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Busway Construction Progresses

by Christine Stuart | Aug 21, 2013 4:28am
(22) Comments | Commenting has expired
Posted to: Town News, Hartford, New Britain, Jobs, Labor, Transportation

Christine Stuart photo

The New Britain-to-Hartford busway is the largest transit project the state has ever constructed from scratch. When it’s completed, it’s expected to deliver passengers from downtown New Britain to downtown Hartford in 17 minutes.

More than 500 construction workers are busy this summer building portions of the dedicated busway, bridges, and 10 new stations along the 9.4 mile route. The bus route will use Union Station in Hartford as its ending point, even though Michael Sanders, transit administrator for the Transportation Department, will tell you the busway doesn’t really end.

He described the system as more of a spider web than a linear express bus route with buses arriving every three to four minutes at the stations to take riders to their destinations.

“People think that it’s the creation of a route between New Britain and Hartford, but it will really benefit the entire region,” Sanders said.

The busway will give commuters an opportunity to reach locations beyond both Hartford and New Britain, Sanders explained Tuesday during a two-hour driving tour of some of the completed portions.

He said his department is trying to come up with a University of Connecticut route that will tie the soon to be constructed downtown Hartford campus to the UConn Health Center in Farmington. It will also offer express bus service from Cheshire, Southington, and Waterbury, and limited local stop rides from Bristol to Hartford.

Portions of the 9.4 miles stretch are scenic, while others highlight dilapidated buildings like the National Welding factory in Newington, which is languishing as a hazardous materials site. The town has received a $2 million brownfield grant to start planning clean-up efforts. Sanders said there are developers interested in the location, which is about 100 feet from the busway platforms.

“We’ve provided a trigger for a lot of economic development,” Sanders said.

But there are some who don’t believe economic development will follow.

Michael Nicastro, president and CEO of the Central Connecticut Chamber of Commerce, said Wednesday that a 2011 study by Robert Charles and Lesser Co. found Bus Rapid Transit systems do “not convey the economic or real estate upside that fixed rail networks do.”

Nicastro said construction boom has helped spark some economic activity, but there’s nothing that’s happened environmentally along the 9.4 miles stretch of dedicated roadway to suggest an economic boom is in the future of the corridor.

“It’s still going to be a hard pull to get people out of their cars and onto a bus,” Nicastro said. “We just don’t have the density of a Cleveland or Pittsburgh.”

Christine Stuart photo

Michael Sanders, transit administrator for the DOT, and Rich Symonds, project manager for CTFastrak, speak with one of the contractors working on the East Street station in New Britain

Cleveland and Pittsburgh are home to bus rapid transit systems like the one being built in Connecticut.

“In order for this to be successful they’re going to have to have the ridership,” Nicastro said. The bus is expected to run 21 hours per day.

He said the demographic trends point to businesses and population migrating to Fairfield County and abandoning the central portion of the state.

The buses are projected to carry 16,000 daily riders in 2030, but one DOT engineer pointed out last month that even if there’s one rider, the buses “need to be there.”

Depending on how the success of the project is measured, in riders or economic activity, opinions will continue to vary as construction progresses.

Last summer, there was plenty of opposition to the project as the state sought to use eminent domain to take small portions of private property and then broke ground in an old rail right-of-way through a cemetery. Then there was the closing of Flower Street in Hartford.

Christine Stuart photo

Flatbush Avenue in Hartford is expected to be completed by Dec. 1 of this year. The busway doesn’t fully open until 2015

Just last month, transportation officials got together with Hartford neighborhood organizations to come up with a design for the pedestrian bridge that will safely carry people over the busway and the adjacent Amtrak railway.

Transportation officials admit that opinions about the busway are still mixed, but they believe in the end, when the buses start running, the response from riders and neighbors will be positive.

Sanders pointed out that the rail lines have been there for decades so most of the property owners are used to a few trains whizzing by every day.

“Largely these neighborhoods are accustomed to the noise so nothing is shocking them,” he added.

Rich Symonds, a project manager with the Transportation Department, said the reaction to the busway has been “truly mixed.”

