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Toll opponents protest senator’s bill in Stamford

January 24, 2019

STAMFORD — A public meeting on Wednesday about bringing business to the state turned into a confrontation between proponents and opponents of adding tolls to Connecticut highways.

State Sen. Alexandra Bergstein hosted the meeting at the Italian Center of Stamford, and recently submitted the first bill to allow for electronic tolls on Connecticut highways.

A contingent of local business owners and concerned citizens showed up to the meeting to oppose the plan, which they say will cost taxpayers and hurt businesses.

Patrick Sasser, of Stamford, a founder of the grassroots group, No Tolls CT, said tolls will take money out of the local economy.

“As the trucking industry brings goods into our state, they’re not going to eat those millions and millions dollars worth of cost put on them by the tolls, said Sasser, who co-owns a family trucking business. “They’re going to pass those costs onto the store. The store is going pass those costs on down to the customer, which is us.”

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 Special Transportation Fund and in a proposed infrastructure bank.

“(I-)95 is actually our biggest asset in the state and we haven’t capitalized on it,” she said, at the meeting. “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 the 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.

“It is entirely feasible for about $5 billion dollars,” she said.

At that point, one person in the audience said, “We could get a wall for that,” referencing the current debate on the national level about whether or not to fund a $5.7 billion border wall between the United States and Mexico.

During a brief public comment period, Sasser said that Bergstein’s bill would add 82 toll gantries, a claim she vehemently denied.

“I am not going to tolerate misinformation,” she said. “You did not read my bill … it says nothing about the number of gantries.”

A state panel reported two years ago that congested roads cost Connecticut motorists $1.6 billion a year in repairs and $3.5 billion in lost productivity because of traffic delays.

A recent state Department of Transportation analysis estimated that, by 2023, tolls could raise up to $950 million a year in revenue, with the potential that 40 percent of it will be generated by out-of-state motorists. The money is needed for long-delayed transportation projects that could ease congestion by modernizing roads, bridges, tunnels and rails.

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