NEWINGTON, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut's transportation commissioner is stepping up the state's defense of a half-billion dollar bus-only corridor as critics say construction is wrecking neighborhoods and killing jobs in Hartford.
In an interview with The Associated Press on Thursday, Commissioner James Redeker said the CTfastrak project is among the state's biggest, but officials are not deterred.
"After more than a decade of questioning whether (CTfastrak) is real or not there's no doubt about the fact that it's real and that we are 1,000 percent behind delivering a project on schedule and on budget if not ahead of time and under budget if we can at all possibly do that," he said.
Redeker, interviewed in his office at the Department of Transportation in Newington, said the state also will increase marketing.
The owner of restaurant in the path of construction in Hartford worries that the project will put him out of business. Donald Mancini, owner of Red Rock Tavern, said he attended a public hearing on Thursday to criticize plans to close the street where his restaurant is located.
He said he'd lose 30 percent to 50 percent of his business and would have to lay off workers. The bus-only route also would cut through the area, splitting it into two.
"We're not against the busway, but you're just putting another divider between two neighborhoods," he said.
Redeker acknowledged opposition and said the state will try to accommodate businesses that are affected by construction by installing pedestrian crossings or making traffic improvements.
"We never previously looked at a solution for an overpass or underpass or anything else because no one asked," he said. "Now that they're asking, we're responding and want to do that in an aggressive way."
State Sen. Joe Markley, a long-time critic of the project who has denounced what he says is its excessive $567 million price tag, compared the busway with urban renewal in the 1960s that damaged neighborhoods in many U.S. cities.
"I think the opposition is taking on a life of its own," he said. "As it begins, people realize it's not just a waste of money. They see what's going on and they're upset about it."
The 9.4-mile CTfastrak is a bus-only roadway built over an abandoned rail line. Construction began in May and the line is expected to open in 2014.
Officials say it will feature the speed of rail travel combined with the flexibility and direct service of a bus. The line will connect the University of Connecticut Medical Center, Westfarms Mall, Central Connecticut State University and the Hartford and New Britain downtown districts.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and other elected officials are backing the project as a way to create construction jobs, boost economic development in central Connecticut and promote cleaner transportation.
Connecticut is spending $112 million as its share of the total, with the rest coming from federal funds. Critics say the project is too costly and will fall short of ridership projections.
State transportation officials are looking beyond construction at how to market the corridor once it opens in two years, Redeker said.
"The DOT's changing from 'how do we get money and justify a project to get the money?' to 'OK, it's building time and besides building we've got to get ready to have a market ready to ride,'" he said.
Redeker said that unlike highways and bridges, the bus-only corridor is more complicated to build, involving construction on a railroad right of way and requiring new waiting stations and other components.
"This is a whole new project for the DOT," he said. "We're going to be aggressive in making this successful."
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