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CT DOT’s First Bus Rapid Transit System Under Way

Southwest view of central platform at New Britain Station
Designed by Kleinfelder SEA’s Rocky Hill, Connecticut, office, the stations—such as the one in New Britain shown here in its nearly final form—will feature seating, landscaping, bikes racks, and in some cases, access to nearby trails. Courtesy of ConnDOT 

The Connecticut DOT chose bus rapid transit from among many options for expanding capacity on Interstate 84 between New Britain and Hartford, determining that dedicated buses given the right of way could cut some commutes in half without breaking the bank. 

May 15, 2012—The Connecticut Department of Transportation (ConnDOT) broke ground May 14 on the state’s first bus rapid transit (BRT) project, a $567-million transit project that will connect New Britain and Hartford. When completed in 2014, the dedicated bus route will have the capacity to transport an estimated 4.5 million people a year between the two cities and other destinations along the route.

The 32 ft wide, two-lane New Britain-Hartford Busway will extend for 9.4 mi, nearly parallel to Interstate 84, with 11 stations along its length. A combination of express, shuttle, and feeder buses will make an estimated 600 runs between 4:30 a.m. and 1 a.m. daily.

The project’s goals are to reduce congestion on I-84, improve access throughout the New Britain-Hartford corridor, and increase the corridor’s capacity without the expense of widening the highway, according to Michael Sanders, ConnDOT’s transit administrator.

“From the original corridor study in 1997 that looked at the 20-year traffic forecast, we evaluated all of the alternatives and ran the models,” Sanders says. The study compared BRT to commuter rail, light-rail, the addition of high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes, and highway widening in general. “Bus rapid transit gives the highest ridership at the lowest cost of any options—and we don’t need to spend $1 billion to widen I-84 west of Hartford.”

The BRT system will bypass congestion on arterial streets and I-84 because the buses will have traffic signal preference through five at-grade intersections along the route, cutting travel time between New Britain and Hartford from 42 minutes on the existing routes to 20 minutes—even with stops. Drivers on I-84 will also benefit, gaining a projected 11 percent increase in peak speed due to reduced traffic, Sanders predicts.

The project is being funded by a combination of federal and state monies, including $275 million from the Federal Transit Administration’s New Starts program, $179.5 million from other federal sources, and $112 million from ConnDOT. 

Map of new 9.4 mi bus route 

The new 9.4 mi bus route will accommodate express, shuttle, and
feeder buses, and will operate nearly parallel to I-84. Courtesy of
the ConnDOT 

The Busway’s southernmost 4.4 mi, from New Britain to Newington, will be constructed through an abandoned state-owned rail right-of-way. The connecting 5 mi segment will be constructed adjacent to an active Amtrak right-of-way. “The former railroad infrastructure, the track and rails, is long gone,” explains Brian Cunningham, P.E., M.ASCE, ConnDOT’s project manager for the Busway system. “There is a gravel surface roadway there, and we will maintain [the] existing grade.”

Along the Amtrak corridor, the new Busway will eliminate an existing dirt road that Amtrak uses for maintenance access to the train tracks. ConnDOT has purchased an easement and will construct a single-lane maintenance road to replace this. Additionally, Cunningham says that ConnDOT will construct a 45 in. retaining wall topped by a 6 ft fence, per Amtrak’s requirements, to protect the Busway from trains, which travel through the area at speeds of up to 95 mph.

The project includes an additional $9 million to $11 million for developing a 10-acre wetlands mitigation site adjoining the Park River in Hartford to offset the 2.1 acres of wetlands that the Busway will impact. In approving the project, the Connecticut Department of Energy and Environmental Protection noted that the Busway is “improving the environment” by this wetlands development and a planned stormwater treatment system.

Sites for the Busway’s 11 passenger stations were selected on the basis of population, crossroads, and proximity to major employers. They will be located at approximately 0.75 mile intervals along the route, including a station near the planned Central Connecticut State University campus. Designed by Kleinfelder SEA’s Rocky Hill, Connecticut, office, the stations will feature green space, landscaping, bike racks, and access from the 5 mi multipurpose trail that adjoins the Busway’s southern section. The long-term plan for the corridor includes such transit-oriented development as shopping, office buildings, and multifamily residential units within walking or biking distance of the stations. 

Rendering of bus rapid transit system 

The bus rapid transit system will bypass congestion on arterial
streets and I-84 because the buses will have traffic signal
preference and dedicated stops. Travel time between New Britain
and Hartford could be cut nearly in half. Courtesy of ConnDOT

ConnDOT will purchase 31 new buses to augment its existing fleet of 230, and will aggregate existing bus routes when the new BRT line is opened. The majority of buses on the new route will be low-floor, articulated, hybrid buses with bike racks, although any bus in the fleet, which also includes clean diesel buses, will be able to run on the Busway, Sanders notes.

Ultimately, the key to the Busway’s success will be communicating value to potential riders, Sanders says. “People need to understand it as a regional project,” he notes. “It’s linkage and access. It’s a synergy—once we build the facility and development starts to occur, and people start using it, they will see the value.”

Ludlow Construction Company, of Ludlow, Massachusetts, will complete the preconstruction site work by June 30, including relocating utilities and Amtrak’s fiber-optic communications line and underground rail signal system. ConnDOT has awarded four of the five heavy construction contracts, which include the highway, on and off ramps, bridges, the retaining wall, and the Amtrak access road, as well as the demolition of an existing bridge and the reconstruction of some of the arterial streets along the route. Manafort Brothers, of Plainville, Connecticut, was awarded two contracts totaling $36.2 million. Empire Parking and Schiavone Construction Joint Venture, of New Haven, Connecticut, was awarded a $39.4-million contract, and Middlesex Corporation, of Littleton, Massachusetts, was awarded the largest single contract for $130 million. Still to be awarded are a contract for additional bridge work and contracts for wetlands mitigation, landscaping, and contaminated soil removal/recycling.



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