Republican lawmakers host Norwalk toll forum
Roughly 30 people turned out at the Norwalk Inn & Conference Center Tuesday night for an informational forum on tolls hosted by state Reps. Terrie Wood (R-141) and Gail Lavielle (R-143).
Leading a presentation on Gov. Ned Lamont’s plan to implement tolls on some of the state’s most-used thoroughfares were Transportation Committee Ranking Members, state Rep. Laura Devlin, R-134, and state Sen. Henri Martin, R-31.
“I will be flat out honest, I am not in support of tolls,” Devlin began the forum, to scattered applause. “But I want you to make your own decision based on what you hear tonight.”
Much of the crowd appeared to swing similarly anti-toll.
The session was the second of four forums held by the state legislators in response to a plan that could see the addition of electronic tolls on the state’s three major highways: 84, 91 and 95, plus the Merritt Parkway.
The tolls, according to Lamont, would help to raise funds for badly needed infrastructure improvements to the state’s highway system, which was built in the 1950s. During his campaign, Lamont had suggested a truck-only polling plan, but changed his tune after taking office, acknowledging that tolling only trucks wouldn’t raise sufficient funds to fund the projects.
“There are multiple tolling options and as part of that there is certain confusion about what we can, or cannot do in Connecticut,” Devlin said, noting that Connecticut is one of 13 states the Federal Highway Administration’s "Value Pricing Pilot Program," which requires congestion pricing to encourage commuters to drive at off-peak times, but would need federal approval to build the tolls.
Devlin, Martin, Lavielle and Wood were joined by state Rep. Tom O’Dea (R-125) and representatives from the trucking industry, including President of the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut Joseph Sculley, Senior Vice President, Federation Regulations and Industry Affairs at the American Trucking Associations, and Andrew Anastasio, Jr., of Anastasio & Sons Trucking, in Connecticut.
According to Sculley, $17,000 a year is the average amount of road taxes paid by truck drivers and the trucking industry pays 32 percent of all road taxes owed, even though it accounts for only 5 percent of miles traveled. Ninety-four percent of all freight moved in Connecticut was moved by truck, Sculley said.
“Everything that we buy was on a truck at some point,” Sculley said.
The presentation culminated with a presentation by Martin on the state legislators' alternate “Prioritize Progress” plan, which advocates a combination of federal funding, special obligation bonds and and general obligation bonds to fund transportation, without raising taxes.
A question-and-answer session followed, during which time several members of the crowd lambasted former Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s use of transportation funds and current plans to increase taxes and the conversation veered at times away from tolls onto the cost of state employee union contracts and other gripes.
Some questioned the mathematics of the alternate toll plan.
“Are we catching up, or are we simply adding more and more debt on?” one member of the crowd asked.
The legislators noted that the plan to use bonded funds would respect a newly implemented $2 billion cap on borrowed money and, because bonding is generally used on long-term, capital projects, transportation would be an appropriate use of the money.
“We’re not taxing anybody, we’re not looking for anything that we don’t have at our disposal right now,” Martin said.
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