Response to Recent Claims about the New Britain to Hartford Busway
April 24, 2009. Lyle Wray, Capitol Region Council of Governments
Here are some responses to claims made in a recent email with attachments of an opinion piece and a letter to the editor. More information is on the CRCOG website at www.crcog.org
Claim: This New Britain-Hartford Busway project proposal has unmitigable, extreme adverse impacts on the future of rail on the NHHS corridor and in Greater Hartford region and the rail transportation community needs to organize to strongly oppose & kill this project for once and for all.
Comment: The busway and commuter rail projects are compatible. Congestion on Interstate 84 west of downtown Hartford is about 50% of the entire traffic congestion in the region. After a decade long process that began with a careful consideration of alternatives, the busway was deemed the best alternative to serve transit needs and one that provides great flexibility with transit users getting a one seat ride from a large area between New Britain to downtown Hartford. Commuter rail service every 40 minutes from Springfield to New Haven is complemented by busway service every three to five minutes from west of New Britain to Hartford and downtown areas.
Claim. It takes away invaluable right-of-way from 5 miles of the Amtrak corridor between Newington Junction and Hartford Union Station. Its the equivalent of two railroad tracks. In other words it diminishes the potential for a 4 track corridor between Newington Junction and Hartford Union Station. As anyone can see Hartford Union Station is designed as a 4-track terminal even though there is only one operable low level platform. A rail corridor will re-build all 4 tracks - that's what all, but 4 miles (1 track was torn out by ConnDOT in the vicinity of the Milford Station) of the 72-mile New Haven Line Corridor has.
Comment. Both uses can be accommodated in the current right of way which has been a major element of the design process.
Claim. As the NHHS corridor is now a Federally designated high speed rail corridor & the Obama administration has shown great interest in funding high-speed rail, now is the time to plan for investments to upgrade Connecticut's NHHS rail corridor, not dismantle it .
Comment. The busway will not lead to dismantling the commuter/intercity rail corridor or degrading it in any way. Again, the design process for the busway project has insured that high speed rail can be accommodated in the corridor.
Claim: The busway project is contrary to Commissioner Joe Marie and C-DOT's "fix it first" policy. The busway is nothing more than a new 9.4 mile road project (with bus stops) designed exclusively for buses.
Comment. Busways are a major way to move transit projects forward in the US and around the world. Recently voters in Los Angeles voted local funds to double the size of the very successful Orange bus rapid transit line and busways are seen as a cost-effective solution for transit services in many contexts.
Claim. The busway is expensive by road building standards - the New Britain-Hartford busway most recent cost estimate is approximately $60 million per mile. Double tracking the 9.4 miles alignment would cost much less per mile.
Comment: Double tracking the 9.4 mile corridor will not result in the same benefit as building the busway. And in fact, busways are generally a fraction the cost of equivalent rail alternatives and offer great flexibility in both gathering transit passengers from a wider area and dropping them in a series of stops in central business districts. This type of service is extremely effective for a region with medium density, like Hartford. The commuter rail project will serve longer distance trips.
Claim: The busway project grabs 4.4 miles of state-owned double-track railroad right-of-way known as the New Britain Secondary (from Newington Junction to New Britain), which if built would cut off direct commuter and freight rail routing from Hartford to Waterbury. Currently freight trains need to traverse south to Berlin and then head north on the Berlin Branch to New Britain.
Comment. The Newington Secondary was a single track, abandoned by Conrail in 1985 and subsequently acquired by ConnDOT in 1993. There is no reason for a busway to be considered incompatible with freight use in the same corridor – the very successful Pittsburgh East Busway is located in the Norfolk Southern mainline corridor. The busway is compatible with described uses.
Claim: Developing the New Britain Secondary as a bus 'freeway' precludes the possibility of integrating the City of New Britain into the NHHS corridor. That translates to a real economic lost opportunity for revitalizing downtown New Britain, which is still the 4th most densely populated city (Bridgeport, Hartford, New Haven) in Connecticut
If instead the New Britain Secondary was double tracked and an interlocking was constructed in New Britain that connected with the Berlin Branch NHHS trains could stop in downtown New Britain. Having NHHS train service stop in New Britain would be a big boost to the region and state's future. I'm not suggesting that the corridor go exclusively through New Britain, the parallel Amtrak corridor would still be utilized, especially for express trains heading south out of Hartford.
Opinion piece by CRCOG published in the Hartford Courant on the busway and commuter rail.
Busway and Commuter Rail: We Need Both Now!
Recent commentaries on the New Britain-Hartford Busway and the New Haven-Hartford-Springfield Rail present these projects as competing alternatives – pick one and drop the other. In reality these projects are complementary pieces of a much needed rapid transit system for the Hartford metropolitan region that serve distinctly different needs. (See ‘Regional Transit Strategy’ adopted by the Capitol Region Council of Governments in 2001, www.crcog.org/transportation/transit/system.html )
The proposed busway is the region’s highest priority transit project serving our most congested traffic corridor – I-84 west of downtown Hartford. Designed to function like a light-rail line, it is a 9.4 mile bus-only facility built in a rail right-of way between New Britain and downtown Hartford. It includes 11 convenient stations, uniquely branded buses, and frequent service – one bus every 2-4 minutes during peak periods. It creates a fast and reliable transit alternative for suburban residents commuting to Hartford and for transit dependent residents of Hartford and New Britain. It serves these markets well due to the uncongested travel offered by the bus-only facility. Buses on congested I-84 simply cannot match the speed and reliability of travel afforded by the busway.
As a bonus, a busway can be much more flexible than rail. Buses will exit the busway in downtown Hartford and circulate directly to major employers. Commuter express buses from communities like Bristol and Waterbury can enter the busway in New Britain and bypass congested sections of I-84.
