HARTFORD, CT — Gov. Ned Lamont’s chief of staff told reporters Sunday that his boss “toiled” over whether to propose an electronic tolling system for all drivers.
Ryan Drajewicz, Lamont’s chief of staff, said Sunday that when confronted with the numbers Lamont had no choice but to put forward the suggestion that all drivers be tolled.
Responding to the backlash from social media, Drajewicz hopped on a conference call Sunday with reporters to explain why Lamont reversed his position on the campaign to only toll trucks.
Drajewicz said he wanted to lower the “heart rate” about what tolling would mean for Connecticut drivers and why exactly they decided to move forward with it.
He said Lamont’s editorial was “the start of a discussion” with legislators in the General Assembly, who would have to approve any proposal.
“The politically expedient thing to do would be to stick to what was said during a campaign, but I think the right thing to do was stare at this hard data, ask the hard questions, and come up with what we think is the right proposal,” Drajewicz said.
He said the the budget will explore both truck-only tolling and tolling on all vehicles.
He estimated that the state would see revenue of about $800 million if it tolled all vehicles, including trucks, and only $45 million to $200 million if they tolled only trucks.
In order to maintain Connecticut’s bridges it costs about $500 million. That does not include highway maintenance or upgrades to Connecticut’s public transit systems. He said they need as much as an additional $200 million to improve the current system.
“It’s not increasing our debt,” Drajewicz said. “But instead allowing us to have a reliable long term source of revenue dedicated to our transportation system.”
Connecticut won’t see any tolling revenue within the next two years unless it comes up with a way to securitize the revenue it expects to gain when the electronic toll gantries go up.
Sen. Alex Bergstein, D-Greenwich, the first lawmaker to propose tolling, has said securitizing the revenue stream should be something the state explores as it has the debate.
It’s not a new idea.
States have been securitizing the money they expect to raise through toll revenue for almost two decades.
While no specific proposal in Connecticut has gotten that far supporters say creating a reliable revenue stream is the main selling point of tolls. That and some of the revenue may come from out-of-state drivers. Estimates on how much are around 30 percent, according to the Governor’s Transportation Finance Panel.
“Governor Lamont’s recent proposal on tolls is the only solution that we have seen thus far that does not saddle the Connecticut taxpayers with 100 percent of the burden of the cost to repair, maintain and improve the systems across the state,” Don Shubert, president of the Connecticut Construction Industries Association, and former DOT Commissioner Emil Frankel, said.
As far as necessity is concerned, a 2017 report by the American Road and Builders Association held that 57 percent of Connecticut roads eligible for federal aid are rated “not acceptable”, which is the second highest percentage in all 50 states.
The same report found that 33.5 percent of Connecticut’s bridges are either structurally deficient or functionally obsolete, which is well above the national average of 23 percent.
A 2017 report by TRIP, a national transportation research group, held that driving on deficient roads cost Connecticut motorists a total of $6.1 billion annually in the form of additional vehicle operating costs, congestion related delays and traffic crashes. It also causes drivers to spend over 45 hours per year stuck in traffic.
But the opposition to tolls is vocal.
From previous political opponents to hardliners on the issue of tolls the critical comments have dominated social media.
Jim Grasso, who supported Republican Bob Stefanowski, said his candidate told residents this would happen.
“Bob told CT. BUT no the out of State college kids gave us …him,” Grasso said on Facebook.
Others called Lamont a “liar.”
David Walker, a candidate for governor who didn’t make it to the Republican primary, said he’s opposed to tolls, but “if they are imposed, CT taxpayers should receive a credit for any tolls they pay on their state income tax return based on their use of a state issued EZPass.”
It’s unclear yet if Lamont will include a tax credit for residents. His budget proposal will be released Feb. 20.