Steve sent this two minutes ago. He wrote it for the Herald's earlier deadline. The Press story may have more and I'm sure he'll post more on the Bristol Blog (http://www.bristoltoday.com/) later tonight. I'm just trying to fill in the gaps for those of you on the edge of your seats.
By STEVE COLLINS
BRISTOL – Regional planners listened intently late Thursday to pitches for both the proposed busway and the potential for commuter rail.
Rail backers spoke first and then the proponents of the 9.4-mile busway between New Britain and Hartford got their turn.
Members of the Central Connecticut Regional Planning Agency questioned the plans in preparation for a possible vote on whether to give their blessing to shifting $116 million in state transportation funds to the busway.
As of deadline, no decision had been made. Some urged postponement of the decision until March to give planners time to review the material.
Others pushed for quick approval.
“The busway has been studied. The busway is now. The busway creates jobs,” said Joseph Marie, the state’s transportation commissioner.
With the federal government “behind us on this project,” Marie said, it makes sense to proceed as planned.
New Britain Mayor Tim Stewart said it is important to note how close the project is to construction, which could begin next year.
That stands in sharp contrast to the commuter rail option pushed by many Bristol officials.
Commuter rail “is an idea, not a project,” Stewart said, and would take eight to 10 years to come to pass at best.
If the agency backs the busway funding, it’s not clear that the $573 million project will face no further troubles.
“This thing has miles to go,” said Mike Nicastro, president of the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce.
Nicastro said rail backers will carry their fight to the General Assembly and elsewhere to keep the heat on the project.
But Bristol Mayor Art Ward, another rail backer, sounded resigned Thursday.
“The eggs are all pretty much in a basket for the bus route and we need to move on,” Ward said. “It’s very, very unlikely there’d be any roadblocks.”
He said the state and federal officials who have looked into the issue have essentially made the decision “to move forward with the busway.”
Adding some weight to the opposition to the busway was a letter written tis week by West Hartford’s mayor and four legislators stating that if the town had to choose, it would prefer rail.
“If building the busway will eliminate the opportunity for a commuter rail stop” in Elmwood, the letter to U.S. Rep. Johnson Larson said, “we must come out even stronger against the busway.”
Marie said that a station in Elmwood could handle both buses and trains.
Michael Sanders, the DOT transit manager, said the assumption has been the joint station would be at Flatbush Avenue, but it could be moved to Elmwood if that’s what West Hartford wants.
Rail advocates said that trains would tie the region into a network that offers more long-term potential for growth.
But Sanders said the busway benefits are immediate, including faster travel time for commuters who continue to use I-84. There would also be more buses and routes to service the region, including buses every 12 minutes between Hartford and Bristol during commuting periods.Sanders said the design is 90 percent finished and all but two of the property purchases needed have been completed.He said the project will create more than 1,000 jobs annually during the construction period through 2013.State officials said the bureaucratic process allows regional officials to approve any federal funding within their regions. The state can’t spend the money without the agency’s green light.
I just revised the story to reflect an updated version. Only the last few paragraphs have changed -- Jackie
Watch the Bristol Blog... www.bristoltoday.com. He'll probably leave something there later tonight and if not then, certainly in the morning.