“You get some that don’t want to change. You get others who are pretty good to deal with,” he said noting that the department has spent years now doing outreach to the impacted communities.

When the project is completed the state will have spent about $567 million, most of which came from a federal grant for the project that was conceived more than a decade ago.

State officials broke ground on the project last May. It was at that time the New Britain-to-Hartford busway was rebranded CTFastrak.

Click here to watch a virtual tour of the busway. Below is our short video of one of the paved sections.

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(22) Comments

posted by: ASTANVET | August 21, 2013  6:32am

Who is making money over the creation of this bus way.  There wasn’t a large public outcry for it, there are current bus routes that cover the same terrain.  So who is making the money?

posted by: DirtyJobsGUy | August 21, 2013  7:47am

Just like many of these boondoggles it follows existing right of way rather than where people want/need to go.  Is there an increase in companies located in Downtown Hartford?  No, just more government entities like UCONN.    Expect a lot of spin to avoid the inevitable low ridership stories (one can count on the current Hartford news media to avoid these like the plague)

posted by: Not that Michael Brown | August 21, 2013  9:56am

They cannot finish this busway fast enough as far as I’m concerned.  I just took a busway bus back and forth between the LAX to downtown LA.  A trip that normally takes 1 hour by car took only 20 minutes.

posted by: petersanchez | August 21, 2013  11:43am

Interesting article and profile. You know what’s interesting? Now that people are writing or reporting FACTUAL information about this transit system IT SEEMS VERY MUCH WORTH IT and will help to build our local economy. READ the facts. This type of rapid bus system works.

posted by: Matt W. | August 21, 2013  11:54am

Matt W.

Astanvet - CT DOT is making the money.  This is a transfer from the Feds.  You really think it takes $600 Million to pave 10 miles of road?  DOT charges about 60-80% against the project budget for “planning”, “administration” and a whole host of other soft costs. That money effectively takes DOT employees off the state’s rolls and is used to fund the retirement, health and other costs that they would never be able to meet without these types of transfers from the Federal Gov’t. 

In other words, if DOT wasn’t moonlighting by doing work for the Feds, it could never survive.  I could probably swallow the waste of federal and state tax dollars if it weren’t for the fact that the minute this thing is complete, it will require a significant and unending subsidy.

posted by: ABC | August 21, 2013  12:43pm

2023 highway sign:
Welcome to Connecticut, home of the longest man-made fjord in the U.S.

posted by: gutbomb86 | August 21, 2013  1:31pm

gutbomb86

It’s certainly expensive but there will be people riding it and, apparently, renewed economic activity is already taking place along the corridor. That’s actually “good” news, if the usual suspects here are running out of ways to spin that information in a negative way.

posted by: art vandelay | August 21, 2013  6:16pm

art vandelay

To Not Michael Brown,
To compare this boondoggle to the Busway in LA is like comparing apples to oranges.
Hartford has no where near the population as LA.  Connecticut would have been much better served by finishing Rt 9 North from Farmington to Windsor in order to facilitate traffic around Hartford to Bradley.

posted by: art vandelay | August 21, 2013  6:27pm

art vandelay

I loved the comments coming from the “Officials” in charge of this project justifying its existence.  A DOT official is praising the project even if only 1 rider a day takes the bus.  It would be cheaper for the state to purchase a Rolls Royce to taxi that one rider from New Britain to Hartford on I-84.  I can’t see people who own automobiles driving to Waterbury to get on a bus, then get on another bus with 10 stops just to see a Huskies game at the XL Center.  I forgot!  The busway end at Union Station so another bus has to be boarded in order to get to the XL Center.  In 5 years the Busway will be the most expensive walking/bike path in our countries history.  What a total waste of taxpayers money.

posted by: Commuter | August 21, 2013  10:38pm

I’m starting to think that the “usual suspects” aren’t “spinning” anything. Instead, maybe they are “useful idiots” who innocently misrepresent reality because they are being fed disinformation. I could be wrong.

