high speed rail. It is a communter rail. There are three trains during the morning commute and three to four trains during the evening commute Monday through Friday with fewer trains on weekends. Cost for a roundtrip ticket between Albuquerque and Santa Fe is $6.00. Check your facts Mr. Suzio. I wish we had somthing similar to the Road Runner in Connecticut. A pleasant and affordable alternative to highway travel.

  15. Gail

    With this governon and his fellow Dems, We’ll be seeing them coming back for another tax increase. This is not going to stimulate business just like we have to pay businesses to come into the State of Connecticut. What is wrong with the picture. Vote everyone of them OUT! We need people that work for the people of Connecticut not to get themselves re-elected and giving our hard earned dollars away. Start, cutting spending!!!!!!!

  16. Catspaw

    Sixteen citizens have responded in this opportunity. The Hartford Courant has allowed these few to register opinion and observation.

    With $600,000,000.00 ready to waste, how disheartening these few ideas are in a public forum.

    One assumes neither reason nor math appeals. Let us then spend, and spend freely the gift of our own taxes to achieve a promise to link a few with a golden road tying together cities barely ten miles from one another.

    The Senate has spoken. Any amount, at any cost, for any achievement is better than reason or competence.

    A wonderful monument to our ignorance and carelessness. The Busway. Let it be on Governor Malloy’s head.

    In 2020 we will know he was right and wise. In 2013 we will know our bridges and roads are decrepit and failing.

    Three cheers for the noble DOT. The author of the next civic tragedy known as the Busway.

    Comical and sad. But it’s only money and the rest of Connecticut can go hang. God forbid anyone care enough to write more. The will of the people is executed.

  17. Sharpshooter

    60 milion a mile…why not recklessly spend on boondogle projects like this, most of the money is federal…oh wait…no that’s our money since the local, state and federal govenernments get their money from us.

  18. Mike P

    Our governor or government does not listen to its people. This is a useless project that will be abandoned within three years for non participation. Wasted money on wasted, useless project.

    There are absolutely NO jobs being “created” either. These are already employed workers who would have been working on other projects someplace else. It always amazes me when they say they are creating jobs. And as far as the “new” 100 bus drivers or so; well guess what, now the state (or our taxes) has new salaries to pay, new pensions to fund, new heath care to pay for, etc. so now it becomes a tax burden by having to hire and maintain not only employees but equipment, garages, busses, etc.

    Has anyone traveled Rte 84 between Cheshire & Waterbury recently where the road shrinks from 3 to 2 lanes? You think smarter minds would have prevailed and some of this money could have been applied to fix this problem?

    This government does not work, does not listen and certainly does not care about our well being. Please remember this when it comes time to vote – Democrats have ruined this State.

  19. Jim G

    So glad I moved out of Ct! With “political leadership” like this, it won’t take long to destroy the state’s already fragile economy. What a disgraceful act.

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