HARTFORD, CT — Gov. Ned Lamont will roll out his 10-year, $21-billion transportation plan Thursday with the hope of winning enough support to get it passed in a special session.
Lamont administration Chief of Staff Ryan Drajewicz and Office of Policy and Management Secretary Melissa McCaw spent the morning with members of the House Democratic caucus going over the plan.
“What we have done is really step back to make the case for the macro-economic outlook for the state of Connecticut,” Drajewicz said after a meeting that last more than an hour.
What they didn’t discuss at great length were the 14 bridges and chokepoints where they would need to install tolls in order to create a revenue stream that would help them access federal funding at a low interest rate. The number of toll gantries is far fewer than the more than 50 Lamont proposed back in February.
Rep. Roland Lemar, D-New Haven, said he thinks it should be a lot more than Connecticut residents helping to repair the bridges and roads they use. He said Connecticut drivers would get a discount and the tolls might be capped at no more than 50 cents or a $1 per day, per driver.
An executive summary of the plan obtained by CTNewsJunkie states that “Within a 24 hour period, any vehicle equipped with a transponder will not pay more than one round-trip user fee per gantry.”
The plan is expected to raise about $300 million annually in toll revenue from drivers, according to McCaw. That’s after the 20% discount is applied.
The plan assumes that 38% of the toll revenue will be generated by out-of-state vehicles.
Lemar and House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz declined to comment on specifics of the plan that will be pitched by the governor Thursday, other than to say that the House Democratic caucus didn’t much detail Wednesday about the plan. Aresimowicz said they didn’t detail the 14 chokepoints, only that they did a data-driven analysis of the problem traffic areas in Connecticut. Aresimowicz also deferred to the administration on questions about if or when the tolls would be taken down.
Administration sources have said the tolls would be removed after the projects are complete, based on the contract the state would do with a vendor to operate the tolls.
Lawmakers who live in districts impacted by a toll project will have a hard decision to make about whether to support the proposal.
Democratic lawmakers believe the overall transportation plan will see Republican support in districts where improvements to rail will speed up commutes to New York City.
“How in the world is a Republican member from Fairfield County going to justify voting ‘no’ to shaving anywhere from 10 to 20 minutes off the commute into the city via train?” Aresimowicz asked. “How are they going to say ‘no’ to putting 5G on the train?”
The state plans on borrowing $4 billion to $5 billion from the federal government by using its rails as collateral. Unlike other states, Connecticut owns most of its rails, which puts it in a unique position.
Deputy Minority Leader Vincent Candelora doesn’t buy the argument about rail.
“I think to try and put a gun to our head and say we need to vote for this or else is crazy,” he said.
He said Democrats don’t want to talk about how adding tolls is simply adding another tax and what that would mean for economic growth.
“Another tax is going to impact economic growth in the state of Connecticut,” Candelora said.
He said Republicans generally don’t want to lead with revenue, but its too soon to say there wouldn’t be any Republican support for the proposal.
“I don’t think it’s the Republicans’ intent to just slam the door and say we’re not doing anything, we’re just going to vote no,” Candelora said.
He said there might be ways to fund the program without adding a new revenue stream.
“We don’t know where the gantries are proposed,” Candelora said. “We don’t know all the chokepoints that are being addressed.”
The Senate Democratic caucus has said they won’t support tolls if there isn’t any Republican support.
Lamont pitched Senate Republicans last week on the plan and there’s no indication yet whether they will support it.
“We remain cautiously optimistic that we will have bipartisan support for this bill,” Drajewicz said.
He said if you’re a commuter stuck on a train or in traffic, you just want the problem fixed.
“The governor is aggressively pursuing bipartisan support for his plan,” he added.
“I would come in as soon as possible to get this done,” Aresimowicz said. “The longer we wait the more risk we are at [for] not getting the necessary federal funding. The more we wait the longer we risk an accident or a tragedy happening and the longer we wait our economy continues to suffer because people can’t move their employees or their products throughout the state.”
Aresimowicz said this is a problem the state needs to deal with immediately. He said he’s cautiously optimistic that it could be done before the regular session starts in February.
Candelora said Republicans would not object to it being addressed in a special session, “if it’s ready.”
“It’s hard to take a position until we actually see the comprehensive plan,” Candelora added.