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Toll opponents protest Bergstein event in Greenwich

January 25, 2019

GREENWICH — A small group of protestors with signs displaying their opposition to tolls gathered outside the Greenwich Library Cole Auditorium on Thursday night.

They greeted passersby and attendees of a community conversation with state Sen. Alex Bergstein and Chairwoman of PepsiCo Indra Nooyi. A Greenwich Police Department cruiser idled across from the group as they expressed their disdain for Bergstein’s stance on reimplementing tolls on Connecticut’s highways. The new senator, in one of her first moves in Hartford, introduced a bill to bring tolls back to Connecticut.

Though the discussion inside the auditorium was focused on bringing new business to the state, the group of protestors said they targeted the event because Bergstein would be present.

“It’s an opportunity to let her know how we feel,” said Lindy Urso, a Cos Cobb resident.

Greenwich resident Hillary Gunn said she didn’t come for the discussion on economic growth. She came to let her opposition to tolls be known.

“I came here because I don’t think it’s fair to put another tax on Connecticut families through tolls,” she said. “I think that Alex is the one herself who introduced the bill is ridiculous. We don’t all have deep pockets like her.”

As Bergstein began the discussion with Nooyi, she implored the audience to listen.

“Let’s all be civil to each other, regardless of our views,” she said.

As the talk started, the packed audience didn’t appear to include any protestors.

Toll opponents also attended similar Bergstein evens in Stamford and New Canaan this week.

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 Stamford 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,” she said.

A state panel reported two years ago that Connecticut drivers spend $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 bring about $950 million a year to the state’s coffers, with the possibility that about 40 percent of that could come from out-of-state motorists. The money raised could be used on long-delayed transportation projects that could ease congestion.

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