SOUTHBURY, CT – Gov. Ned Lamont admitted he’s gone to the “ramparts” on transportation by trying to find “an honest way to pay for things.”
Lamont made those comments toward the end of a 20-minute address Wednesday at the Waterbury Regional Chamber’s “Legislative and Economic Summit.”
Part of that “honest way to pay for things” would come from truck-only tolls and at least two toll gantries would be in Waterbury and one would be in Southbury.
According to draft legislation, one gantry would be on I-84 over the Housatonic River on the Rochambeau Bridge, one at the so-called Mixmaster at the intersection of Routes 84 and 8 in Waterbury, and one on Route 8 south of I-84 in Waterbury.
Waterbury lawmakers, even those who support truck-only tolls, are concerned about the number of gantries in the area.
Rep. Geraldo Reyes, D-Waterbury, said he was on board to toll all vehicles and supports truck-only tolls, but Greater Waterbury can’t have 25% of the 12 toll gantries.
“It’s not a fair representation,” Reyes said.
Sen. Joan Hartley, D-Waterbury, agreed.
“If you want to have a conversation I said to them let’s start on equal ground,” she said.
She said 25% of the tolls is too much.
But there’s not much time left to negotiate. The House and the Senate have told their members to hold Feb. 18,19, and 20 as possible days for a vote on the measure.
Eric Albert of Albert Bros. Inc. told Lamont that every one of their 16 trucks would hit those three gantries every single day.
“Fair is fair and I don’t think Waterbury is getting a fair shot on that,” Albert said.
A more than 100 year old scrap metal business in Waterbury, Albert said he didn’t think it was fair to punish the Waterbury area with so many gantries. He said it would cost him an additional $100,000 a year to operate his business.
Lamont offered to get Albert a meeting with Department of Transportation Commissioner Joseph Giuletti.
Lamont went on to explain he believes if he can loosen up the 10 to 15 choke points on Connecticut’s highways then he can hopefully speed things up for businesses and improve the economy,.
The business community has been complaining for years about Connecticut transportation infrastructure.
Lamont maintained that the money from the tolls collected at those gantries would be used to fix that specific road or bridge.
“All that money is coming right back into the community,” Lamont said. “It’s not impacting day-to-day drivers. It’s going to improve their lives overtime. I know it’s going to hit the big tractor trailer trucks and most of them are from out-of-state.”
Meanwhile, Lamont’s transportation plan isn’t all about highways. The governor said he can’t stand that if you miss a train on the Waterbury rail line there’s not another train for two hours.
Rep. Rosa Rebimbas, R-Naugatuck, said Lamont is confusing the two issues of truck-only tolls and rail.
“Bottom line: rail is not connected in any way shape or form to tolls,” Rebimbas said.
She said there are low-interest federal loans for rail improvements that the administration should be acting on “right now.”
“I don’t think there’s one person in this room that’s not for rail,” Rebimbas said. “So let’s stay focused on what we agree on and let’s get rail done.”
Lamont told reporters after the event that using the tolls and low-interest loans to pay for improvements to the highways will free up money to help access low-interest loans for rail improvements.
“There’s a lot of ways to pay for rail,” Lamont said.
Lamont said speeding up the rail in both directions will open up the Valley and “brings Waterbury right back into the central heart of our economy in this state.”
The real question is whether Lamont has the votes in the Senate or the House to get his proposal to his desk.
Asked if he thought they had the votes, Lamont said “Yeah. I know it.”