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14 Toll Gantries: Rates Would Range From 50 Cents To $7 Under Transportation Plan

14 Toll Gantries: Rates Would Range From 50 Cents To $7 Under Transportation Plan

Manhester Journal-Inquirer, November 7, 2019

By Eric Bedner

Gov. Ned Lamont’s comprehensive 10-year $21.1 billion transportation plan, which he was to release publicly today, relies on federal funding, existing state transportation dollars, and tolls beginning in 2023.

The plan, dubbed CT2030, aims to reduce congestion on the state’s most traveled roads, replace outdated rail lines, and expand air travel in the southern part of the state, while attempting to protect the rapidly depleting Special Transportation Fund.

According to a draft executive summary of the proposal, the plan “doesn’t promise the kitchen sink — it prioritizes and pays for the most vital improvements for Connecticut residents.”

Overall, the plan calls for $14.2 billion to be spent on roads and bridges and $7.1 billion on public transportation systems, including $6.2 billion on rail.

Of the total proposed spending on transportation over the next decade, about 10 percent of the revenue would come from tolls, Lamont spokesman Max Reiss said today.

If the plan comes to fruition, tolls would be collected through 14 electronic gantries, not toll booths. Fees would range from 50 cents to $1 for cars, $1.25 to $2.50 for medium-sized trucks, and $3.50 to $7 for heavy trucks.

Cars and trucks with a Connecticut-issued EZ-Pass transponder would receive a 20 percent discount off the base rate.

Within a 24-hour period, any vehicle with a transponder would not pay more than one round-trip fee per gantry, according to the Lamont administration’s draft plan.

All of the net revenues would go directly into the state’s transportation program to pay for the cost of repairing tolled bridges and to fund other transportation projects. The administration noted that federal law forbids toll revenue from being diverted for non-transportation purposes.

According to the Lamont administration, out-of-state motorists would pay for 38 percent of total toll revenue.

Overall, tolls make up about $300 million in revenue through Lamont’s plan, according to Reiss.

The tolls will be used, according to the Lamont administration, to prevent delaying construction on the state’s largest and most at-risk bridges.

Tolling also would assure the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Build America Bureau that Connecticut has a reliable source of revenue dedicated to transportation projects, according to the Lamont administration.

The U.S. Department of Transportation already provides to Connecticut $750 million in federal funds annually, which will be maintained, separate from any federal loans, under Lamont’s plan, which also relies on existing special transportation funding that comes from various sources such as the gas tax and a portion of car sales taxes.

To generate funding more quickly, Lamont’s plan also calls for 100 percent of car sales taxes to be deposited into the Special Transportation Fund by 2023.

Loans from the U.S Department of Transportation’s Build America Bureau must be supported by a reliable state revenue stream, such as tolls, and offer rates at about 2 percent for urban projects and less than 1 percent for rural projects.

“This plan is possible because we are taking advantage of significantly lower federal financing,” Reiss said.

The proposal also calls for bringing a fully functional regional airport with up to 25 daily flights to southern Connecticut by transforming either Tweed New Haven Airport in New Haven or Sikorsky Memorial Airport in Stratford into a regional airport.

New rail cars too back to top

Over the course of the 10-year plan, new rail cars and locomotives would be added, quick routes to Penn Station in New York City would be introduced, and partnerships with telecommunications companies would bring high-speed service to trains.

The Lamont administration said that commuters traveling roundtrip from New Haven and the New York border would save at least 20 minutes, and potentially more over time as Connecticut partners with New York to speed up travel times.

The plan calls for improvements to several area congestion points and potential safety hazards, including spending between $30 million and $35 million on improvements to the Dexter Coffin Bridge on Interstate 91 in Windsor Locks.

Windsor Locks also would see a transit link to the CTrail Hartford Line at a cost of about $100 million and a new rental car station at Bradley International Airport, which is expected to cost about $210 million.

It also would create simpler connections on routes 2, 3, and 17 in Glastonbury, at a cost of between $85 million and $100 million.

Some Democratic legislative leaders gave the proposal early, positive reviews Wednesday after receiving a closed-door briefing from the Democratic governor’s staff, the Associated Press reported.

“I think this a plan, in its original form, as it is now, that might need a little work,” House Speaker Joseph Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, told the Associated Press. “But it’s something I can entirely embrace.”

Unlike earlier transportation proposals, this plan focuses heavily on addressing the state’s worst traffic chokepoints, an idea welcomed by both Democrats and Republicans, the Associated Press reported. According to the summary, Connecticut has six of the nation’s 100 worst traffic bottlenecks.

“I think no question, commuters in the state of Connecticut complain the most about driving down the highway and all of a sudden you’re slamming on your brakes,” said Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, who credited Lamont with “focusing on the right issues.”

But Candelora told the Associated Press that Republicans question whether tolls are still needed to accomplish that goal.

“Now that we’re looking at a more realistic, scaled-back plan, we think that there could be ways to fund this program without adding a new revenue stream,” Candelora said.

The proposal is the culmination of work by the governor’s office, the Department of Transportation, and the Office of Policy and Management, along with others in state and federal government, according to the Lamont administration.

“This is a responsible and very forward-thinking transportation plan,” Reiss said.