Last week the arguments against Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) along the I-84 corridor were less about choosing rail over buses and more about opposing any public investment at all in commuter transportation.
On April 29th, the state Bond Commission approved $90 million for the New Britain-Hartford bus way, the lion's share of state investment in a $567 million project in line to receive $455 million in federal transportation funds.
GOP State Senator Andrew Roraback, in a Hail Mary salvo before the bond vote, equated the cost of Central Connecticut's first legitimate initiative on mass transit as the equivalent of purchasing 28,000 Jeep Patriots for every resident of New Milford, one of the towns in his district. Roraback's ridiculous comparison didn't exactly advance environmentalism nor rail. Think of all those Jeeps (22 city/28 Highway) on I-84 and their carbon footprint in 2020!
Public transportation needs to encompass more than folks in the Northwest Hills hopping into their SUVs and getting a more convenient train into New York. It needs to be about working people getting to their jobs in cities. It needs to be about the Hartford student without a car being able to get to his CCSU classes on time.
Using fuzzy math, State Senator Jason Welch (R-31) told a constituent that the Busway will be a "boondoggle" and that light rail could be built at "10 percent"of the cost of the BRT. Welch's opposition clearly led him to start making up numbers on a light rail system. Say what you will about the BRT, but building rail infrastructure in this region, especially light rail, won't be cheap. At best a rail alternative is a $1 billion idea that is up to a decade away before any environmental and economic return on investments could be realized for the region.
There is an abundance of research on the costs and impact of rail versus BRTs. BRTs have been shown to be flexible and effective as part of public transportation systems in metro areas around the world. Certainly BRTs are not the end all for what a good transit system should be like in central Connecticut. But it is a start at reducing auto use and revitalizing urban areas which should be the priority of policymakers whether they come from cities or suburbs.
We've heard better arguments from opponents of the BRT than those made by Republicans Roraback and Welch this past week. A boondoggle would really be occurring if the Governor had said no to the Busway thereby throwing the more than $65 million already invested in the project down the drain.
It makes you wonder. Had the Busway started in Bristol or Waterbury would these same opponents west of New Britain still be opposed? Or would they be hailing it as a necessary investment of public transportation dollars as economic stimulus (jobs) and every bit as good for the environment as any train?