Positive momentum appears to be growing for highway tolls in Connecticut, as Gov. Ned Lamont and fellow Democrats made their case in front of an appreciative crowd at Westport’s Bedford Middle School on Sunday.
Meanwhile, a new Hartford Courant/Sacred Heart University poll shows growing public support for Lamont’s 10-year, $19 billion CT2030 plan, which includes tolls for tractor-trailers on 12 highway bridges around the state.
In the poll, conducted between Dec. 16 and Jan. 2, 47.5% of 1,000 respondents said they would support a truck-only tolling system, including 62.1% of Democrats and 38.8% of Republicans. Just 34.7% supported tolls in an SHU poll released last March, although at that time Lamont was seeking tolls for all vehicles at 50 gantries.
The latest poll reported that 55.7% of respondents said they disapproved of how the governor has handled the tolls issue. Nevertheless, it also found Lamont’s approval rating growing from 24.6% in May and 24.1% in September to 28.1%. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.02 percentage points.
In addition to Lamont, the Jan. 12 Westport event featured Department of Transportation Commissioner Joseph Giulietti, Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff of Norwalk, Transportation Committee Co-chair and state Sen. Carlo Leone of Stamford and Darien, state Rep. Lucy Dathan of New Canaan, and the forum’s co-hosts, state Sen. Will Haskell and state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg of Westport.
Lamont said that transportation legislation including tolls is now being drafted, with Duff saying that it could be ready in time for a special legislative session to be held sometime between now and the beginning of the regular session, which begins Feb. 5.
If passed – Democrats have cautiously said they believe they have the votes to do so, even in the face of widespread Republican opposition – the legislation would authorize the Department of Transportation to start raising 12 electronic tolling gantries; it would also prohibit the DOT from charging tolls on other vehicles. Estimated annual revenue of $170 million would begin being collected in 2023.
Meanwhile, Republican state. Sen. Tony Hwang, whose 28th District includes Westport, released a statement following the event blasting the Democrats’ efforts.
“I am always supportive of open discussion and debate, but today’s event was sadly never about that,” Hwang stated. “This meeting was never about listening to the people of Westport and the surrounding communities or getting all sides together for an open and honest conversation. It was about selling his idea and pushing his idea only to like-minded individuals.
“People don’t trust the Democrat administrations that have been in control of our state because far too many promises have been broken before,” he continued, stating that “we will one day wake up to tolls on everyone and many other unintended and wide-reaching implications if this bill passes as written.
“If we are to restore public trust,” Hwang stated, “we need a bipartisan commitment to fund transportation priorities and practical discipline in prioritizing our governmental budgeting and spending so we can create a sustainable infrastructure improvement program into the future. Unfortunately, lack of transparency surrounding the latest toll proposal and today’s event further hinders efforts to truly represent the best interest of all Connecticut residents.”