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Bipartisan group of Stamford reps come out against tolls

February 12, 2019

STAMFORD — A contingent of Stamford representatives from across the political spectrum are voicing their displeasure with a proposal to add tolls to the state’s highways.

They introduced a resolution Monday night opposing a toll system. The resolution will be discussed Feb. 21 at the city’s transportation committee.

Rep. Steven Kolenberg, a Republican, is one of the co-sponsors on the bill. He said he has joined members of the grassroots group No Tolls CT in the past to protest the idea of adding gantries to Connecticut highways to collect tolls on drivers.

The resolution was co-sponsored by Republican representatives J.R. McMullen, Dennis Mahoney and Bradley Michelson, and Democrats John Zelinsky, Jeffrey Stella, Denis Patterson and Ines Saftic.

State Sen. Alexandra Bergstein, D-36, recently submitted a bill to allow for the return of electronic tolls in the state.

Bergstein’s proposed bill would install tolls on the main highways and set per-mile fees for cars and trucks that are comparable to surrounding states. It would require that the money be deposited in the state’s Special Transportation Fund and in a proposed infrastructure bank.

At a meeting in Stamford last month, Bergstein said, “(Interstate) 95 is actually our biggest asset in the state and we haven’t capitalized on it. If and when ... we install electronic tolls, we can start to bring in revenue from other sources, from out-of-state drivers, from people who are willing to pay, who actually want to pay, to get to their destinations faster.”

Her idea is to use funding from the tolls to improve train infrastructure, including a 30-30-30 plan, which seeks to decrease the travel time between Stamford and New York City to 30 minutes, while also decreasing commuter time to 30 minutes from Stamford to New Haven, and from New Haven to Hartford.

Bergstein, a Democrat and Greenwich resident, represents the 36th Senate District, which includes Greenwich and parts of Stamford and New Canaan. She has also argued that funds raised through a toll system could be used to repair crumbling infrastructure throughout the state.

The end goal: faster commute times and less time stuck in traffic.

But opponents aren’t so sure tolls are the path to achieving that goal. Kolenberg, for example, isn’t confident the money accrued from the system would be spent wisely on transportation.

“This is just going to wind up hurting regular folks who are going to work,” he said.

Kolenberg added that tolls would send more drivers onto Stamford streets, having a negative impact on local travel.

Many of his concerns have been brought up by protestors in meetings recently hosted by Bergstein.

The freshman senator has claimed that the protest, under the name “No Tolls CT,” is part of a Republican plot by former state Sen. Scott Frantz, whom she defeated in the November election, to target her politically.

But for Stella, a Democrat who represents Stamford’s West Side, the toll issue has little to do with party affiliation.

His district is overwhelmingly Democrat, and he said his constituents are very much opposed to tolls.

“This is not a Democrat issue. This is not a Republican issue. This is a Stamford issue and a Connecticut issue,” he said. “Everyone is concerned about tolls. It puts a financial burden on people.”

He said a toll system could detract people from traveling into Stamford to go shopping or to eat at one of the city’s many restaurants.

Originally from New York, Stella remembers paying $300 in tolls every month for a mere 10-mile commute.

“When you talk about tolls, it scares me,” he said. “It could start at a small price, but where are we in 10 years?”

ignacio.laguarda@stamfordadvocate.com

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