Cities, towns passing resolutions opposing highway tolls

March 5, 2019

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut cities and towns have begun registering official disapproval of Democratic Gov. Ned Lamont’s proposal for highway tolls.

At least four communities have so far passed resolutions opposing electronic tolling.

“I think it’s an expression of our concern,” said Sherman First Selectman Don Lowe, a Democrat, referring to the Feb. 28, 2019, vote of 2-1 by his town’s Board of Selectman in favor of the non-binding resolution. He said small communities like his, which is about 10 miles from Interstate 84, will be inundated with drivers hoping to avoid tolls.

“One of our concerns is traffic. I think a lot of people are going to be taking local roads,” said Lowe, adding how he personally considers tolls a tax on the poor and the middle class.

Besides Sherman, local officials from Stamford, Enfield and Trumbull have adopted anti-toll resolutions in hopes of influencing the debate at the state Capitol. A resolution approved by the Trumbull Town Council on Monday night raises concerns that tolls “may become a regressive tax for residents and businesses of Connecticut,” how Trumbull residents who travel frequently could be adversely impacted and how Trumbull roads could become congested with motorists attempting to avoid gantries. The resolution encourages the town’s leaders to “continue to advocate this position on our behalf” with the General Assembly.

Rep. Laura Devlin, R-Fairfield, on Tuesday noted the recent “activities” by communities concerned about tolls.

“They have passed resolutions that say no tolls,” she said. “And regardless of having an R or a D behind their name, they have stood up and have been united. And that’s one thing in Hartford that we have not seen and that is a problem.”

Republicans, the minority party in the legislature, have seized on the tolling issue this session. They held a news conference on Tuesday to urge the public to speak out against tolling. The Transportation Committee is holding a public hearing on Wednesday on two tolling bills — including one offered by Lamont — that could ultimately create an electronic tolling system on Interstates 84, 91, 95 and Route 15.

Sen. Henri Martin, R-Bristol, urged residents to either attend the hearing or submit written testimony.

“In short, the only way to stop tolls from moving forward is for the public to get engaged and for them to speak their minds,” he said.

Lamont has argued that tolling would generate a new revenue stream that’s needed to financially shore up Connecticut’s main transportation fund. He originally called for only tolling trucks during the campaign, but his budget proposed two options: tolling only trucks or tolling all vehicles. Lamont has made it clear he’s leaning toward tolling all vehicles, a move the administration estimates could eventually generate $800 million annually. The Republicans, on the other hand, have proposed a plan they say prioritizes state bonding for transportation projects doesn’t require tolls.

Maribel La Luz, Lamont’s director of communications, said the GOP plan would mean more debt to be “paid by our kids and grandkids” while the governor’s proposed “user fee” on major highways would ensure at least 40 percent would be paid by out-of-state drivers, a figure the GOP disputes.

“Every other state around us has figured this out,” La Luz said. “So can Connecticut.”