New tolls plan may not change many drivers’ opinions

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HARTFORD -

There will not be a vote on highway tolls this legislative session.

Gov. Ned Lamont said they will wait for a special session to vote later this summer, possibly in August.

Late Tuesday afternoon, Lamont released his full draft plan. Frequent Connecticut E-ZPass customers would pay 4.4 cents a mile for peak rates and 3.5 cents during off-peak hours. Those rates include discounts for in-state drivers and frequent commuters. Frequent commuters are drivers who pass under a toll reader at least 20 times a month.

Toll backers believe out-of-state drivers would pay the full rate, which would be about 9 cents a mile.

Rates would also be frozen for three years. A new bipartisan commission would approve any increases. It also guarantees the money will go to specific projects like the Route 7-Merritt Parkway interchange in Norwalk, the Heroes Tunnel in New Haven and a new mixmaster in Waterbury.

Some driver say those guarantees don't change their opinion on tolls.

"Our taxes are mismanaged as they are," says Stamford resident Margaret Anderson. "And I just think adding more income to that bucket is not fixing the problem."

Rates would also be frozen for three years. A new bipartisan commission would approve any increases.

Lamont said Tuesday he wants to give lawmakers more time to digest all of the details of what they're voting on.

"If they want a little more time, I'll get Joe Giulietti there -- he's DOT,” said Gov. Lamont.  “We'll get anybody they need to answer every question, so people who say, 'I can't vote because I don't know enough.  They'll know everything."

The governor did not say when he might call a special session.

Instead of tolls, Republicans want to borrow money over the next 30 years in a plan called “Prioritize Progress.”  Tuesday, a nonpartisan analysis said their plan would cost $35 billion over that time.

 What's in the plan:

  • Peak rates set at 4.4 cents a mile (+/- 30% to satisfy feds). Rates would be frozen for three years
  • New bipartisan Connecticut Transportation Commission must approve all rates increase (but no approval needed from full legislature)
  • "Discounts or credits" for in-state E-ZPass holders and frequent commuters – Discounts aren't defined (Gov. Lamont has promised up to half off)
  • "Discounts" for low-income drivers (defined as those making 125% of poverty level) – Discounts aren't defined.
  •  Drivers could use cash to refill their E-ZPass accounts
  • Gas tax cut 1 cent/year for five years
  • Non-payment violations would be up to $25 for first offense, $50 for second, $100 for third

Where would money go?

  • Bill requires toll money to be spent on specific projects, including the U.S. 7/ Route 15 interchange in Norwalk and the Waterbury Mixmaster
  • After that, state DOT must submit five-year plans to the bipartisan Connecticut Transportation Commission, which has 30 days to approve or reject
  • Toll money must go into new "Transportation Priority Projects" account within Special Transportation Fund
  • DOT directed to use non-toll funds to extend Metro-North service to New Milford, add service on Waterbury Branch, add make improvements to Stamford, Stratford and New Canaan train stations

RELATED STORIES:
CT House speaker: Special session may be needed for toll vote
Gov. Lamont continues push to bring tolls to CT
Gov. Lamont says new plan for tolls ‘ready to go’
No Tolls CT to deliver 100K-signature petition to Gov. Lamont's office 

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