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Yes to tolling trucks and getting the roads and rails fixed

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I support the draft tolling legislation, LCO No. 373, because it makes the big (Class 8 and above) trucks pay for using our highways. These trucks, when fully loaded, put vastly greater wear and tear on our infrastructure as compared to cars. Class 8 trucks are generally long haul and full of merchandise being delivered to destinations outside of Connecticut. It is time we collected our fair share of road maintenance user fees as all the other states between Maine and Florida have had doing for years now.

Limiting this bill to Class 8 trucks enables Connecticut to collect just over $175 million to leverage much more Build America federal infrastructure funds that require a match from the state. The more businesses who own and lease large trucks are forced to internalize the costs they impose on the Connecticut Department of Transportation through using Connecticut’s public highway system, the more they will find ways to economize. Connecticut needs to use electronic tolling to make all of our lives easier by incentivizing businesses to make our highways less of a bottleneck. Congestion pricing, setting a great difference in price of tolls at peak and non-peak times of day causes trucks to shift their schedules to travel at non-peak hours and relieve congestion during peak hours. The way it is now is not acceptable. In addition, businesses considering relocating to Connecticut (and bringing high paying tech jobs) have cited traffic congestion as one of the factors that make them hesitate. Quality of life is important for everyone in the state.

Early in my career, I was an air quality transportation planner. My job was funded under the Clean Air Act to support bicycle lanes, ride sharing through van pools, and greater use of public transit systems in the Midstate region surrounding Middletown. Forty years later, little has changed in Connecticut. Our transportation system is still woefully dependent on cars and trucks.

If Connecticut is to address climate change and the risks to public health from air pollution, we must do better. Air pollution endangers the health of children, the elderly, asthma, lung and heart disease sufferers as well as those living in urban and rural areas near highway hotspots of chronic traffic congestion along Route 95 and the Merritt Parkway. Carbon monoxide is an invisible, odorless gas that aggravates cardiac and lung disease when in high concentrations in the air. More carbon monoxide is created when cars are idling in traffic. I am a virtual employee with a home office but when I see the traffic jams daily on the Merritt Parkway near my home, I think we need to make a change in how people commute.

Having a 40-year business career primarily with NYC based companies in finance, I believe in the market economy – but the market has failed us in making commuters sit in traffic every morning and evening commute, generating pollution while wasting energy (and we’re not even having fun!). We must use government to speed the transition to the lower carbon future we all need to survive climate change.

With funding from this bill, improvements will be made in the Metro-North train system to bring the commute to New York back under an hour from Norwalk to New York City. These rail

improvements will support improved property values. Higher property values support better quality schools and stronger cities and towns.

When NYC or Westchester County residents consider relocating to Connecticut, they often choose a community within a radius of a one-hour trip to Grand Central Station. More of Connecticut needs to be included within that one-hour commute through decreasing traffic congestion on our major highways and making additional investment in both the New Haven and the Danbury Lines of Metro-North with frequent rail service to accommodate flexible work schedules. If we want higher property tax revenues to support Connecticut’s municipalities, connecting our labor market to New York City’s, one of the strongest engines of the U.S. economy, plays a role in buttressing our economy. It provides greater job opportunity and decreased unemployment for Connecticut residents if they can get to the city quickly and reliably. When employees can work a full-time job and still get home before their kids are asleep everyone benefits. Quality of life is important for the mental and physical health of the whole family.

Tolling Class 8 trucks should be just the beginning. I was in a meeting with a high school kid from Norwalk who said the Governor’s plan for zero carbon emissions by 2040 is not fast enough. It needs to be 2030 that we achieve 100 percent renewables. I have two kids in their early 20s. Their generation feels the urgency of the imminent disaster of climate change if we don’t take action to reverse it. Don’t listen to the naysayers. Pass Draft Bill LCO #373 and do more next year to make our transportation system cleaner, more efficient and more climate responsive.

