Busway Changing The Landscape

Construction under the Harry Truman Overpass in New Britain is underway. (Richard Messina)

Sanders predicts that neighbors and motorists alike will appreciate the new bridge, which eliminates the poorly located Amtrak grade crossing where rush-hour motorists occasionally get stranded on the tracks because of a nearby traffic signal.

Mierzejewski, though, worries that her property value will decline because of the busway.

"I'm not too happy. I'll never use it," she says. "I just never dreamed that it would come here."

Deborah Rivera, who rents a home on Flatbush, says the noise hasn't bothered her. But she criticizes the state Department of Transportation's public communications effort.

"I don't think any politician or official came to sit down with the homeowners and find out how they feel about it," Rivera says. "I don't think the homeowners around here have been given a fair look at how it's going to affect their lives. They've put a lot into this neighborhood; they're keeping this place up, and to be ignored — it's not fair."

Along New Britain's Cottage Place, homeowners whose yards are hard against the right of way are concerned about noise after the busway opens. Project Manager Michael Mendick says the DOT will install noise barriers for them.

In Newington, Chris and Lou Lombardo have lived in their Sumner Street duplex for 30 years and are so close to the route that the DOT had to buy 8 feet of their land. They complain that since crews removed trees, there is no buffer to construction noise or trains going by, and they say they fear crime, too.

"The crooks will have an easy way of getting here," Chris Lombardo says.

In sections of Hartford, the busway is more popular. Terra Moore, a city resident for seven years, says work at the soon-to-be-built Parkville station near her home hasn't been a problem.

"I've been dealing with the train, the construction and whatever else," she says. "The noise doesn't bother me."

Park Street resident Howard Fields predicts that the station will give the neighborhood a boost.

"I've seen the plans of what it would look like when it's finished, so I think it would make this area look better," Fields says. "It gives people another way to get around; there probably won't be as much traffic."

'Make It Work'

Since work began last spring, the busway route has become home to bulldozers, pile drivers, cement mixers, excavators and fleets of gravel-laden dump trucks. The jobs are split among three companies — Manafort Brothers Inc., Middlesex Corp. and a joint venture of Empire Paving and Schiavone Construction — and a fleet of subcontractors.

That's great news for Kevin Daly, 46, who began working on Empire's stretch of the busway in June. Before that, he hadn't worked since he was laid off from the Kleen Energy construction site in Middletown in October 2011. That was the longest he's been out of work in 27 years with the construction union, he says.

Daly is working on water drainage, sewers, erosion-control walls and excavation. The phase he's working on is supposed to last two years.

"That's what I'm praying to get out of it," he says.

Before getting picked for the busway crew, Daly was a month and a half from losing eligibility for the insurance that covers his wife and two sons.

Jeff Merrow, business manager for the Laborers Local 611 in New Britain, says that while the busway is good for his union members, he predicts it also will be popular with riders, especially after work planned for the I-84 viaduct in downtown Hartford begins to snarl traffic.

Exactly where the busway will drop buses in Hartford is still being worked out. The plan for years had been to use Union Station, and the Capitol Region Council of Governments wrote a detailed study of how to bolster residential and commercial development on nearby blocks. But the DOT now plans to bypass the historic train station, and instead merge buses onto an I-84 off-ramp so they can turn off at Asylum Street. Some will stop on Asylum, but most will continue on to Main Street to meet local connections, Sanders said.