HARTFORD, CT — There were still more questions than answers when it comes to what a final electronic tolling bill will look like and also whether the Democrats have enough votes to approve the legislation without any Republican support.
Gov. Ned Lamont and the co-chairs of the legislature’s Transportation Committee held a press conference Wednesday to explain their thinking with just eight weeks left in the 2019 legislative session.
However, they were unable to offer many details since the concept is still under negotiation.
Lamont said it will be 50 or fewer gantries on four highways, and a congestion pricing method is all that the federal government will allow.
A document distributed by Lamont officials estimated that a commute from Stamford to New Haven would cost $1.80 during peak periods and $1.40 during off peak periods. That’s based on a rate of 4.4 cents per mile during peak hours and 3.5 cents per mile during off-peak hours. New Haven to Hartford would cost $1.72 during peak periods and $1.36 during off-peak periods. The drive from Putnam to Norwich and Torrington to Bridgeport would not cost anything because there are no tolls proposed for Routes 2 or 8.
Even though his own Department of Transportation said it will take seven years before the state would be able to collect toll revenue, Lamont said he wants to speed that up by borrowing against the toll revenue the state expects to collect.
“The time to plan, gain regulatory approvals, design and construct a toll system has been estimated to take 4 years, with partial revenue services in years 5 and 6. Full revenue operations would be achieved in year 7,” an internal DOT memo states.
Lamont said he spoke with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao and said she would be able to “expedite the process for us to get the gantries up in less than half that amount of time.”
Lamont continued: “Once we get approval to get these gantries up, once they know we’re going to be able to do our electronic tolling, we can borrow against those anticipated tolling revenues.”
It’s unclear whether Lamont will be able to find the legislative support to get an advance on future toll revenue. It’s one of several items that will be negotiated.
“I think you’d be crazy not to take some of that money up front and put that toward transportation until we get the tolling done,” Lamont said.
As far as the toll rates and gantries every six to seven miles, Lamont said he’s happy to negotiate.
“I’m all ears. The door is open. It’s a big table, but the numbers have to add up,” Lamont said.
Sen. Carlo Leone, D-Stamford, said they will rely on the experts at DOT to come up with a proposal for rates. He said the feds would have to authorize those rates and at that point they could consider sending it back to the General Assembly for approval.
“We could still weigh in on it if need be,” Leone said.
The three tolling bills passed by the Transportation Committee last month will be negotiated down to one.
Lamont said the toll revenue will be automatically deposited in the Special Transportation Fund and it will help Connecticut avoid using general obligation bonds for transportation projects.
Republicans have said their proposal to prioritize general obligation bonds to pay for transportation projects is a better way to fund improvements without adding electronic tolls as a revenue stream.
Lamont panned the Republican proposal because he said it would force the state to delay other projects scheduled to be funded through general obligation bonds, and would not be seen favorably by Wall Street.
He said putting more money on the state credit card is “the exact same addiction that got us into this problem over the last generation or we’re shortchanging everything else that’s important to economic growth.”
Republicans lawmakers who were in the room listening said the governor is not taking seriously the proposal they made four years ago when they saw gas revenue dropping and the Special Transportation Fund on the brink of insolvency.
Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said the governor hasn’t read their proposal and is using stale talking points.
He said the only thing they learned today about the Democratic plan for electronic tolls is that “there is no plan.”
He said the rate sheet Lamont’s staff handed out is “fictitious” because those rates will still have to be negotiated and approved by the federal government.
“They are going to determine how much they are going to charge without one legislator,” Fasano said.
He said what Lamont is saying is, “‘Give us the authority and then we’ll tell you how much.’ That is simply outrageous.”
He said the plan regarding how much drivers would pay per mile should come back to lawmakers for a vote.
Lamont said he needs the legislature to approve an electronic tolling bill before he can ask the federal government for approval. Once the federal government approves the plan there doesn’t seem to be any desire to allow the General Assembly to weigh in on the final product.
“This is a lot of work getting this first vote done to tell you the truth,” Lamont said.
Gov. Ned Lamont and Transportation co-chairs promote infrastructure improvements
Posted by CTNewsJunkie.com on Wednesday, April 10, 2019