It is just hard for me to believe that the same people posting comments to article after article could be reading all this stuff and apparently not absorbing any of it.

posted by: art vandelay | August 22, 2013  7:37am

art vandelay

To Gutbomb86&Commuter;,
If you consider me a “usual suspect” I can assure you I am NOT misrepresenting reality, not spinning in a negative way, and DO comprehend what I read. I’m just expressing my views in a realistic manner. My views are from personal observations and statistical facts. I see buses in Hartford, New Britain and Waterbury 1/4 full on a consistent basis. There is a reason why private bus transportation companies like CR&L, Oak St, Arch St, and Eastside Bus Co.s went out of business years ago.  They weren’t making any money. Gengris purchased these companies for pennies on the dollar and sold the routes to the state for millions. The result was the formation of CT Transit owned and operated by the state at a huge loss. Yes bus transportation in the inner cities is important, but anything the state does, is run inefficiently and at a loss.  It’s also a proven fact that people who own automobiles are reluctant to ride public transportation unless it works to their advantage. Commuting work from Newington to downtown Hartford M-F IS an advantage to take public transportation. Commuting to NYC from Fairfield County is another. Anything else, people are NOT going to get out of their cars. No matter how I look at it, I just do NOT see this busway working. It will run at a tremendous loss at taxpayer expense.

posted by: joemanc | August 22, 2013  8:12am

I would have preferred they connected Waterbury to Hartford via rail. This way, your connecting larger population centers, such as Waterbury, Bristol, New Britain and Hartford. Additionally, you would then have rail connections between the 4 major cities of CT. This busway is going to be a disaster of epic proportions. Art nailed it below - nobody from Waterbury or points east is going to drive to New Britain to take a bus in to Hartford. When your that close, you might as well just drive in.

posted by: dano860 | August 22, 2013  11:37am

Not That M.B., in case you had not noticed, they are not going to Bradley Airport. We tried that with Ella Grasso and it failed. One other small point would be that L.A county has 9.9M people and Connecticut has a paltry 3.6M of which (I venture a guess at) 85% have no use for the bus or will ever use it.
Hartford is dying and Ct. now has garnered the status of being 50th in the nation for business and at or near the top for cost of living and taxes.
We need a big turn around in our regulations to get this State going.
The other thing I notice at a lot of construction sites and pictures here is the orange vested State employees with their arms crossed and just watching people work, crazy.

posted by: ASTANVET | August 22, 2013  12:24pm

Commuter - Gutbomb; ‘useful idiots’ huh?  I think you are applying the Lenin quote to the wrong side.  Gut, yes, I’m a ‘usual suspect’ i suppose, but without getting sucked into a circular maze of utopian dreamland, let me just say this.  I like small government.  I like it small because it doesn’t cost us (taxpayers) a lot.  I don’t encroach on your freedoms, your lifestyle, your property, your bank account, your future by advocating for a smaller government.  This bus way is a classic example of a government boondoggle.  There is no business or economic growth associated with it any more than the current bus stops that service this SAME ROUTE!  I respect your liberties, property and tax rates - I only ask that you do the same.  Somehow you spin that to mean that I’m part of the problem… that is just ridiculous.

posted by: gutbomb86 | August 22, 2013  3:24pm

gutbomb86

ASTANVET you just want the busway to be a boondoggle, that much is clear. You think government infringes on your rights but it’s a representative democracy, whether you like it or not, and the majority of us want more public transit. We also want our elected officials and DOT engineers to make sure there’s more options available if/when the I-84 viaduct has to come down. That’s going to happen at some point, like it or not.

The story indicates that there’s already some development happening along the route - which is a new route, not “the same route” ... they’re building the route, correct?