I love living in Connecticut and believe that better days are ahead if we improve our roads and begin to create an economy that works for more of the people who live here and less for the people who crusade against any state initiative. It is time for Connecticut to move forward with passing an Act Concerning the Sustainability of Connecticut’s Transportation Infrastructure.

Diane Keefe

Norwalk

19 comments

John ONeill February 9, 2020 at 12:06 am

I appreciate your opinion and am happy that one of our neighbors has 40 years of high finance experience. I thought I’d point that out in case anyone missed that point in the above opine. I find your points naive and too trusting of our legislators. You know the people who “redirected” somewhere between one and two billion dollars away from infrastructure over the past 15 years. The Governor’s message over the past 18 months reminds me of a ten year old caught in a lie trying to rejigger his story to get exonerated. Don’t you think? I only have 30 years of finance under my belt, but I can smell sewage. The toll push is a load of crap. Anyone who spends time understanding the last 30 years of legislation understands that. That being said, I’d like to also mention I hope Steven Cohen reconsiders his withdrawal of purchasing the Mets.

Bryan Meek February 9, 2020 at 9:01 am

In a perfect world, the OP is correct. However, these revenues are not intended for fixing roads. They are intended for fixing pensions, which are amongst the worse funded in the nation. 80% is considered healthy. Our teachers fund is at 50% and our state workers is at 30%. On top of this, roadway projects are not designed to deliver value to taxpayers. These are longevity jobs for friends and families of the legislature. The real issue is that our road construction costs 3x the national average and the people in charge could care less. Fantasies like the article above only embolden them to steal more from us.

Support Journalism February 9, 2020 at 11:30 am

@ Readers, this is a completely unaffiliated post. I don’t know Nancy or any NoN staff but they do important work and my gut tells me they could use a boost. The situation with the monopoly that acquired the Norwalk Hour has not only reduced the quality of the Hour’s reporting but also put up a paywall, making information harder to get. NoN works in the weeds of local politics, for our free viewing and provides a voice here, which is a gift in today’s world! If you read, please contribute. The more we can improve this forum while keeping it independent, the better and more informed we all will be. Sorry if this post sounds like an NPR commercial.. it does! When things are viewer funded.. They’re neutral! Let’s wish this site and the community well! Without information, we’re in the dark!

Bridget P February 9, 2020 at 11:51 am

Structural reforms to reduce state spending must supersede any tolling discussion. The high cost structure of the state is the primary reason why most flee CT or look elsewhere – don’t be fooled with truck tolling – it is a means to an end for cars to be tolled next. All past transportation “lock-boxes” have been squandered over the decades and tolls wont be any different. It should be no surprise that the desperadoes are now using climate change hysteria as talking points to ram this through.

Cathy February 9, 2020 at 4:10 pm

Everyone should realize that trucks already pay to use our roads. The current majority party for the last few decades has spent money meant for transportation on other spending and has been mismanaging our tax dollars. As per section 8 of the bill, they can easily switch this to tolling cars, which is their true intention Should we reward their dishonesty and failures with more money? Perhaps it’s time to stop voting for Democrat legislators in Hartford!
Listen to this interview of the Lt. Governor on tolling cars if you don’t believe it will happen. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gb0MGGzw2OE&t=639s
Time to save our state from disastrous tax and spend policies.

Elizabeth Gibbs February 9, 2020 at 4:45 pm

Excellent letter, Diane. The possibility of the General Assembly using the toll income for other than transportation is not a valid argument against tolling for trucks. Even if none of the money ever went for transportation, it still benefits everyone in Connecticut to toll the trucks thereby reducing trucking during peak hours and generally and increasing much needed revenue.

Bryan Meek February 9, 2020 at 10:01 pm

I’ve found some incredible responses, but the last one takes the cake. It’s ok if the legislature steals this money too.. Screw the independent trucker who might like to be home with his family after a normal workday like state workers have. No he or she can work the swing shift and hope that thier kids are raised properly by the school system that his tolls money pays for while he has to scratch out a living when elitists think it’s ok for him to use the roads.

