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Expand The Busway To Storrs

The plan to expand CTfastrak service to the UConn campus in Storrs is a good one. It would connect the thriving campus with the region's metropolitan center, including UConn's Hartford campus, set to open in the fall.

But Senate Majority Leader Len Fasano and Sen. Kevin Witkos, R-Canton, have co-sponsored a bill that would "prohibit the [expansion of] such busway without the approval of each chamber of the General Assembly." The bill also insists on regular reports on the ridership and costs of the entire busway.

Yes, money is tight, and close oversight of state agencies is important. But the relatively modest cost of expanding service to UConn — about $6 million for improvements and a similar amount for a few new buses, along with an estimated $1.4 million a year in operating costs — is worth it.

The proposal to expand service does not include building a new concrete corridor east of Hartford, such as the one between Hartford and New Britain. It simply adds buses and a few shelters, and it would improve some streets and park-and-ride lots along the route, according to Michael Sanders, transit administrator at the Department of Transportation.

Consider the benefits. UConn students could commute conveniently between campuses, and they would have easy access to work in the city, in addition to Hartford's nightlife and cultural offerings. UConn recently approved a $20 transportation fee that would cover about half of the annual operating costs. In exchange, students would get a pass to ride any bus in the CTtransit system.

That's a fair way to defray the costs, because the expansion would most directly benefit the UConn community in Storrs.

But people on the Storrs campus won't be the only ones to benefit. An hourly bus would offer easy access to campus for anyone living along or near the line, for classes, basketball games or work.

The $567 million CTfastrak is, from the point of view of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's administration, a success. Ridership is up, at times above 19,000 daily riders, far above the initial goal of 13,000 daily riders along the route and its feeder lines. But it's still expensive — fares cover only about 20 percent of the $17 million annual cost.

Concerns about the busway's costs, and transparency about its operations, have dogged the plan to expand to Storrs.

Sen. Joe Markley, R-Southington, said that while he is not opposed to the eastern expansion, "it's a considerable expense," and the bill is important to ensure that the state doesn't engage in another massive transportation construction project without a clear OK from the legislature.

"Twelve million for the Department of Transportation might not seem like a lot of money," he said, but "we should be careful of spending. I'm not against mass transit, but I have questions: What's the mass, and what's the cost. We need to know before committing to the cost."

That's reasonable. But the legislature shouldn't be second-guessing every decision about bus operations made by the Department of Transportation. Meddling in all bus system improvements would politicize public transportation and ensure that projects that require even a little money — no matter how smart the investment — never get approved.

Meanwhile, the New Britain area — home to Central Connecticut State University — is seeing the benefits of the busway.

"Say what you will about CTfastrak, the hundreds of people I see getting off those buses every day is exactly what we have capitalized on," New Britain Mayor Erin Stewart has said.

Now it's time to extend the line to Storrs. The legislature should ensure the Department of Transportation has the funding to make it happen.

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