NORWALK, Conn. — Tolls were a topic, Tuesday in Norwalk.
The informational forum at the Norwalk Inn offered information on the state’s Special Transportation Fund, the target of the revenue that would be derived from tolls, and explainers on current thinking on tolls. Also, State Reps. Gail Lavielle (R-143) and Terri Wood (R-141) criticized on Gov. Ned Lamont’s proposed budget.
Video by Harold Cobin at end of story
The Special Transportation Fund had its origins in 1984 – shortly after the Mianus River bridge collapsed – when then-Gov. William O’Neill created it to pay back bonds on a 10-year infrastructure renewal program, State Rep. Laura Devlin (R-134) said.
The fund shifted over the next few years, and, “What our state has done has been very effective, at moving every expense related to transportation to the transportation fund but not every revenue source,” Devlin said.
“In essence, the special transportation fund really doesn’t fund projects,” she said.
Connecticut residents are confused because there seem to be multiple options, but most are illegal, Devlin explained. You can’t put tolls only on the borders, you can’t tax only out-of-state cars and not only is tolling only trucks probably illegal, but it wouldn’t cover the cost of the infrastructure needed to put the tolls in, she said.
A study completed in November said the state would raise $1.068 billion with tolls, and Lamont is now calling it $800 million, Devlin said, explaining that the study predicted $645 million from Connecticut residents.
Add that to the $500 million paid by state residents in gas taxes, “this is a $1.145 billion hit on Connecticut residents,” she said.
The study put out a “very well thought out rigorous program” for tolls, designed to get the most from out of state residents as possible and spread the tolls across Connecticut, keeping the rates low, she said.
This is the plan derided locally, as tolls would be 6.6 miles apart.
“It’s a little troubling in Fairfield County,” Devlin said, asserting that the positioning of the tolls is generally intended to avoid diversion to other roads, but the exits are so close together here that some people would probably use local roads to avoid tolls.
Lamont’s plan is different, she said.
Lamont has mapped out a plan that would include 53 gantries and limit the tolling to Interstates 84, 91, 95 and Route 15, CTNewsJunkie reports.
“Connecticut would be the most heavily, densely tolled state,” Devlin said.
“No state has attempted what Connecticut is now in the early stages of promoting: Devising a plan to install tolling on existing highways throughout the state, as opposed to placing tolls on a single road, bridge or tunnel,” the CT Mirror states, calling it a “complex undertaking, especially when most of the system was constructed with federal funds.”
If approved this year, tolls would become effective in four years, news reports say.
Wood and Lavielle did not directly address tolls.
“It was disappointing to have a look at (Lamont’s) first budget proposal because it has almost no cuts in it,” Lavielle said. “It has taxes on everything you weren’t taxed on before….all a revenue based budget, and spending increases.”
Democrats are addicted to spending and they’ve run the state for 40 years, Wood said, urging those in attendance “not to give up hope.”
The Commission on Fiscal Stability and Economic Growth recommended taking benefits out of collective bargaining, she said, asking audience members to talk to their Democratic legislators and ask them “to rethink their votes on union contracts.”
State Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff (D-25) and State Rep. Lucy Dathan (D-142) on Jan. 31 discussed tolls at their forum in Norwalk Community College.
This was after a man said he would be burned $300 to $500 a month by tolls, because he’s on the road as a salesman.
“We are all about being small business friendly in Connecticut and I think this whole toll situation is the most unfriendly business proposal that the state can put forward,” he said. “…How can anyone vote yes to a toll and why is that transportation fund raided?”
“There’s been no raid on the transportation fund,” Duff said, calling that a “myth.”
“Connecticut is the only state on the I-95 corridor, throughout Florida and all the way up through Maine, that does not have tolling. There are estimates that you could bring in $ 1 billion of revenue,” Duff said, explaining that Connecticut wouldn’t need to borrow money to fix its infrastructure, and tolls are a user fee, like buying a train ticket.
Gas tax revenue is declining because gas is cheaper and cars are more efficient, cutting the financial feed into the Special Transportation fund, he said.
There are estimates that 70 percent of the tolls will be paid by Connecticut residents, Dathan said, pointing out that you can drive through Connecticut on a tank of gas.
“It looks like most of our gas taxes are born 100 percent by Connecticut residents,” she said, commenting that she’d personally like to see the gas tax reduced, and, “My feeling is, why should we subsidize people from New York to get to the Cape? What’s the first thing you do when you get to New York? You pay your toll. I see it as a usage fee.”