M Murrau February 10, 2020 at 6:26 am

I find it ironic that you support something that doesn’t exist. As of today, Truck-only tolling is UnConstitutional and cannot be put in place. They want to pass a law that has already been declared null and void by a federal court and is waiting for Rhode Island to appeal it up through the Federal Court system hoping that ruling can overturned. Why would our legislatures vote for a law that is already Unconstitutional and build something they cannot use hoping the ruling will be overturned? Why not wait until a final decision is reached, UNLESS…… they are just fine with that ruling being upheld and they will have to toll cars too, which is what they wanted in the first place?? There are several backhanded ways this can easily turn into adding car tolling once this bill is passed, and virtually no protections against it. Ask your legislators why no automatic repeal rider was attached to this law should the US Court rule in upholding Trucks Only Tolls Unconstitutional. I have yet to get a response.

Tom Belmont February 10, 2020 at 10:38 am

TOLLS: More thievery, more waste fraud and abuse. They city and the state are consuming all of our incomes. We pay everywhere for everything. Start it with trucks, end it with the budgets of working families. Trust the government? After all that’s been done to us? After all the assorted taxes they have levied us with? No longer fools. We will be servants. No longer free, we will be slaves.

Bill February 10, 2020 at 11:33 am

Trucks already pay-without the tolls- many thousands per truck annually for the privilege of driving through our state. That information can be easily Googled for accurate payment data. If you know any attorneys, give them a call and ask if tolling ONLY trucks will pass Constitutional muster. Get ready…this gimmick has been tried in other states, but ALWAYS ends up including cars, as Lamont and crew know full well. The single mom who wakes up at 5 AM to go to the first of her two jobs will buy the most expensive gasoline on the eastern seaboard because of taxes; pay extra for a sandwich because it’s premade and therefore taxed higher than regular groceries at the Mobil station; and then will pay a toll. If you get a chance to go to Florida, go into any random real estate office and look at the wall: many of them have a picture of Governor Lamont with the caption ‘ Florida’s realtor of the year.’

Robert February 10, 2020 at 11:56 am

You folks will never learn.
Electronic tolling of trucks is just the gateway drug. Once the gantrys are up how long will it be before EVERYONE is tolled.
In addition the state legislature has proven time and time again that the can easily connive re-direction of funds.
Please don’t allow yourselves to be fooled. Those who ignore history are doomed to repeat it.

Cathy February 10, 2020 at 12:32 pm

Most of the pro toll people, especially the women, belong to the far left groups Indivisible and or ReSisters and are simply pushing the far left agenda. Other that are very pro toll are the Unions that stand to benefit from the installation of tolls.
Tolls are a regressive tax and truck tolls will ultimately be passed onto the consumer. Make sure you call your representatives to be sure they know how you feel about tolls.

John Miller February 10, 2020 at 2:37 pm

I find it astounding when people who have virtually no knowledge of the transportation industry and how it works claim that trucks “don’t pay their fair share” and conveniently fail to mention annual fuel taxes that interstate motor carriers pay to Hartford as a result of the International Fuel Tax Agreement. We already know that the per gallon fuel excise taxes paid at the pump are diverted from the Special Transportation Fund but I do not recollect anyone providing an accounting of what is done with the IFTA taxes that are collected nor, for that matter, what happens with the 8.1% PGET taxes that are collected from the fuel distributors. By the way, Connecticut was collecting fuel use taxes from carriers decades before the IFTA was formally adopted.
What I find even more arrogant and condescending is the attitude that it is OK to spend these taxes on things other than road, bridge and infrastructure maintenance and repair. It is inherently dishonest and an insult to the individuals and businesses who pay these taxes. Decades of fiscal mismanagement and deceiving the citizens of Connecticut by our leaders in Hartford is what has put us in the position that we are in today, not the lack of road use and fuel tax revenue. Unfortunately, we may be out of options other than tolls. Remember this come November.

