AP NEWS

Lamont to present option for tolling all vehicles

February 16, 2019

Gov. Ned Lamont will present two options for tolls on Connecticut’s highways and bridges in his budget proposal next week — one levying charges on interstate tractor-trailer trucks only, and one for broad tolling of all drivers.

In his campaign and since, Lamont has been adamant that he’d favor tolls for interstate trucks only, similar to a plan Rhode Island adopted.

Now, four days before he delivers his first budget, Lamont is saying he’ll consider wider tolling — with caveats and stipulations — in an Op-Ed piece published Saturday in the five Hearst Connecticut Media group daily newspapers in Fairfield County. He’s ready to work with the General Assembly and residents, he wrote.

Critics have said all along that Lamont has always intended to institute broad tolling, as his transition advisory board for transportation, including Joe Giulietti, his designated Department of Transportation commissioner, recommended.

Lamont said in his Op-Ed, however, that he has come to realize that option is too limited in large part because of federal rules and laws regulating tolls.

Lamont wrote that the state’s attorneys are “pretty certain” that if trucks-only tolling survives a court challenge in Rhode Island, “the tolling could only be done on specific bridges and the generated revenue would be reserved for those bridges.”

And therefore, he wrote, “the truck-only option provides too little revenue, too slowly and too piecemeal to make a meaningful difference.”

Lamont, a Democrat, said he would consider tolling for all cars and trucks only if a Connecticut EZ-Pass or frequent driver discount were included, in which “out-of-state drivers would provide nearly 50% of our tolling revenue.”

In order to offset the financial burden of tolling, Lamont suggests the state could increase the earned income tax credit for low-income workers, or reduce the gas tax.

A preliminary study released in November by the DOT said the state could collect $1 billion a year in tolls. It estimated out-of-state drivers would contribute 40 percent of the revenue. That study, which the department said was an illustration, not a proposal, envisioned as many as 82 toll gantries on all 13 of the state’s interstate highways and four-lane roads, including Route 8, Route 9 and the Merritt and Wilbur Cross parkways.

“Governor-elect Lamont stands by his campaign promise not to toll personal vehicles,” a Lamont spokeswoman said at the time.

DOT spokesman Judd Everhart said in an email Friday the typical percentage rate of collection in Northeast states is in the 40s for out-of-state vehicles. “We have estimated 42 or 43 percent from out-of-state drivers, but depending on how discounts are structured for in-state drivers...it could be 45-50 percent,” he said.

“As you may know, CT is the only state on the East Coast without tolls,” Everhart said.

Though Lamont said he’s open to discussions with legislators, he makes it clear — whether it’s trucks or all drivers — he doesn’t believe there is a road to sufficient transportation funding that doesn’t include any tolling at all.

“There is no doubt in my mind that our transportation fund will require additional strategic and recurring revenues in the very near future,” Lamont wrote. “In my opinion, there is no way around that hard fact.”

The Op-Ed appeared in the Greenwich Time, Stamford Advocate, Norwalk Hour, Connectucut Post and The News-Times of Danbury.

Republican lawmakers have argued tolling is just another tax on an already overtaxed state, and are likely to fight Lamont’s proposal.

kkrasselt@hearstmediact.com; 203-842-2563; @kaitlynkrasselt