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State busway a white elephant

The more that the $567 million bus highway project between Hartford and New Britain is touted for the construction jobs it will produce, the more you can be sure that its nominal justification — transportation between the two struggling cities — isn’t very persuasive. Most Connecticut Republicans are against the project now that it has been brought to fruition by the state’s new Democratic governor, Dannel P. Malloy. But as Paul Hughes of the Waterbury Republican-American reported, the bus highway would not have gotten this far except for the long support in planning that was provided by the administrations of the two Republicans who preceded Malloy, John G. Rowland and Jodi Rell. The project seems to have been a way for those Republicans to pose as supporters of “mass transit” without having to spend much.Meanwhile, transportation systems of the greatest practical use to Connecticut — roads and bridges and the Metro-North commuter railroad from New Haven to New York — are falling apart for lack of maintenance funds. And the Hartford Courant’s Matthew Kauffman reported that while the accident-plagued junction of routes 9 and 17 in Middletown has been identified by the state Transportation Department as the most dangerous spot in Connecticut’s highway system for five years running, there is no money to fix it; though fixing it along with other roads, bridges and Metro-North might employ a lot of people, too.Instead, state government has found the money for another white elephant that will require huge operating subsidies every year.Participation in this month’s municipal elections in Connecticut fell below 31 percent of registered voters. Since a quarter or so of people eligible to vote don’t register, perhaps only 23 percent of Connecticut’s adults showed up on municipal government’s big day.Of course, the strain imposed by the freak and damaging snowstorm Oct. 29 may have reduced participation. But two years ago participation was only 37 percent of registered voters, and the percentage of all adults participating was probably already below 25.Connecticut has seen a long decline in civic virtue, and it is not likely to be reversed by legislating same-day voter registration and voting by mail or over the Internet. Though local government performed spectacularly after the recent snowstorm, most people in Connecticut seem to think it’s not important. Are they so wrong? While there are always personal popularity issues in municipal elections, there are seldom issues of policy anymore, not even issues of taxes. Most candidates and voters themselves seem resigned to rising property taxes just to maintain the status quo. Campaigns consist of little more than candidates pledging themselves to a few meaningless pieties. Indeed, many local elections can’t be competitive at all because the law arranges offices and nominations so that nearly everyone nominated is elected.Even where there is serious competition it may be hard to extract meaning. East Haven’s new mayor, Joseph Maturo Jr., a former mayor, may get Connecticut’s political candor award for acknowledging as much. Having just defeated Mayor April Capone by 30 votes out of 7,500 cast after losing to her by 25 votes four years ago, Maturo remarked at his victory party: “I don’t know what the people said four years ago with 25 votes, so I don’t what the people said this time with 30 votes.”Connecticut Light & Power Co. is now nearly unanimously certified as a bunch of idiots because it needed 10 days to restore electricity to all its customers after the Oct. 29 snowstorm. But now roadsides in the northern and western parts of the state are cluttered with fallen branches stacked up by property owners for eventual collection by road crews, and it may be months before all the mess is taken away. To finance the debris removal work, town governments are appropriating millions of dollars they don’t have, in the hope that the federal government will reimburse them, as state government is too committed to the Hartford-New Britain bus highway and other things to help financially. And despite winter’s approach, Bradley International Airport, having needed seven hours to disembark passengers on a flight diverted there during the storm, and five hours to disembark passengers on a diverted flight last year, does not yet have a plan to prevent more outrageous and humiliating incidents.If the power company is contemptible for having been unprepared to fix its problem in less than 10 days, what does all this make government three weeks later? Chris Powell is managing editor of the Journal Inquirer in Manchester.

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