Connecticut often approaches public transportation in funny ways. We have high population density in Fairfield County and the Connecticut Valley, and we have a sprawling bus network and passable rail lines in each area. Yet the bus system is underfunded and ignored, and most people who aren't commuting to New York avoid trains.
So, several years ago, a genius at the DOT hit upon the bright idea of combining the worst features of both trains and buses into the Hartford-New Britain Busway. The idea was to create a corridor for the exclusive use of buses, mostly by tearing up existing train tracks in Hartford, West Hartford, Newington and New Britain, then paving over the right of way. Stations would be built at points along the route, and apparently then the revitalization fairy would bless the area around each with economic growth.
The busway would, in essence, combine the permanence and stability of a bus with the flexibility of a train. Trains and rail lines last. In comparison, a bus feels flimsy and transient. Buses don't inspire the economic confidence that trains do. However, people like that buses are easy to find and easy to catch. Unlike a train, the bus can take you right into your neighborhood. When there's a problem on one street, the bus can take another.
Not so on the busway. The stations for this project are difficult to get to and oddly placed, in some cases. Take a look: the "Cedar Street" station in Newington isn't located in the middle of a neighborhood at all. I know that area: it's a swamp next to a rotting abandoned factory. I suppose that the Stop&Shop is nearby (although it certainly isn't what I'd call close), but there isn't a house in range. Who would want to take the bus there?
Fortunately, the federal government is starting to catch on:
The project, a bus-only route running 9.6 miles between New Britain and Hartford, would launch in 2011 if all remains on schedule, state officials said. One key portion of that schedule: regaining the federal government's faith in Connecticut's ability to deliver what it promises.
Earlier this year, the FTA downgraded the $335 million project from "recommended" status to "not recommended." (Reitz)
The DOT is scrambling to keep the project alive.
Here's the question: Why tear up tracks for a bus line that functions like a light rail line when you could have, say, an actual light rail line?
Do: Ferry Service
It's heartening to see that people are starting to look towards Long Island Sound as a transportation corridor again.
A six-year $286.4 billion transportation bill approved by Congress Friday includes $10 million to build the first high-speed ferry terminals in the state in Bridgeport, Stamford and New Haven.
Advocates of ferry service said the funding is a long overdue move to use the Long Island Sound to help ease congestion on Interstate 95. (AP)
That's not a bad idea at all. Ferry services in other cities, such as Seattle, are an excellent alternative to busy highways. New York is already used to ferry services: expanding the network to include Connecticut is the right move to make.
Unfortunately, it probably won't go a long way towards reducing congestion. But we should be looking for ways to use our existing resources wisely, rather than spending a lot of money on projects that may not work at all.
Reitz, Stephanie. "State Wants Busway Project Back On Road." Hartford Courant 7 August 2005.
"Connecticut looks to the water to solve traffic congestion." Associated Press 8 August, 2005.