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November 13, 2023 Opinion & Commentary

Light rail would make Greater Hartford a more attractive place to live, work and play

Matt Mocarsky

Young professionals continue to leave Connecticut in droves, but that doesn’t need to be the case.

There are many young professionals who want to stay and propose transformative solutions to make Connecticut a desirable place to live, work and play.

One idea, inspired by the Greater Hartford Mobility Study, is to connect downtown Hartford with West Hartford Center and Blue Back Square using dedicated light rail on the Asylum-Farmington Avenue throughway.

I propose we build a 4-mile light rail system that runs from State House Square in downtown Hartford to West Hartford Center.

This system would have two terminals, no stops, and a dedicated lane on a throughway that runs from Asylum Avenue in Hartford to Farmington Avenue in West Hartford.

Imagine this light rail running in 15-minute intervals throughout the day. Working professionals in Hartford would get to West Hartford quicker than walking to a parking garage, finding their car, and driving through I-84.

Happy hours fizzle when rush-hour traffic comes into the picture; this would prevent that.

For those who live in one of the many new residential developments in downtown Hartford, West Hartford Center becomes much more accessible. Residents can access the West Hartford Whole Foods for groceries without using a car.

For West Hartford residents, light rail would be the natural way to and from a Yard Goats game, XL Center events, Pratt Street, and the other incoming downtown developments.

Light rail outperforms buses and cars

Let’s acknowledge the doubt we might hear from skeptics. Sure, there is already a bus service that connects Hartford and West Hartford, but are you riding it?

Ultimately, for public transit to be appealing, it must outperform driving in a car.

Buses share the road with car traffic and often provide unpredictable schedules, with countless stops along the way.

Light rail would have a dedicated right-of-way lane and route.

A key question is whether there is enough space for a light rail line on the proposed route, particularly on Farmington Avenue.

Throughout the route, there are four car lanes, short bike lanes, and intermittent medians.

Sidewalk to sidewalk, there would be enough room for two car lanes, a light rail line, and turn lanes wherever necessary.

There will be pushback by some businesses that rely on on-street parking on Farmington Avenue. I think this parking makes Farmington Avenue look unappealing and run-down.

The roads are in poor condition, and the start-stop effect from cars weaving between lanes is what drives people to I-84 in the first place.

Long-term potential to expand

Let’s consider the long-term potential for the light rail line. As Hartford continues to develop, there will be opportunity to expand this line to more local landmarks.

Parkville Market and Elizabeth Park are all developing destinations that could be connected through added lines in “phase two.”

If this proves successful, Hartford can add lines connecting the University of Hartford, Coltsville and Riverside Park/Xfinity Theater in “phase three.” This would bring an infusion of young people to Hartford from the University of Hartford and nearby apartments.

You get the idea. Long term, the key to bringing Greater Hartford to life is connecting people with resources, and more people.

Quoting the “Field of Dreams”: “If you build it, they will come.”

Greater Hartford leaders must reconcile investment

In the United States, light rail is a costly investment, with projects often twice as expensive compared to European counterparts.

Recent comparable projects have cost $120 million to $130 million per mile.

That would put the cost for the Hartford-West Hartford rail line at about $480 million to $520 million.

I think it’s a transformative investment worth considering because it would help keep more young people in Greater Hartford.

Matt Mocarsky is a Hartford resident.

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