By: Joseph Oliveri
DANBURY—Three Bills in support of Governor Ned Lamont’s plan to install new 83 new tolls throughout Connecticut passed the Department of Transportation committee Wednesday and will go before the General Assembly. Leading up to the vote Protestors against the plan gathered on the corner of White and Wildman Street in Danbury on Saturday, March 9.
According to their Facebook page, protest organizers No Tolls CT is a “grassroots movement committed to stopping tolls from coming to our state.” The group’s website includes a petition with over 100,000 signatures and demands that Lamont “veto and the Connecticut General Assembly vote no on any, and all, proposed legislation to implement tolls in the State of Connecticut.”
Former State House candidate Veasna Roeun told The Echo that he is confident the petition, which will be presented to the state legislature, will reach a million signatures.
“We believe we are going to stop these tolls, especially with the amount of support that we have,” Roeun said at the Danbury protest.
No Tolls CT held their first protest on February 23rd, in Stamford, which was attended by Lamont’s former opponent, Bob Stefanowski. On Monday, March 4th, the city’s Board of Representatives voted 26 to 9 to adopt a resolution to oppose the toll measure. Similar resolutions have passed in Trumbull, Enville, Sherman, and Montville, and Saturday’s protest took place directly after one that morning in Waterbury.
“You’re going to find every resolution from these towns from here forward are really symbolic, but it does send a message. It sends a very strong message about what the folks in these towns want or don’t want,” Roeun added.
He said the group, like most Republican opponents of the bills, already believe available transportation funds are not being used responsibly, so the tolls are not necessary.
“We absolutely believe we need funding for the roads, but that’s not the issue,” he said.
WCSU student Elijah Riley said, “I do a lot of commuting. That’s going to hurt my textbook money, my grocery money. It hurts the little it could send students like us running from Connecticut.”
Outlined in Governor’s Bill No. 7202, which the DOT approved Wednesday, the Lamont administration’s plan has its eyes set on interstates 84, 91, and Merritt Parkway. In addition to the construction of tolling gantries themselves, the bill would also allow the Department of Transportation to “procure, maintain, and expend funds,” for necessities including “technical, traffic, revenue and financial consultants, attorneys and 27 other consultants and experts.”
The prospective plan, which will include 53 new gantries, is projected to raise up to $950 million in net revenue by 2023, according to a state DOT study from November. That month, voters had cast ballots overwhelmingly in favor of lock-boxing transportation funds. Like No Tolls CT, critics say the resulting amendment to the state constitution does not immunize funds such as the gasoline tax from being appropriated for uses beyond transportation projects by the Transportation Authority the bill will create.
Originally, Lamont campaigned on a truck and tractor-trailers-only toll initiative, but the General Assembly will now have the option to make sure tolls collect from passenger cars as well, offering drivers with a CT E-ZPass at least a 30 percent discount. In an op-ed for The Connecticut Post from February 16th, Lamont said that the revenue would be used to fix the state’s transportation as part of his proposed “debt diet,” to avoid borrowing while trying to ameliorate Connecticut’s fiscal situation.
Lamont admitted to business leaders a week earlier “It’s not going to make me Mr. Popular.”
According to The CT Mirror, a “policy group composed of transportation advocates, planners, state and municipal leaders, labor officials” influenced the governor’s decision to extend the tolling all cars. No Tolls CT plans to protest in Stamford on Saturday March 30.