Tolls are back on the table at the state capitol.
After failing to bring his transportation plan to a vote this spring, Gov. Ned Lamont has a new plan to fix congestion on Connecticut highways, which he plans to unveil it to the public on Thursday.
Wednesday, Democrats met to go over the plan, which they say includes tolls.
“I like a lot of the components that are contained in this plan,” said Rep. Joe Aresimowicz, Speaker of the House.
Several iterations of the governor’s original plan included between 50 and 80 tolls. Each one was met with enough skepticism this spring that the Democrat-controlled House and Senate declined to even take them up for a vote. The latest rendition scales down tolling to just 14 bridges. The money collected would go back into making repairs and fixing bottlenecks along the same stretch.
“It’s not a general, ‘we need to fix 95.’ It’s very specific and the data will be there to show why that needs to be done,” Aresimowicz said.
He explained that the plan also includes borrowing from the federal government to improve the railroad to shorten the commute to New York and purchase new trains cars with upgraded internet. Money would also be spent on the state’s bus routes.
Republicans said they met with the administration last week to go over general details about the plan.
“I think the governor is focusing on the right issues and I think we need to see where those chokepoints are that he’s addressing,” said Rep. Vincent Candelora, a Republican from North Branford.
Republicans have held firm on voting no on any transportation plan that includes tolls. They may offer up their own plan before a special session is called to vote on 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,” said Candelora.
The House Transportation Committee Chair, Roland Lemar, said the proposal includes discounts for drivers from Connecticut. He estimates they’ll pay between 50 cents to $1 to cross a toll bridge, a cost that may even be capped at once per day.
“We think it’s appropriate to have out of state folks paying some of the cost. They’re coming through, they’re the ones creating a lot of the damage on our roadway,” said Lemar.
However, Candelora didn’t expect the governor’s plan to be an easy sell to his counterparts across the aisle either especially in an upcoming election year.
“If a toll is going up in my district, whether I’m a Democrat or Republican, and there’s only 14 in the state of Connecticut, I’m not sure I would be ok voting for that,” he pointed out. “You’re going to see state reps or state senators saying sure I’ll support this but I can’t have the gantry in my district.”
Cherie Juhnke stood outside the speaker’s office Wednesday morning, holding a “No Tolls” sign. Her group, No Tolls CT, has been a vocal critic of the Lamont transportation plans.
“No tolls. They’ll never go away if they go up,” she said. “No one is talking about cost-cutting. I haven’t heard anyone talk about spending cuts. So, stop spending and be responsible like citizens have to be.”
The Lamont Administration wants a special session to vote on his new transportation plan.
“I would come in as soon as possible to get this done,” said Aresimowicz.
Candelora said Republicans would also be in favor of voting before the regular session begins in January.