The bottom line on the busway compared to rail alternatives is that it achieves higher ridership at a lower cost. Previous studies compared the busway to rail options such as a Waterbury to Hartford rail service and found the busway more cost-effective. Simply put, if we are to build a regional rapid transit system, this is the best corridor to start with and the busway is the most cost-effective option to build.
The New Haven-Hartford-Springfield Commuter Rail project aims to improve and expand passenger rail service on the existing Amtrak line between New Haven and Springfield with peak service every 30 minutes. The existing 62-mile track would be upgraded, 4 new stations built, and trains added to provide more frequent and convenient service. Unlike the busway that serves the corridor west of Hartford, the commuter trains will serve towns north and south of Hartford. It will also serve a much larger geographic market and very different transportation functions.
The commuter rail project will link the three cities to one another, link all three to Bradley International Airport, and link the Hartford-Springfield area to New York City. The Gallis Report, an economic growth study completed in 1999, pointed out that Connecticut’s economic growth was being stymied due to an over-taxed transportation system and deteriorating connections to NYC and the global economy(report available at website above). Better connection by commuter rail to New York City is very important to strengthen an essential transportation and economic link to the nation’s largest center of commerce and the global economy.
Both projects will provide important but different economic benefits. The busway will reinforce downtown Hartford’s role as the region’s primary employment center by making it easier for employers to attract employees from west of Hartford. It will also provide economic development opportunities at each of the 11 stations along the busway. The commuter rail project also provides economic development opportunities at or near stations in Hartford and other communities such as Meriden, New Haven, Windsor, Enfield and Springfield. But the rail project offers economic benefits beyond the station areas. By improving connections to NYC and the global economy, it will benefit the entire regional economy as noted in the Gallis Report.
Both projects are needed to move the 2000 Regional Transit Strategy forward to reduce the region’s dependence on the automobile. The busway is now at a critical stage to do just that. Engineering work has completed semi-final design, and this summer the Department of Transportation and the Federal Transit Administration will prepare the Full Funding Grant Agreement to commit the $275 million federal share. With a funding agreement so close, now is not the time to abandon the project. Now is the time to move forward with both the busway and the commuter rail.
Letter to the Editor, Waterbury Republican newspaper.
The New Britain-Hartford Busway
A recent editorial in the Waterbury Republican called for us to jettison the proposed New Britain-Hartford Busway. We disagree with the editorial’s conclusion that a busway is too costly and not justified.
The proposed busway is the first piece of a planned rapid transit system for the Hartford metro area. It will be 9.4 mile bus-only facility with 11 stations designed to function like a light-rail line. The busway utilizes a rail right-of way with a very straight and direct alignment between New Britain and downtown Hartford. The busway will include features that help to improve the quality of service for busway riders: safe and convenient stations, uniquely branded buses and stations, and easily understood routes and schedules.
The busway creates a fast and reliable transit alternative in the region’s most congested corridor. It greatly improves service for two large transit markets: suburban residents commuting to Hartford and transit dependent residents of Hartford and New Britain. The busway achieves this due to the direct routing and uncongested travel offered by the bus-only facility. Buses operating on freeways and local streets in mixed traffic simply cannot match the directness of routing, and the speed and reliability of travel afforded by the busway. It provides all the benefits of a light-rail investment (exclusive guideway, safe and comfortable stations, and fast reliable service) at a lower cost and added flexibility. The busway will save riders some 4,400 hours of travel time per day.
The flexibility of a busway will allow us to operate express buses from cities like Waterbury that will enter the busway in New Britain and travel non-stop to Hartford. By using the busway, the buses steer clear of the most congested sections of I-84, save time, and avoid the major service disruptions that accidents and other incidents on I-84 can cause.
The busway is expected to carry about 15,100 riders per weekday and attract 4,500 trips per day from automobiles. The busway will be effective at serving the traditional flow of passengers traveling inbound toward downtown as well a significant reverse flow. About 64 percent or 9,700 of the 15,100 daily riders will be traveling inbound. The other 35 percent (5,400) will be traveling in the reverse or outbound direction.
Cost & Cost-Effectiveness. The busway is projected to cost about $570,000,000 to construct, and is expected to require a subsidy of about $7,000,000 annually to operate. With an annualized total project cost of about $34,000,000 and annual travel time savings of 1,321,000 hours, the cost-effectiveness ratio is $24.21 per hour of time savings. This is a competitive cost-effectiveness ratio that qualifies it for funding through the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts program, which will pay for half the cost or almost $270,000,000.
While costs have risen greatly since its inception almost 10 years ago, costs of all types of construction have also risen. The latest cost estimate of $570 million accounts for the inflation of the past 5 years. More importantly, it includes adjustments for future inflation through the end of construction in 2013.
Economic Development Benefits. Because the busway improves access to Hartford’s CBD, it will help the region realize its goal of strengthening the economic and cultural core of the region. By providing direct, fast, and reliable transit service to the region’s primary employment center, it will allow major employers near downtown stations to maintain good access to suburban labor markets. The busway will serve our most congested corridor and is the first piece of a planned rapid transit network centered on downtown that will reinforce its role as the region’s primary employment center. Busway stations will also provide redevelopment opportunities in other community centers such as downtown New Britain, Elmwood, and Parkville.
Conclusion. The Hartford region is almost entirely dependent on automobiles, trucks, and highways for goods and passenger transport. We need to reduce our dependency by developing alternatives such as a good regional rapid transit network. The New Britain – Hartford Busway is the first and most important piece of a planned network. It will serve our most congested corridor in the most cost-effective manner. Recent spikes in gasoline prices demonstrate the need to develop transit options, and the need to do so sooner rather than later.