By Clark Judge.
KILLINGWORTH (Oct. 6, 2018) — While the 9 Town Transit (9TT) bus service connecting Madison to Middletown arrived in late August, it wasn’t officially christened until Friday morning when state and local officials met here for the ceremonial ribbon-cutting.
“It’s a great day,” said state Sen. Ted Kennedy, Jr.
The ceremony, held in front of Killingworth’s Town Hall to kick off the 9TT’s 645 service, represented more than the arrival of mass transit to this area; it was visible proof that “persistence” — as Joseph Comerford, executive director of the Estuary Transit District, put it – has its rewards.
The idea dates back six years and includes a passel of individuals, agencies and government officials – some of who were present Friday, with all pushing for public transportation to connect Madison with Middletown along Routes 1, 81 and 154 and with stops that include Clinton Crossing, Killingworth, Haddam and Middlesex Community College.
That was the easy part. Turning it into reality wasn’t.
While the service received federal funding in early 2017, the state withheld matching money because of a transportation funding crisis that wasn’t solved until earlier this year when the legislature fixed the State Transportation Fund … and pushed the 9TT plan forward.
It finally launched on Aug. 27.
“I think what made a difference here was the amount of community support,” said Comerford. “Usually, bus service is designed by planners and is based on numbers, population density and travel patterns — and that’s originally how it was designed.
“But what was different here was that, once that happened, we went to the public, and the public really made it take off from there. We literally had hundreds of comments of support for it. I’ve never seen anything like it. And public officials from every party all worked together on this. You just never see that.”
But all realized there was a need. Killingworth, for instance, had no public transportation of this kind, and an aging population, soaring gas prices and common sense made it an attractive … if not necessary … option. In fact, Chris Etlinger, realtor for Killingworth’s Jensen Communities, said one recent homeowner immediately asked about public transportation – with Etlinger giving her the 9TT schedule.
“It’s a great option,” said Etlinger “because there’s no other mass transportation.”
Though there are six designated stops along the way, including Killingworth Village, riders can summon the bus from safe locations along the route. What’s more, the service is handicapped accessible.
“Actually,” said Kennedy, pointing to the bus parked in front of Town Hall, “it’s a freedom van. The van is open to everybody.”
And, in the end, that’s what sold this idea. The service is not only open to all, but benefits virtually everyone – with several selectpersons noting the importance of public transportation to students, seniors, commuters, local businesses and those seeking medical assistance. And virtually everyone stepped forward to support it – with several persons here citing what they called “regionalization,” acknowledging help gained from community chambers of commerce, Lions’ Clubs, Rotary Clubs, library associations, women’s groups, conservation commissions, VISTA and state legislators.
In essence, as one than one person pointed out, it amounts to a partnership among the Estuary Transit District, the towns, business and educational institutions – with Killingworth a big winner.
“For Killingworth, this is ground-breaking,” said Joan Gay, Killingworth’s representative on the Estuary Transit District board and someone who, along with Virginia Zawoy (chairwoman of the Route 81 bus committee), is considered most responsible for bringing the bus service to Killingworth, “because, for the first time in our history, we do have a public bus that we could use.
“There was a need for public transportation for those people who are unable or don’t have the opportunity to drive a car everywhere. For example: Seniors. It’s a great opportunity for them to go shopping or take courses at Middlesex (Community College). For students, (it’s an opportunity) to go to Middlesex, going to the work-study programs. (And) for people going to work.
“Not everybody – especially the young people starting out (at jobs) –has the funding to have a car. So our public transportation is viable for them to get to work. It just fills a need.”
Buses seat 14 persons each, and the 645 service runs every two hours Monday through Friday, beginning at 7:00 a.m. from the Scranton gazebo in Madison and ending with a 6:00 p.m. departure from the Middletown bus terminal.
“This is a celebration,” Killingworth First Selectwoman Cathy Iino said of Friday’s ribbon-cutting, “of the first time we have a fixed route for public transportation in Killingworth that people have envisioned for probably 20 years. We’ve been working on it hard for at least six years, and, finally, it’s happening.”
No, finally it’s happened.
“Never give up,” said Gay. “Ride the bus!”
Photos by Clark Judge.