Ernest Bishop May 22, 2019

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HARTFORD, CT — Gov. Ned Lamont and Democratic legislative leaders agreed to take up the toll debate during a special session in summer as the regular session comes to an end in a couple weeks. Legislators are still grappling with passing a budget by the end of the session. Meanwhile, the state’s largest business organization said it won’t back the toll proposal this year.

House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz said that the advantage of a special session is it would allow legislators to focus on a single issue instead of wrangling several bills, including the state budget.

"I’ve always said that fixing and modernizing our aging transportation infrastructure is critical to our future economy, which is why it continues to be a top priority of our business community," Aresimowicz said. "The importance of this issue demands that we continue to work as long as needed to find the best way to move us forward as a state. A special session is never the preferred approach, but our responsibilities don’t go away with a date on the calendar."

Focusing on the budget has to be a priority because it will allow local leaders to know how much aid they are getting from the state. Many municipalities have already completed their budgeting season. A common tactic is to assume aid would be what Lamont proposed a few months ago, which often means wealthier municipalities get a cut from previous levels.

Toll Plan Details

Details of the draft toll bill were released Tuesday evening. Lamont’s administration and the co-chairs of the legislative transportation committee have agreed to this proposal.

The new proposal calls for no more than 50 toll gantries and the initial toll rate will be no higher than 4.4 cents per mile during peak travel times when discounts are taken into consideration. Tolls would be placed on I-95, I-84, parts of Route 15, and I-91.

The rate would be frozen for three years. The rates could be increased if federal authorities require it to alleviate congestion and come within federal rules. The off-peak rate would be 3.5 cents per mile.

The bill would also establish the Connecticut Transportation Commission which would consist of three members of the Senate, three members of the House, Commissioners of Transportation, Economic and Community Development, Energy and Environmental Protection and Housing, or their designees; the State Treasurer, or the Treasurer’s designee; the Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management, or the secretary’s designee; and one member appointed by the Governor.

The Commission would have a variety of responsibilities, including setting toll rates. Legislative members would be appointed by the speaker of the house, president pro tempore of the Senate, majority leaders in both chambers and minority leaders in both chambers.

These Are The Projects Tolls Would Help Pay For

Operational improvements to Interstate Route 95;

Replacement of the viaduct on Interstate Route 84 in the city of 22 Hartford;

Improvements to exits 3 to 8, inclusive, on Interstate Route 84 in the city of Danbury;

Improvements to the mixmaster on Interstate Route 84 in the city of Waterbury;

Operational improvements to the interchange between Interstate Route 84 and Interstate Route 91;

Operational improvements to the interchange between Connecticut Route 7 and Connecticut Route 15;

Improvements to Heroes Tunnel in the city of New Haven;

Operational improvements to the interchange between Interstate Route 91, Interstate Route 691 and Connecticut Route 15; and Replacement of the Gold Star Memorial Bridge in the city of New London.

Rehabilitation or replacement of the movable bridges on the New Haven Line;

Removal of the traffic signals from Connecticut Route 9;

Rail car procurements;

Improvements to the Hartford Line;

Improvements to the New Haven Line, including, but not limited to: (A) Expanding the Danbury branch to include the town of New Milford, increasing the frequency of service on the Waterbury branch at the Derby-Shelton commuter rail station in the city of Derby and the Ansonia commuter rail station in the town of Ansonia, and improving such commuter rail stations, adding a roof or canopy covering at the Talmadge Hill commuter rail station in the town of New Canaan to protect commuters from rain and snow, adding a passing siding along the New Canaan branch near the New Canaan commuter rail station in the town of New Canaan, expanding the northbound side of the parking lot and the train platforms at the Stratford commuter rail station in the town of Stratford, and improving parking and rail structures;

Improvements to Shore Line East; Improvements to the rail yards in the cities of New Haven and Stamford; and a new commuter rail station in the town of Newington, in city of Bridgeport and on New Park Avenue in the town of West Hartford.

GOP Continues To Say No To Tolls

Republican House leader Rep. Themis Klarides said Republicans remain 100 percent against tolls in the state.

"If they can’t pass tolls with decent majorities in the House, the Senate and with a Democratic governor that means that their members do not support it because the people of the state Connecticut have spoken," she said Monday before the announcement of a definite special session.

She said a special session would amount to more arm-twisting and sweeteners to get enough votes to pass the measure.

The original version of the Republican Prioritize Progress bill would authorize $21.7 billion of General Obligation bonds for transportation purposes over 30 years, according to the Office of Fiscal Analysis. The cost for debt service would be $35.4 billion.

The plan was pitched as an alternative to tolls to fund the state’s needed infrastructure improvements, but Democrats have criticized it as something that would be paid for 100 percent by Connecticut residents and that payments would be pushed onto future generations.

Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano said in a Courant letter to the editor that Prioritize Progress would still leave money for necessary projects like school construction, but would cut funding for things like statues and corporate welfare.

CBIA Gives Thumbs Down To Tolls

The Connecticut Business and Industry Association came out against supporting tolls at the current time. In a nutshell the CBIA said user fees like tolls are an acceptable means to raise money for infrastructure improvements, but that it didn’t trust that toll revenue would be guaranteed for infrastructure improvements.

"It is the consensus of the board that at this time of fiscal instability due to high state spending and fixed costs, we cannot support highway tolls as one of those funding mechanisms," the CBIA board said in a statement.

The CBIA board said that it appreciates Lamont’s efforts to increase efficiency in state government and deal with the state’s fixed costs and that his ability to reduce costs is constrained by contractual obligations.

"These changes will take time, and until state government exhibits a greater capacity for fiscal discipline it is difficult to support adding additional cost burdens, like tolls, on individuals and businesses," the board said.

Lamont previously told Democratic legislators he knows he put them into a tough spot by asking them to vote in favor of tolls. The governor has made passing tolls one of his top priorities in his first legislative session cycle.

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