Missing The Bus

Up until now I hadn’t given the much ballyhooed New Britain-to-Hartford Busway much thought. I figured since it was a busway and not a railway, then surely it wouldn’t cost as much as high-speed rail — that great boobdoggle which I’ve mercilessly attacked in the past.

But lo and behold, I read in CTNewsJunkie.com that the project had been approved yesterday. And then I saw the pricetag:

The busway’s total cost is estimated at $575 million, 80 percent of which will come from federal funding. The state is contributing $112 million and has already bonded $89 million for the project.

Say what? This sounds absolutely absurd. The Busway will be less than 9.4 miles long. Do the math. That’s almost $60 million per mile. Heck, a proposed $800-billion New Haven-to-Springfield passenger rail line to cover 62 miles between the two cities only prices out at a little under $13 million per mile.

Without offering much evidence, my colleague at CTNJ, Susan Bigelow, hailed the Busway as “a good idea” that “may even be a vital piece of our economy.” Moreover, she added that “the major thing that the busway will do for us is demonstrate that yes, mass transit in Greater Hartford is possible.” Note that in Susan’s entire column, there is not a single $ sign anywhere.

Over at the Courant, erstwhile skeptic Rick Green has finally been won over by the promise of lots of federal money and the estimated 4,000 new union construction jobs the project is estimated to create. Rick also likes the ridership estimates of 16,000 trips per day.

I tend to come down on the side of my colleague Patrick Scully, who says he hopes he’s wrong, “But I truly fear this project will become a national embarrassment for Connecticut and could even hurt Gov. Malloy’s obvious longing for higher office.”

There’s a reason why mass transit rarely works in small metropolitan areas such as Hartford. Single-family homes typically start about a mile from downtown and stretch into the suburbs, where they are scattered into hundreds of subdivisions. Like Scully, I simply cannot believe that, even if it were free, 16,000 riders per day will get on the busway for one compelling reason: without ample parking at the bus stations, how will the auto-centric riders get to their final destinations when the bus stops? Green suggests they will wait for “feeder buses.” Who will pay for those? Will they be another of those hidden costs that bedevil so many public works projects, causing them to run way over budget?

From sampling the commentary, it looks like so much of the pro-busway sentiment is rooted in feelings. Feeling good about doing something positive. Taking a step in the right direction and all that. But isn’t it just possible that the $112 million the state is expected to spend on the Busway could be better used to keep teachers in the classroom and cops on the street?

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  • Herman Schwartz

    The busway to nowhere. The state is broke and we’re going further into debt to spend money on transportation few people will use. Makes sense to me.