Feb. 20--The CTfastrak construction is on schedule and within budget, and transit planners are looking to offer occasional special busway service for events at Rentschler Field and perhaps even the Bushnell Center for the Performing Arts, state Transportation Commissioner James Redeker told lawmakers Wednesday.
"An awful lot of thinking and preparation is going on right now. It's unlike just putting a bus on a highway or a train on a track," Redeker said. "There's a very complex set of things to integrate."
Contractors have put down a first layer of pavement on about 80 percent of the rapid-transit bus route from downtown Hartford to downtown New Britain, and stations along the way are being built, Redeker said.
Construction should be finished in October, followed by driver training and extensive testing of the intersection signals, closed-circuit cameras, ticket dispensers, and digital signs at each platform announcing the arrival time of the next bus.
Meanwhile, the Department of Transportation staff is working with Newington, Hartford, West Hartford and New Britain to devise emergency plans in case of onboard medical emergencies, a bus breakdown or crash, or any other problem that would require buses to detour off the bus-only-highway to continue service.
Redeker and top CTfastrak managers briefed the General Assembly's transportation committee for an hour about the status of the project, which is budgeted at $567 million for construction, followed by operating subsidies of about $10 million a year. State bond money and federal grants are covering the engineering, design and construction costs, and Connecticut's budget will absorb the ongoing subsidies.
The busway has been controversial since it was first proposed under the administration of then-Gov. John Rowland. Detractors called it unnecessary and unreasonably expensive, but the project advanced steadily under Rowland's successor, M. Jodi Rell. Three months after taking office in 2011, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy endorsed it.
Along the way, some of the plans have changed. There once had been talk of constructing full stations at the 11 stops, with restrooms, heated lobbies and perhaps coffee shops, dry cleaners or other small commercial businesses. Instead, only the New Britain station will be an actual building. Passengers at other stops will be protected from the weather by curved canopies, but there won't be station buildings.
In presentations several years ago, planners spoke of expecting 16,000 passenger trips a day. The projection for the first two years is now about 13,000 a day, the DOT said, with 16,000 projected by 2030 -- although Redeker said he believes that goal will be reached much sooner.
The DOT estimates that about 8,000 of the daily trips will be by people who already use CTTransit buses. The remaining 5,000 trips will be a mix, the DOT said: Some will be by people aren't traveling the route now; others will be commuters who now drive but instead will leave their cars home or at park-and-ride lots.
The DOT is buying 44 buses for about $27 million; some will shuttle between Hartford and New Britain making all stops, while others will run express routes, and still more will run partly on the busway and then onto local streets to the Westfarms mall area, the UConn Health Center and other popular destinations.
Redeker assured Rep. Steven Mikutel, D-Griswold, that the system will attract a wide mix of riders, not just low-income people who can't afford cars. Central Connecticut State University students already are showing extensive interest, and the DOT plans to market heavily to people who commute to Hartford -- including state employees.
"Today, 25 percent of Travelers Insurance employees take public transit to work," Redeker said. "I think you'll see people from all walks of life [on the busway]."
Answering a question from Rep. Rick Lopes, D-New Britain, Redeker said the construction phase has had no labor trouble and no problems with its contractors or subcontractors.
Redeker told Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, that costs have exceeded the construction bids by about 9 percent, but he said those bids had come in well under original projections. About $300 million of the overall budget is for construction, and the costs are still within that figure, he said. Staying in the total $567 million budget "is not a problem," he said.
(c)2014 The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.)
Visit The Hartford Courant (Hartford, Conn.) at www.courant.com
Distributed by MCT Information Services