Recently Governor Malloy announced his administration would pursue the construction of a Busway from New Britain to Hartford. In the words of Governor Malloy, “while it may not be a perfect project, it is the first step in creating a comprehensive multimodal transportation system”. He should have looked at a lesson in the history of Coventry CT before he approved what is an “imperfect project” to establish a basis on which to build a multimodal transportation system.
In 2005 Coventry faced a parallel decision concerning moving people; the issue then was sidewalks rather than a Busway. Of course the project was smaller but the issue was not dollars but rather quality of the project. Coventry had grant money available which could have been used to fund a sidewalk project from the Post Office to the High School. Unfortunately the project had been poorly planned and called for a ribbon of asphalt that would run into an abyss where snow plowing would have been dumping snow on the heads of pedestrians. Imagine what could have happened if the project had gone forward with the snow storms of this past winter.
The Republican majority on the Town Council turned down the project as being unsafe and unsightly. Yes they received a wrath of criticism (primarily for political opposition) for not using the money. Democrats on the Town Council at that time, Bill Zenko and Liz Woolf supported the project and wanted to spend the money rather than give it back. Now we have the luxury of hindsight and after a redesign and with support of both Democrats and Republicans on the Town Council the first phase of the project has now been completed with grant money. Coventry today has concrete sidewalks, leading from the Post Office toward the High School above grade where pedestrians can safely walk and be seen.
Coventry has a solid foundation on which to build toward the goal of a safe, attractive pedestrian passage from the High School to the library. The current Town Council is now moving forward to complete the project. This foundation would not have been possible if the Town Council rushed to spend the taxpayer’s dollars, just because they were available. So now let’s look at Mr. Malloy’s decision.
According to the Governor’s own press release “a large factor in Governor Malloy’s decision to move forward with the Busway was the probability of leaving federal funds on the table with regards to this project.” Opponents of the projected urged the Governor to reject the proposal in favor of rail since the track was already in place and potential opportunities to link with high speed rail in the future. The Governor rejected that idea and in the same press release approved going forward with rail for a line between Bristol and Waterbury.
The Governor should have done what the Coventry Town Council did, evaluate the project in light of what would provide the taxpayers with the best return on the dollars invested. Spending money with the justification that it may not be available in the future and thus going forward with a subpar project is no way to invest taxpayer dollars. If the very foundation of the multimodal system is admittedly not perfect we can expect the build out to be a jigsaw puzzle of misfit pieces. Too often we have seen State projects ill conceived, poorly planned and built only to be the next project of great expense to correct. The UConn library, sections of I84, the Farmington mix-master, unfinished route 11, the list just goes on. History is a wonderful teacher but useless if you ignore the lessons and mistakes of the past.