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Hartford - A week before Gov. Dannel P. Malloy announced last year that the state would build a costly and contentious bus-only corridor between Hartford and New Britain, federal transportation officials were asking if he would support or kill the project, according to emails between top state officials.
And state transportation officials took no risks, asking even before Malloy announced his support that money be set aside for the $567 million project.
In a March 27, 2011, email released in response to a Freedom of Information request, James Redeker, who was chief of the Bureau of Public Transportation at the state Department of Transportation, told Malloy's chief of staff that the regional director of the Federal Transit Administration suggested that the governor could announce his decision at a transportation meeting in Hartford, "assuming the decision was positive for the busway."
Paul Griffo, a spokesman for the Federal Transit Administration, would not say what the agency's regional director, Mary Beth Mello, discussed with state transportation officials.
Michael A. Sanders, a transit official at the state Department of Transportation, said federal officials had "a lot invested" in the busway project.
"They were looking at bus rapid transit as a solution in mid-sized cities," he said Wednesday. "The fact we got through the process, they were excited about it."
Malloy announced his support eight days later, saying he was reluctant to reject hundreds of millions of dollars from Washington. The federal share is $455 million.
Roy Occhiogrosso, Malloy's senior adviser, said Wednesday that the governor also wanted to spur job creation in the construction industry and "send a message to Washington that Connecticut was moving forward."
"He was taking his time to make an important decision," he said.
In May, Malloy led a ground-breaking ceremony for the 9.4-mile bus-only corridor. Built partly on abandoned railroad tracks, it's expected to open in 2014 and connect the University of Connecticut Medical Center, Westfarms Mall, Central Connecticut State University and downtown areas in Hartford and New Britain.
The busway, now called CTfastrak, was proposed in the late 1990s. Several factors delayed the project over the years, including escalating costs and concern from neighbors and town officials about buses running constantly along the corridors.
Malloy was initially noncommittal, inviting opponents and supporters to offer their advice.
Backers say CTfastrak will relieve congestion, reduce pollution and provide quick commutes encountering no traffic.
Critics say that with a price tag of more than a half-billion dollars, the project is too costly and that transportation dollars can be better spent elsewhere. Michael Nicastro, president of the Central Connecticut Chambers of Commerce, says the busway fails to capitalize on growing areas west of the Hartford-New Britain corridor.
In early March 2011, Redeker, who is now state transportation commissioner, emailed Tim Bannon, who was the governor's chief of staff, to ask what role the agency should play in the "pro and con" process Malloy adopted to invite advice.
Bannon responded by saying Malloy wanted Redeker to handle the briefing with a "balanced presentation."
Nicastro was among those who argued against the project in a presentation to Malloy.
"We weren't sure where it was going," he said Tuesday. "I would say in some ways, based on the case he presented, we thought he'd lean in our direction, but I didn't feel confident in any outcome."
Bannon asked Redeker in an email on March 9, 2011 - four weeks before Malloy announced his support for the busway - if the Transportation Department asked that funding be placed on the agenda of the Bond Commission, which the governor heads. Within minutes, Redeker replied that he had asked that funding be on the agenda.
Two weeks after Malloy announced that the state was on board with the busway, Redeker emailed the governor's budget adviser, Benjamin Barnes, checking to see if funding was on the agenda. The Bond Commission approved an $89.7 million bond issue for the project at its April meeting.