7:21 PM EDT, May 25, 2012
We need to talk about Scootie.
Scootie is the name I suggested, roughly 12 years ago, for the Hartford to New Britain busway, and like so many of my brilliant ideas, it was ignored.
Scootie was a good name because (a) who could hate something named Scootie? and (b) it helped convey an aspect of the project that many people still do not understand: a busway is not a bus that inches and pokes along. A busway is like light rail. It scoots, unimpeded, on its own track, from station to station. Scootie will stop only 11 times on its 9.4-mile journey.
The state has decided instead to call the busway Ctfastrak, which has a harsh, Klingon feel and is hilarious, because the most common use of "fast track" is to describe a project liberated from red tape and bureaucracy.
This busway was first conceived when nobody had ever heard of Lindsay Lohan. In the time we have been dithering, Lindsay Lohan has launched and wrecked her career at least seven times.
We finally broke ground last week, and critics are still screaming. One screamer is radio host John Rowland, who mocks it as the "magic bus." Rowland and I agree on one thing: The chief executive responsible for launching this boondoggle should have been thrown out of office and sent to prison. Fortunately, that happened.
Scootie started out as a Rowland project, roughly around the same time he and his planners were launching the New London Fort Trumbull project (a fiasco made famous for the Supreme Court decision on eminent domain) and Adriaen's Landing (never completed despite nearly $1 billion in public money).
Scootie, by contrast, is a bargain at $567 million, 80 percent of which comes from the federal government.
Why do so many people hate this idea?
For longtime Connecticut residents, mass transit is like the holy water the priests throw on Linda Blair in "The Exorcist." It burns! It burns!
The only experience most people around here have with mass transit is beating it into the ground. In the early 1990s, soreheads stymied the Griffin Line (from Hartford to Bloomfield and perhaps beyond) because it was light rail and didn't go anywhere they wanted to go. Then they tried to crush Scootie because it wasn't light rail and didn't go anywhere they wanted to go. If the next project was a sky hook that lifted them out of their front yards and plopped them in monorail that took them to work while curing their athlete's foot, they'd find some reason to hate it.
While we've been letting these — what's the polite word? — imbeciles strangle our planning process, cities all over the U.S. have brought themselves back. Young professionals? They want cool places to live located near mass transit stations. Salt Lake City is adding 70 miles of light rail in about eight years. It takes us Lindsay Lohan's entire career to start work on 9.4 miles because the League of Myopic Yankee Goobers has way too much influence.
I like mass transit. I use it all over the world. You know what you need to make it work? A lot of it. You have to keep building lines that interlock, and, eventually, you Mr. Magoober, will be able to go wherever the hell it is you want. Jobs and housing and fun stuff will move closer to the lines.
If the Hartford area added 70 miles of good intermodal rapid transit, it would transform us. So far the Goobers killed the first nine miles and made us die on the cross to get the second nine. This is not a promising pace.
My final point: I predicted Adriaen's Landing would be a disaster, but I'm not happy I'm right. I'm glad that the science center is so nice and that the convention center is doing rather well. If they ever put movies and stores and restaurants on Front Street, I will patronize them and cheerlead for them.
The Scootie-haters should do the same. We're building Scootie. It's happening. Even if you hated the idea, the only decent course is to encourage ridership and root for success, if you really care about this place the way you claim.
Colin McEnroe appears from 1 to 2 p.m. weekdays on WNPR-FM (90.5) and blogs at http://courantblogs.com/colin-mcenroe/. He can be reached at Colin@wnpr.org.
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