Busway Lawsuit Not The Silver Bullet Opponents Were Hoping
For opponents of the New Britain - Hartford Busway, a pending lawsuit between Pan Am Southern railroad company and the state Transportation Department has been held out as a last-ditch effort to stop the controversial project. But the lawyer who filed the complaint says stopping the busway isn’t the objective.
“While it has a marginal impact on the busway, it won’t impede or stop it. Our ambitions are less grandiose than that,” Attorney John R. Bashaw said Wednesday.
Bashaw represents Pan Am Southern, a company that runs around two freight trains daily on a track in New Britain. Currently there’s a vehicle crossing over their rail line, which goes largely unused.
But part of the busway project would turn the crossing into a dedicated bike and pedestrian path, which busway riders could use to get to the bus terminal. Bashaw said the lawsuit stems from unanswered questions the company has about the crossing.
Last October, Pan Am petitioned to be a party to a DOT hearing regarding the crossing but was only given intervenor status, meaning they could only pose questions to DOT witnesses through the department’s hearing officer. Bashaw said the company feels it should have been allowed to be a party in the hearing.
“Wait a minute, this is our track you’re doing this over. We certainly have a right to a party at the hearing,” he said.
Bashaw said the hearing officer further “chilled” the company’s ability ask questions by instructing them not to “disrupt the flow of the hearing.” As a result, he said there are lingering concerns.
For one thing, Bashaw wants a risk analysis over safety concerns. He said the company doesn’t know whether to expect 10 pedestrians crossing over their track each day or 10,000. The railroad also wants to know what power it has to shut down the crossing if folks abuse it. What if people are jumping the tracks to get to their bus? Bashaw asked.
Pan Am has other questions too, like who’s responsible for removing snow from the crossing? Who is responsible for maintaining it, and how often?
“Look we’re running a railroad here, we’re just trying to do it safely,” he said.
At the end of the day Pan Am is hoping the lawsuit will get the company’s questions answered through a new hearing to which they can be a party. Bashaw said there’s also a behind the scenes effort to exchange information with DOT and if Pan Am’s concerns are met through that avenue, he said both parties can call it a day.
But if the lawsuit isn’t seeking the demise of the controversial 9.4 mile transit project, where does that leave the opposition effort? Anti-busway crusader Sen. Joseph Markley said it looked like the issue was out of his hands at this point.
Last year the Southington Republican participated in a failed attempt to challenge the project on environmental grounds. Markley also went down to Washington D.C. and tried to convince Republicans who control the House to defund the project to no avail. During the legislative session he led a multi-hour debate on an amendment to another transportation bill that would have scrapped the busway.
“I think I’ve played all the cards I have to play,” he said Wednesday.
While the legislature plans to meet again next month for a budget implementer session, Markley said he has no plans to propose more busway amendments. He said he wanted to get Democrats on the record voting for the project but wasn’t looking to “harass them” with more amendments.
He said Republicans would be reminding voters in two years that Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and Democrats supported the project, which he called “ludicrous.”
However, Markley wasn’t ready to call the busway a done deal just yet. He said intends to keep speaking in opposition to it and said the Pan Am Southern lawsuit was an example of how obstacles can arise and complicate things.
“Things come out of nowhere that are unanticipated or uncoordinated by me but can still work for the cause anyway,” he said.