Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont’s plan to impose tolls on motorists using I-684 where the highway through Westchester crosses a sliver of Greenwich, Connecticut, hit a few potholes within days of being announced.
Officials called the plan “a money grab” and “an unacceptable burden” and vowed to push back, while some on an I-684 Facebook page used even more colorful language.
The toll proposal was contained in Lamont’s CT2030 transportation plan that was released on Nov. 7. The plan calls for $14 billion in funding for roads and bridges along with $7 billion for public transportation. Lamont proposes collecting about 40% of the money via 14 electronic toll stations. Five of the toll gantries would be placed along I-95 with three more set up on I-84. Motorists who have a Connecticut E-Z Pass would pay the least with the lowest fee currently proposed at 50 cents. Heavy trucks would pay up to $7. Motorists without a Connecticut E-Z Pass would likely pay 80 cents or $1 for passenger cars.
Lamont said the toll locations were selected so they would be close to the highway bridges that would see repairs and upgrades made using the toll money. A bridge over the Byram River on I-684 needs repairs and the I-684 toll would be collected in the bridge’s proximity at a section of the highway north of the Westchester County Airport. There are no exits or entrances on the section of the road that’s in Connecticut.
New York state Assemblyman David Buchwald told the Business Journal, “The Connecticut governor’s proposal is an outrageous money grab. The attempt to justify the toll by saying that it will fund repairs on Connecticut’s stretch of I-684 is just a smoke screen as only about 0.8% of the funds raised by the proposed set of 14 tolls around the state will go toward I-684 repairs.”
Buchwald noted that I-684 is a major route that helps define his Assembly district and many of his constituents depend on it for commuting.
“This strikes me as an attempt to take money out of the pockets of New Yorkers and fund Connecticut’s needs,” he said. “I don’t want to go down the road of New York having to find out how we can extract every penny from Connecticut’s drivers. That doesn’t yield a good result for anyone.”
According to the New York state Department of Transportation, I-684 handles between 65,000 and 89,000 cars a day, depending on the time of year, weather and other travel conditions.
State Sen. Shelley Mayer immediately wrote a letter to Gov. Lamont objecting to his plan.
“I don’t believe any of us in elective office who serve that community were given advance notice. I certainly wasn’t,” she told the Business Journal. “I’m not in a conciliatory mood. My view is that it is an unacceptable tax on New York residents. It really is unacceptable. That’s what the tone of my letter is. He really should withdraw this part of the proposal.”
Mayer said she will be reaching out to other elected officials in Albany and also to the New York State Department of Transportation to push back on Lamont’s plan.
“I want to make sure we can pool our resources,” Mayer said.
She explained that she uses I-684 regularly when visiting various parts of her district and considers it a vital link.
“I spent 18 months since I got elected originally fighting for I-684 in the Bedford area to finally be repaved after 17 years,” she said.
She added that she worked with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s office and others to get the repaving money allocated.
“They’re working on the road,” she said. “I’m very familiar with the challenges of I-684 and this is just a very unacceptable way to make a change and impose a toll.”
In discussing highway improvements, Buchwald noted, “One of the ironies is that there recently was put together an I-84 and I-684 consortium led by the New York State Department of Transportation with the Connecticut Department of Transportation as a participating stakeholder to try to envision what the long-term future of I-684 is. This toll proposal flies in the face of that collaborative approach.”
Bedford Town Supervisor Chris Burdick has objected to the proposal and said he expects to form a coalition with other Westchester County political leaders to oppose it.
On a Facebook page dealing with I-684, someone suggested that New York could retaliate by putting up a toll of its own at the I-684 exit ramp feeding into I-84 going toward Danbury. Another person suggested Connecticut motorists should be forced to pay a surcharge when they park at a Metro-North Railroad station. Another commenter suggested it would be worth the extra time to take smaller, slower back roads just to avoid paying tolls to Connecticut, although the suggestion used much stronger language.
Another Facebook commenter pointed out that he had never seen a Connecticut state trooper on that section of I-684. New York’s police are responsible for patrolling the road with Connecticut to be called in to investigate in the event of a serious accident on the section that runs through Greenwich. New York handles routine maintenance such as snow removal with Connecticut reimbursing New York for costs involved.
William M. Mooney Jr., president and CEO of the Westchester County Association, said he was “absolutely stunned” by Lamont’s toll proposal.
“It is so ludicrous,” Mooney said. “It seems grossly unfair to New York residents and employers and employees and I find it hard to understand why they’re doing something like this.”
John Ravitz, executive vice president and COO of The Business Council of Westchester, told the Business Journal, “We’ve seen what happens when state government imposes these types of taxes and fees and the message that it sends to businesses. It’s the wrong message to send.”
Ravitz said based on what he observed during his 12 years in the state Assembly and 30 years in government he was confident that Lamont and Cuomo will be having discussions on the matter.
“It’s very rare that you don’t have coordinated efforts between two executives before something is made public,” he said. “It doesn’t sound like Gov. Lamont did the groundwork before he made this announcement,” Ravitz said.
Staff writers Kevin Zimmerman and Glenn J. Kalinoski contributed to this report.