By SHERIDAN ROY
The Southington Town Council has pledged their support for further study about possible bus routes in town. Councilors were at a stalemate at their June 24 meeting when representatives from DOT and CRCOG came to answer questions about a bus route, but potential plans moved forward at the July 8 council meeting.
Although there still are no clear details from the state about the parameters of the study, Dawn Miceli (D) made a motion, seconded by John Barry (D), to add the item to the agenda mid-meeting, followed by a second motion “to approve further study of a possible route of bus transportation in Southington.”
Both motions passed unanimously, 8-0 (Democrat Kelly Morrissey wasn’t in attendance), but councilors are still looking for the state’s plans for the study and more specific answers about bus stop locations, traffic studies, costs, usage, and routes. Those answers were not available at the time of the vote.
“This motion will allow the DOT to continue their work,” said council chair Chris Palmieri.
The impasse came during the June 24 council meeting when DOT transportation planner manager Lisa Rivers asked the town to pre-approve a study without many details.
“We would need to know that the town is actually in favor of this before I put my limited resources into it,” she said. “The town can vote in support of the proposal, but we don’t have funding for it right away.”
Rivers told councilors that the state wouldn’t look to do anything at all without support for a study. “We don’t go and just dump bus stops in places,” she said. She also said it would take about a year and a half to perform an in-depth study of operations.
Councilor Mike Riccio said the June 24 conversation was confusing, and on July 8 said it was time that the council formally express if there was support for public bus transportation in Southington or not.
“We don’t know what questions to ask; they don’t have answers. It was one big merry-go-round,” said Riccio. “I think we need to make a decision. Do we want [public transportation] or not? I don’t want to lead people on if the council doesn’t want it.”
At both the June 24 and July 8 meetings, members of the Southington commission on people with disabilities and members of the Southington for public transportation group expressed strong support for a public bus route and urged councilors to move forward with discussions.
A spokesperson for Southington for public transportation, Nancy Chiero, said Southington is the largest community in the state without a fixed bus route. She added the group had collected almost 700 petition signatures from residents in support of a bus route, and over 60 letters of support from businesses.
“The benefits that public transportation will have on our community far outweigh any negative impacts,” she said. “The ugly truth is, people often leave this town due to our lack of public transportation.”
Chiero said transportation would provide “freedom from dependency,” allowing employment, education, and entertainment opportunities for residents. It would also include the federally-funded paratransit system, which would provide transportation to medical services anywhere in the state.
During public communication, one Plainville resident who relocated from Southington due to lack of public transportation, spoke out.
“After a heartfelt discussion with my family, we felt it was best to leave Southington,” she said. Her son is on the autism spectrum and takes advantage of public transportation in Plainville. “By moving only 10 minutes away, my son’s world has opened up.”
Resident Donna Brouillard urged councilors to support a bus route. Brouillard rents her own apartment, does her own shopping and cooking, and has held her current job for 18 years, but she cannot drive due to a neurological condition.
“If our town were to acquire a bus line, it would not only allow me to enhance my independence, but it would also allow those with my level of disability and those who are more severe who wouldn’t have the option of walking at all to have a means of transportation,” she said. “No matter what our abilities are, we all deserve the right of independence.”
With unanimous affirmative support of the council, plans and discussions working with DOT, CRCOG and the town will continue.
To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Roy, email her at SRoy@SouthingtonObserver.com.