Opinion: Tolling plan is in trouble

A Hartford protest against tolls. (CTMirror.org)
Jim Cameron

Gov. Ned Lamont’s tolling plan is in trouble.  I knew it last weekend when I got a call from Dan Malloy.

The former governor and I know each other going back to his days as mayor of Stamford, but he’s only called me once before (many years ago when he sought my endorsement in his run for a second term as governor).

This time he was calling about my recent column about the Transportation Strategy Board, the panel that 18 years ago was tasked with prioritizing our state’s transportation needs and how to pay for them.

It wasn’t my fawning over then-TSB Chairman Oz Griebel that prompted Malloy’s recent call, but instead my characterization of the “lock box” on the Special Transportation Fund as having, to quote one wag, “more back doors than a hot-sheets motel on the Berlin Turnpike.”  The Wag’s words, not mine.

“That comment was not helpful, Jim” Malloy said.  “We’re just trying to get this tolls idea across the finish line and your comments aren’t helping.”

That’s when I knew that the tolls plan is in real trouble. (Why is he calling me, of all people?)  Not that there weren’t earlier warning signs that trouble was brewing.

The first was Gov. Lamont’s somersaults on tolling from being in favor, then promising trucks-only tolling and finally settling (again) on tolling all vehicles.  Voters felt betrayed.

Then Lamont pulled millions in car sales taxes from the Special Transportation Fund, potentially bankrupting the transportation fund by 2022.

Those moves gave grassroots No-Tolls groups new-found fertile soil, picketing and tapping into the media’s love of controversy by offering up great photo ops.

Sure, the Republicans helped fan the flames with their so-called “information sessions” in local communities, providing a forum to attack Lamont and tolls while resurrecting their “Prioritize Progress” bonding plan, asking our grandkids to pay for the roads and rails we use today.

Then there were the “no tolls votes” in local communities, non-binding of course, but a clear indication of local sentiment.  Even Stamford’s Board of Reps voted against tolls.  Polling by Sacred Heart University, though perhaps poorly worded, showed 59 percent of respondents were against tolling.

But wait.  Where are the pro-toll voices?

Well, a coalition of Hartford lobbyists did try to organize an expensive campaign to support Lamont’s tolling vision, seeking money from construction companies and consultants who’d make a lot of money if tolls were approved.  But a reporter somehow got hold of their pitch book, detailing the campaign, and it now seems dead in the water.  Talk about “not helpful.”

Now, Gov. Lamont is on a Magical Misery Tour, holding press events at every crumbling bridge, viaduct and train platform in the state.  Against those backdrops he pitches the need for billions in funding achievable only, he says, through tolling.

In the last couple of months Metro-North has had two major power meltdowns as circuit breakers, transformers and sub-stations have failed, slowing trains and disrupting service.  Commuters take such crises in stride knowing full well they’re riding in shiny new railcars on a century-old railroad crumbling beneath them.

But people upstate could care less.  It’s not their problem, so why should they pay tolls or support mass transit?

Cynicism abounds that toll revenues would really be spent on transportation and not get diverted.  Nobody trusts Hartford.

Tolls, my friends, are in trouble.


Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media. Jim Cameron is founder of The Commuter Action Group, and a member of the Darien Representative Town Meeting.



6 responses to “Opinion: Tolling plan is in trouble”

  1. Sue Haynie

    Wise words. “Nobody trusts Hartford.”

  2. Piberman

    In pushing for tolls Gov. Lamont underscores he sees no connection between CT’s lack of economic growth over an entire decade and its tax rates – among the highest in t he nation. So why not push even higher taxes via tolls. It’s how CT Democrats do business. Their public Union supporters won’t allow the Governor to cut the Budget. So its always new taxes. Up up and away we go.

  3. Kevin Kane

    Malloy was calling Jim Cameron because any objections or call outs are not allowed. Everyone needs to down some more “Kool Aid”, shut up, cover their eyes and ears while moving aimlessly in lockstep. Freedom of speech is not allowed if it goes against what the pro-toll folks say and want. Attack the person and the message is their typical strategy to silence questions and opposition.

  4. Bryan Meek

    Interstates 84, 91, 291, 691, 384. Highways 2 , 3, 9, 15, 72, 372. HOV lanes all over the place. A dedicated busway that loses $20 million a year connecting New Britain to Hartford. I’m probably leaving something out. Oh a new commuter train to get people to their jobs in Massachusetts.

    All so state workers can get to their jobs without sitting in traffic.

    Meanwhile, in lower Fairfield County….where we generate almost 60% of the states revenues, we have the 2 lane Merrit Parking Lot and 3 lane I95 with some of the worst rated bridges in the country. Oh we do have the 130 year old train line that we are going to spend all of our money on one bridge. What’s not to like?

    All roads lead to Hartford. Literally.

  5. Piberman

    Bryan Meek;
    So maybe CT is not the best managed State in the nation. But we have some nice people living here and the upland river valleys are splendid places to hide out on the weekends.

  6. Never a truer statement: “All roads lead to Hartford. Literally.” Meanwhile, on Long Island, my pal is looking to buy a Honda Clarity to avoid the LIE and use HOV. Funny how I’ve NEVER seen one of those on my outrageous and ridiculous 45+-minute, 12-mile to and from Stamford commute. Never.

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