ConnDOT Holding Meetings on Busway, Commuter Rail Projects

This week ConnDOT will be holding public meetings on both of its major planned transit projects — the long-delayed Hartford-New Britain Busway and the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield Commuter Rail, which is undergoing an Environmental Assessment.

Both transit projects have long histories, but previous governors’ lack of interest in transit showed in the way ConnDOT treated the projects. The busway was proposed in 1997 and originally supposed to open for service three years ago, while the commuter rail line was first studied in 2001 (see MTR #s 304, 356). Gov. Rell opted to put real money behind the projects after taking office (see MTR # 520); she could ensure a transit legacy by ensuring they are completed.

Today, most of the design work on the 9.4-mile busway has been completed and most of the needed land acquired; the busway meetings will solicit public input on operating questions like what kind of service should run on the busway and how local transit agencies should take advantage of it. Meetings will be in Newington today and New Britain on Tuesday at 6:30pm (more details here).

Four public hearings for the 62-mile commuter rail project will be held over the next two weeks to get public comment, starting today at 6pm in Springfield, Mass (the others are in Hartford, Windsor, and North Haven; more details here). There are two main issues facing the commuter rail project. The first is whether a project to add rail service to existing tracks where Amtrak already runs service needs to be studied for two years, as planned. ConnDOT has a further incentive to move quickly because the project could be eligible for federal economic stimulus funding planned for the first half of next year, but only if the project has advanced enough that construction can begin soon after funding is passed.

Second, if ConnDOT builds the project it has the choice between peak-hour-only service and a “full build” service that would run all day and require double-tracking the line. Gov. Rell and ConnDOT should signal their commitment to a more transit-oriented Connecticut by opting for full build — and if they can get federal dollars for the project, all the better.

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