And Mr. Vandalay seems to think that another bus would be required to help transport people from Union Station to the XL Center in Hartford, which indicates that Mr. Vandalay hasn’t been to Hartford in quite a while or ever, since the XL Center is 2 blocks away from Union Station.

posted by: ASTANVET | August 22, 2013  7:29pm

I don’t want a boondoggle, we have one - you are technically correct, this is a new exercise of eminent domain while we have several bus schedules that meet the same objective… (and their ridership is not very good).  DOT projects i can get behind - widening of RT 6, completion of RT 11 - finishing RT 9 interchange to RT 84… I’m not a lunatic, and as i’ve said before, i’m not an anarchist.  but 600 million for 9.5 miles of ‘busway’ is just insane.  I’ll let your ‘democracy’ comment slide because you still don’t seem to understand or acknowledge federalism or republicanism (which is suppose to be what our state constitution is based on) - not a democracy.  But your objection to our form of government aside, this project will cost a whole lot for very little return… that is what i object to.

posted by: dano860 | August 22, 2013  7:50pm

If this project had gone on the ballot as a question it would have never passed. The lop sided representative government we have pushed it through at the behest of the unions and the pied piper, Don Williams.

posted by: Commuter | August 25, 2013  1:34pm

You know the old saying, boys - if the shoe fits…

That said, kudos to Art for his Aug 22 8:37 recitation, it does clarify where he is coming from, and I didn’t know that history. Thanks for that (not sarcasm).

You’re also right in being concerned about that model of subsidy for operating a service that is underutilized. However, you are comparing apples and oranges. The busway is an artery, connecting two small population centers, and tying in several lower-density neighborhoods in between.

The other point that should be understood better is that the highways are all government built, paid for by taxes. We use them for free. That is a massive subsidy. So the busway is not qualitatively different in that respect than the highways that some others think should be funded instead.

What is different about this is that it enables higher density development than is possible if you are relying on automobile based transportation and development. Ask the developers. If you look at the corridor, it is ripe for high density development, as long as you can reduce the ratio of automobiles to residents and the costs associated with those automobiles.

To the point about the number of people living in Hartford versus LA - that is exactly why you want to connect these two locales. They are just ten miles apart. Anyplace other than New England, they would actually be one place, managed at the county level. By connecting them, you effectively increase the population of both, from a commercial standpoint.

If I can open a restaurant (to use an obvious example) just two blocks from one of these stations, my clientele is now not just the handful of people who can walk or will drive a short distance and park nearby in the limited parking available. It is everyone within walking distance of any of these stations.

As this takes physical form, its moving from difficult to imagine to obvious. The proof will be when private developers and other investors start coming in, which is already starting to happen.

posted by: ad_ebay | August 26, 2013  1:00pm

Let the methadone flow.

posted by: ad_ebay | August 27, 2013  6:50am

gutbomb86.

“it’s a representative democracy”
No, it’s not.  We live in a Constitutional Republic.  The government is limited in it’s authority…yet that does not stop the entitled autocrats from doing whatever they want and getting away with it.

Time to rein in the pork wagon!

posted by: gutbomb86 | August 27, 2013  11:26am

gutbomb86

It’s also time to reign in the inane comments. I always get a chuckle out of the folks who want to claim we live in a Republic of some kind when, in fact, we elect representatives by district and send them to the General Assembly to make decisions for us based on constituent input. That’s representative democracy. We can also change our constitution through the representative democracy process. So go ahead and call that whatever you like to fit whatever partisan angle you’re comfortable with. The rest of us know how it works. It’s not perfect, but that is in fact how the process works.

posted by: ASTANVET | August 27, 2013  12:38pm

GUT - come on guy, you’re just an instigator.  You’re the tollerant side right?  I mean unless we have a difference of opinion.  Just for clarification, the difference between a republic and a democracy is that in a republic the minority opinion is not extinguished by the mob of a democracy.  That being said, this is suppose to be about a bus way.  A VERY expensive bus way that was crammed down the tax paying citizens throats with little to no constituent input - read the record from the hearings at the CGA - the CGA did not, in fact, operate at the will of the constituents.  What benefit is it to a person in sprague if the busway gets completed, yet they will be paying off the bond money just like someone in Hartford.  You can’t get my blood pressure up… you just can’t.  You’re a fool, picking anonymous fights with dissenting opinions, providing no room for dialogue.  You sir, are part of the problem.