HARTFORD - Gov. Ned Lamont officially unveiled his latest transportation improvement plan Thursday, expressing a willingness to compromise, but noting an urgency to finally address Connecticut's long-standing transportation challenges.
The Democrat acknowledged his earlier proposal, which included dozens of tolls on highways throughout the state, was a “bridge too far” for many state lawmakers. Lamont said this new, scaled-back initiative relies on revenue from 14 tolls on a list of named bridges and overpasses, coupled with low-cost borrowing from the federal government and other borrowing. It attempts to target major traffic chokepoints across the state, helping to speed up commutes, both on the highways and rail lines.
It's a new approach Lamont hopes will finally lead to a compromise with Democrats and Republicans in the Democratic-controlled General Assembly on transportation.
“As long as the numbers add up and they're real, I'm willing to listen,” said Lamont, when asked if he'd agree to make changes. “Right now, there's no other plan on the table. This is a plan that adds up and fixes the problems in front of us. If they have another idea, it's time to bring it forward.”
Lamont is billing his new CT2030 plan, which he urged taxpayers to review online , as a "realistic" and "fiscally responsible" effort to reduce congestion, make travel faster, more convenient and reliable, while ultimately improving the state's economy. It calls for investing $14 billion in Connecticut's roads and bridges and $7 billion in public transportation, including airports, ports, and bus and rail service. There are two categories of projects: new enhancements, and preservation and maintenance projects. The whole package will require legislative approval. It remains unclear when, or if lawmakers might consider the proposal.
Representatives from both organized labor and business on Thursday urged legislators to support Lamont's latest effort.
“Fixing our infrastructure is not a partisan issue,” said Sal Luciano, president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO labor organization. “That's why labor is standing with the governor and the business community today to call upon the legislature to summon the political courage to get this done.”
H. Darrell Harvey, co-chief executive officer of The Ashforth Co., a Stamford-based real estate firm, said Lamont's plan aligns with what needs to be done to retain and attract business in Connecticut and help the state's workforce move easily around the state.
“This is the infrastructure of the state. We're way behind the rest of the country. We're way behind the rest of the world,” he said. “Let's play politics on stuff besides our foundation of our state, the infrastructure of our state.”
Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said he appreciated the hard work and thoughtfulness that went into Lamont's plan. But he said he still has “serious concerns” about tolls, which Lamont said would be in place for the length of the state's loan for each of the 14 projects.
“Republicans agree with Governor Lamont that we need to invest in transportation to support economic success and encourage job growth,” Fasano said. “But where we have always differed is how to pay for it.”
Fasano said tolls “remain very problematic” for him and his fellow Senate Republicans. They also remain problematic for anti-toll activists, some of whom attended Lamont's announcement on Thursday, and the trucking industry. Joe Sculley, president of the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut, said his group remains opposed to tolling existing highways, whether that means current highway lanes as first proposed or on specific bridges.
“As the trucking industry already pays the diesel tax, the Petroleum Gross Receipts Tax, and vehicle registration fees, tolls would be a fourth tax for the privilege of using what we have already paid for,” he said.
The base rate for tolls would range from 50 cents to $1 for passenger vehicles and $3.50 to $7 for heavy trucks, before discounts are applied. Some of the bridges proposed for tolls include the Gold Star Bridge that stretches over the Thames River from New London to Groton; the so-called “mixmaster” in Waterbury; and the Routes 15 and 17 interchange in Norwalk.
Lamont's plan also proposes Connecticut partner with private companies to develop high-speed ferry service from Stamford to lower Manhattan; sets in motion a possible fully functioning airport in south-central Connecticut; calls for track improvements and new stations along the Hartford Line; and includes funding for new commuter rail cars and public busses.