More details of the trucks-only tolls concept being pushed by Gov. Ned Lamont and fellow state Democrats have been released, as the idea has potentially been dealt a blow by a federal appeals court ruling over a similar approach to tolling in Rhode Island.
However, Lamont said, he remained confident that Rhode Island – and, by extension, Connecticut – would ultimately allow trucks-only tolls.
On Friday, the governor released a revised $19.4 billion version of his CT2030 transportation plan, which calls for truck tolls on a dozen bridges. The cost would range from $1.25 per medium truck with an EZ Pass to $19.20 for a heavy truck without an EZ Pass.
The average one-way toll for a truck in Connecticut with an EZ Pass transponder would be $8, compared with $4.18 in Massachusetts, $5.31 in Rhode Island, $11.18 in New Jersey, $12.50 in Delaware, $21 in Maryland and $25.49 in New York.
Lamont maintains such a tolling approach could produce $187 million in net revenue annually, which would be used to finance $19.4 billion in transportation infrastructure improvements over the next decade.
Lamont has frequently invoked the Rhode Island approach as something that could work in Connecticut, both during his 2018 gubernatorial campaign and in the wake of state Democratic leaders saying they could not support CT2030’s original inclusion of tolls for all vehicles.
House Democrats later proposed a trucks-only option, which Lamont has embraced. State Republicans have continued with their vehement opposition to tolls of any kind.
Lamont and Connecticut Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano disagreed on what the Rhode Island ruling could mean here. That suit – filed by the American Trucking Association, Cumberland Farms Inc. and M&M Transport Services Inc. – maintains that the toll system launched there in June discriminates against out-of-state trucking companies and violates the commerce clause of the U.S. Constitution.
While initially rejected by the U.S. District Court of Rhode Island, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit ruled on Friday that the suit could proceed.
The trucks-only tolling system is part of Gov. Gina Raimondo’s RhodeWorks program, which promises to generate $4.7 billion to finance infrastructure projects. Despite the appeals court ruling, Raimondo expressed her belief that trucks-only tolls would ultimately triumph in her state.
But Fasano had a different reaction. “The (Rhode Island) court’s decision gives credence to the trucking industry’s challenge,” he said. “It ties up this issue in litigation for years to come, leaves doubt and uncertainty in the ability to toll only trucks, and creates significant economic risk for taxpayers.”
Lamont, however, called the federal circuit court decision in Rhode Island “merely a procedural ruling regarding whether this case should be heard in a federal or state court – nothing more. It did not decide on, or even address, the merits of the case.
“The ruling says nothing about the strength of the underlying legal challenge to trucks-only tolls,” he continued, “which far from being a burden on interstate commerce are a common sense way to benefit that commerce by asking the in- and out-of-state commercial trucks that do the most damage to our roads to pay their fair share of maintenance and congestion mitigation projects.
“Senator Fasano either misunderstands or is greatly exaggerating the court’s decision for political gain,” Lamont said. “This federal circuit court decision, which is not binding in Connecticut, has simply held that truckers may bring their meritless claims in federal court as well as state court.”