By Josh LaBella
Last week Gov. Ned Lamont released the draft plan concerning one of the State’s most controversial issues: tolls.
The draft, dubbed “An Act Concerning the Sustainability of Connecticut’s Transportation Infrastructure,” outlined where the proposed toll gantries would be, what the rates would be for peak and off-peak hours, and the creation of a government body to oversee what toll revenue would be spent on. It also listed priority projects the revenue should be spent on.
Lamont’s plan proposes tolls on Interstates 95, 91, 84 and on certain sections of Route 15. The bill would limit the amount of gantries to 50. During peak hours the price per gantry would be four and a half cents. On off hours the price would be three and a half cents.
Lamont’s budget estimates that tolls would bring in more than $800 million a year. The projects listed in the bill are estimated to cost $24.6 billion according to the Connecticut Department of Transportation.
The areas the governor wants to focus revenue on improving include the mixmaster on I-84 in Waterbury, replacing the viaduct on I-84 in Hartford, and operational improvements on all interstates and some routes in the state.
Even in light of this development there is still strong opposition to tolls. On May 18 more than 1,500 people protested tolls in front of the capital. It was just one more in a string of protests that have occurred throughout the state.
Eighteen municipalities have adopted anti-toll ordinances as of press time. West Haven City Councilman Richard DePalma, the only Republican on the council, has suggested that the city do the same.
Democrat Michael DiMassa, the state representative from the 116th District, said he does not think there are enough votes to pass a toll bill yet.
“I’m certainly undecided because I don’t feel that Connecticut residents should bear the full burden of this toll,” said DiMassa. “I want them to see some kind of discount.
DiMassa said while no legislator wants to take more money from Connecticut residents they are responsible for their safety and the transportation system. He said they need to find a way to improve the quality of the state’s transportation system. He added that 30 to 40 percent of the DOT’s annual budget goes towards debt service.
“That’s a ton of money,” said DiMassa. “So if we don’t fund other [revenue projects for the transportation system] we’re finished.”
According to DiMassa, business owners have told him the CT transportation system is one of the main reasons they look to move elsewhere. He said sometime it can take him up to an hour and a half to get from Hartford back to West Haven when there is heavy traffic.
“That’s crazy,” said DiMassa. “Not only does it become unsafe, after a while, to have this degraded infrastructure. But it’s also hampering our ability to bring in businesses and attract major corporations to the state.”
Chalres Ferraro, a republican representing the 117th District, said he will never vote to implement tolls on Connecticut highways. He said the republicans have their own alternative transportation plan called Priority Progress for the past four years.
“Priority Progress is a transportation plan that is based on estimates by the [Office of Policy and Management],” said Ferraro. “It says that over 30 years we would need approximately $62 billion dollars to fund road construction and infrastructure repair.”
Ferraro said the plan would raise that money over 30 years by continuing existing transportation bonding for $700 million a year, continuing federal subsidies for around $740 million a year, as well as implementing $735 a year in general obligation bonds.
“We would do that after first prioritizing the current bonding program to ensure that we are only bonding projects that are long-term infrastructure and necessary,” said Ferraro. “With that plan in mind, we don’t have to increase taxes, we don’t have to implement new tolls, and we can fix our roads and infrastructure in 30 years with a predictable and stable plan.”
Ferraro said the revenue projected to be raised by tolls do not generate the $100 million, which Governor Dannel Malloy estimated was needed for his original transportation plan.
“If we use the OPM estimate of $62.8 million,” said Ferraro. “We’re still about $40 million short. Where is the rest of this money going to come from?”
Ferraro said the rest of the funds would be made up by new taxes. Ferraro said he thinks the administration and those who plan on voting for tolls are aware of the resistance to tolls.
“I can pretty much guarantee you that there will not be a single vote [in favor] from the Republican side of the aisle,” said Ferraro.