Busway Changing The Landscape

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

Meanwhile, the DOT re-engineered the narrowest stretch of the Hartford right of way to eliminate a potential bottleneck. Until recently, designers thought a short section would accommodate just one lane, requiring CTfastrak buses to follow alternating one-way traffic patterns — slowing travel time and complicating the drivers' jobs. Sanders says a few mapping adjustments were enough to keep it at two full lanes, though.

The busway's course in Hartford is directly alongside the Amtrak tracks, and has created a surprising amount of upheaval. Residents of the Frog Hollow and Asylum Hill sections balked this summer at plans to shut Flower Street as way to eliminate an at-grade crossing. The DOT agreed to temporarily keep it open to pedestrian and bike traffic; it was permanently shut off access for vehicles on Dec. 4.

A block east, reconstruction of the Broad Street bridge over the busway has generated rush-hour traffic jams and gripes from commuters.

Promoting The Busway

Construction in Hartford has focused on overpasses so far, and most of the route itself is still gravel, washboard dirt or mud. By comparison, long stretches in New Britain have already gotten a first layer of asphalt, and crews are at the stage of installing drainage basin covers and hydroseeding embankments.

The DOT estimates that, as of early December, about 16 percent of the busway and stations have been done.

When construction ends, fresh economic development along the route is going to follow, says Nancy Lyon-Stadler, marketing director with Michael Baker Corp., one of the state's consultants.

Opponents say the busway won't attract the ridership or new business that the DOT envisions — roughly 16,000 riders a day by 2030, half of which are expected to be new bus riders, according to projections.

But communities on the line are already promoting it. Newington is working to attract developers to buy the sprawling National Welding brownfield, which is next to a busway station. New Britain is marketing downtown business locations with the promise of new foot traffic from the busway station.

"In Cleveland, the HealthLine [busway] cost $200 million, and we're hearing about economic benefits of $6 billion to $7 billion," Lyon-Stadler says. "In Connecticut, it's going to change the way people get around on a daily basis — it's going to make many places very accessible."

The East Side's Augustino is one of many business owners counting on that.

"I know the busway is coming, so I'm not going to be negative. I'm going to look for ways to make it work and see how it can benefit me," he says. "People who see this as a big waste of money don't really see what it's going to do."

Baby boomers won't embrace rapid transit buses quickly, but younger generations will be eager to skip the expense of cars and insurance, he predicts.

"They're going to say 'I can get to college by bicycling to the busway station,' or 'I can get to work in Hartford in 20 minutes without a car,'" Augustino says. "I've seen busways in other cities that work. And at the end of the line, there's a mecca of good restaurants."

Staff Writers Jenna Carlesso, Steven Goode and Mara Lee contributed to this story