Governor changes stance, says he will consider wider tolling

By PAT EATON-ROBBFeaturesAssociated Press

Gov. Ned Lamont, who said during his campaign that he would support highway tolls only for tractor-trailers, announced Saturday that he's considering a wider tolling option.

The Democrat, in an op-ed published in Hearst Connecticut Media newspapers, said attorneys tell him that truck-only tolling likely could be done only on certain bridges to generate revenue for their repair.

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"Assuming our attorneys are correct, the truck-only option provides too little revenue, too slowly and too piecemeal to make a meaningful difference," he wrote.

Lamont and others have suggested tolls as a way to pay for improvements to the state's deteriorating highway infrastructure amid budget problems.

Connecticut is expected to end the fiscal year June 30 with a surplus. But lawmakers face a projected $2 billion deficit in the next fiscal year and $2.4 billion in red ink for 2020-21.

Lamont, who is scheduled to present his two-year state budget proposal Wednesday, said he would consider a bill that includes wider tolls on cars and trucks, with certain conditions. He said both a truck-only toll and a wider electronic tolling option will be included in his budget plan.

"I would only consider this option if we maximized the discount for Connecticut EZ-Pass users and/or offered a 'frequent driver' discount for those who are required to travel our major roadways on a frequent basis," he wrote. "We have been subsidizing our neighboring states' road repairs by paying their tolls, and it's estimated that out-of-state drivers would provide nearly 50 percent of our tolling revenue, as well. As needed, we could also consider an increase in the earned income tax credit or reduction in gas tax to mitigate the costs of tolling on the everyday user."

State Sen. Len Fasano, the leader of the Senate Republicans called the governor's stance a "disappointing step backward" and said he believes there are other ways to fund the state's transportation projects, including private-public partnerships.

"In addition, the formula for tolls is simple: the number of cars on the road times the toll rate gives you a total amount of funding," he said. "That means rates will have to be set at a level that results in the desired revenue. You can say you are giving someone a 'discount,' but the reality is in order to achieve the desired profits, we are all going to be paying a high rate per mile to generate those funds. The money has to come from somewhere, and that somewhere is state taxpayers."

A state Department of Transportation study released in November estimated a toll on all vehicles could collect $950 million in annual net revenue by 2023, after accounting for operating costs.

That study estimates electronic tolling gantries would be installed every 6.6 miles on major highways and parkways in the state.