The West Hartford Town Council unanimously approved a resolution at Tuesday night’s meeting that will create a Community Oversight and Advisory Board of the Hartford-New Britain Busway project. This resolution was a measure that had strong bipartisan support.
“Everybody on the Council put their name on this,” said Mayor Scott Slifka, who said that the actual members of the Board would likely not be appointed until after the Nov. 8 election.
The resolution was originally authored by Minority Leader Denise Hall. "I was concerned about the impact the proposed Busway construction would have on our businesses and residents ... Ideally, we could stop the Busway project, and we will continue to oppose it, but we need to be prepared should those efforts prove unsuccessful. The Oversight and Advisory Board will provide the means to ensure the State hears and responds to issues as they arise," Hall said in a news release.
The creation of the Board will ensure that the Council officially receives information on a scheduled basis. “We have an informal advisory council already, but this just codifies it,” said Slifka. Rob Rowlson, Director of Community Services, has been meeting regularly with all affected parties since the project’s inception.
Anyone passing through the New Park Avenue and Flatbush Road area recently knows that construction has become a way of life, disrupting traffic and business activity. The construction is part of the much-debated , a $600 million project that is supported by Gov. Dannel P. Malloy.
The Busway will have a stop in Elmwood, and a large component of the project is a $60 million bridge that will carry the bus traffic over Flatbush Avenue. at the intersection of Flatbush and New Park will take place during the nighttime hours, beginning on October 12, and is scheduled to continue through October 21.
The Busway, which is expected to be completed in 2014, is lacking the support of many of West Hartford’s elected officials as well as town management. State Rep. Joseph Verrengia (D-20th District) has previously voiced his concerns that the it will do little to alleviate traffic problems on Interstate 84.
“Both sides don’t believe it will have much value, but we haven’t gotten in the way of the region,” said Town Manager Ron Van Winkle, referring to West Hartford Town Council’s decision not to stand in the way of the project, despite concerns that it is an expensive project that may not result in many benefits to the community. The Busway is supported by the Connecticut Regional Council of Governments.
“It’s a huge construction project, and we’ve got to be concerned about the impact that this is having on businesses and the community. Residents are concerned about detours that divert traffic down their streets,” said Van Winkle.
Van Winkle hopes that the Busway will not preclude the eventual construction of a high speed rail line from Springfield to New Haven, something which many others also believe will have a positive impact on regional traffic. “Somewhere out there in the future – way out there in the future – is a rail station in West Hartford if the Federal funding is not taken away,” Van Winkle said.
Slifka had written a letter to Gov. Malloy on April 4, when the governor announced his intention to aggressively support the Busway project, voicing concerns on behalf of the West Harford community. A copy of that letter was attached to the resolution, and the Advisory Board will officially keep the Council updated on project developments, as well as the stated concerns, on at least a quarterly basis.
Slifka said he had hoped that the Busway project would be revisited, but “everything points to it going forward as planned. We are making the most of a bad situation, which is what we’ve been doing for a while,” he said.