Gail Berritt February 10, 2020 at 4:45 pm

Thank you Diane for your well thought out piece. I completely agree with you. We need more voices like yours to speak up.

ulosewhenuwait February 10, 2020 at 9:54 pm

No more revenue streams. When does it end? You add up your federal taxes and state taxes and sales taxes and gas tax and alcohol tax and the real killer, town property taxes. In the end, they will toll all cars because they’ll need more revenue. You want to pay more? No. No. Trucks pay, we all pay anyway.

Angela Liptack February 12, 2020 at 8:00 pm

Diane, all your points are well researched and cogent. As Connecticut is the gateway to New England, businesses and individuals travel through our state to other destinations at a rate that is probably disproportionate to our state’s size. At the public hearing February 7, 2020, CT Dept. of Transportation Commissioner Joseph Giulietti gave folks a “picture” of what your/our state employees do, today, to sustain the infrastructure on which move all those people, products and services. With a staff about 2/3 of what it was just a few years ago, the CT D.O.T. maintains–among many other things–3719 road miles, 488 buildings, eight regional bus systems, and 2783 traffic signals (more traffic signals, he pointed out, than are maintained by the D.O.T.s of all other New England states combined). Our/YOUR state employees do so within a bare-bones budget, pared in response to calls for cost-cutting and deficit reduction, and further constrained by declining revenues. According to Melissa McCaw, head of CT’s Office of Policy and Management, testifying that same day: Fuel tax revenue has grown just 1.2% in the past 10 years, from $503.6 million in 2010 to $509.7 million in 2019. So yes, as businesses, governments and individuals move to more fuel-efficient vehicles, a new source of revenue to maintain our roads in a state of good repair is needed. And why shouldn’t 40-50% of it come from the out-of-state trucks that do the most damage not only to our roads and bridges but also to air quality and the environment? These responsible government officials, who are CT taxpayers themselves, propose a well thought-out solution that helps keep CT tax rates low by not incurring extraordinary additional debt through bonding. Their proposal avoids dipping into Nutmeggers’ wallets AND avoids depleting the Rainy Day Fund, a short-sighted transportation funding idea that jeopardizes Connecticut’s just-improved credit ratings and state fiscal stability during inevitable gyrations in the economy.

John ONeill February 13, 2020 at 9:56 am

@Angela — First, I’d like to say your piece is very will written. So, congratulations on that. Our road costs are one of the most expensive in the country, so I would say our DOT could probably take a look in the mirror as far as costs. Second, if you think the THIRD version of tolls has been well thought out, we are living on different planets. I think the folks in Waterbury and Westchester county would not agree.
As far a fuel taxes — Those taxes are not all going to fix our infrastructure. I would propose this: IF our taxpaying legislators vote for tolls, they should not DIVERT any “REVENUE”(our tax dollars) currently allocated to Transportation to other programs. Would you agree with that? Further, any legislators who “REDIRECT” those funds should be thrown in jail for fraud. They have made a mockery of Transportation LOCKBOX, and they certainly will make a mockery of tolls. — Anyone who thinks otherwise believes the Easter Bunny will be stopping by this April.

John ONeill February 13, 2020 at 11:39 am

One last point — It should be made clear that Pro-toll advocates like Angela Liptack truly believe ALL vehicles should be taxed. Let’s not be fooled into thinking any differently. For those advocates, Truck tolls are merely a means to an end. Any legislator who tries to say anything different is lying thru their teeth. If our local reps vote for tolls, they are voting against the will of Norwalk voters. Voices like Angela Liptack (who does not live in Norwalk by the way) just confuse the issue. Glad to see Ridgefield residents care about Norwalk. Maybe, they’ll share their schools with us thru regionalization.

John ONeill February 13, 2020 at 12:01 pm

Just a quick note: Pro Tollers like Angela Liptack firmly believe we should Toll (Tax) ALL vehicles not just trucks. They realize this well thought out 3rd version of tolling is just a “beachhead” to eventually toll ALL vehicles. While we appreciate helpful comments from Non-Norwalkers (did somenone say lobbying group?) I would hope for full disclosure on those comments. I would also hope those same progressive thinkers give some more thought to educating our new immigrants in Norwalk with more state support.

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