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Lamont officially unveils his retooled transportation plan

Gov. Ned Lamont officially unveiled his latest transportation improvement plan Thursday, expressing a willingness to compromise, but noting an urgency to finally address Connecticut’s long-standing transportation challenges.

The Democrat acknowledged his earlier proposal, which included dozens of tolls on highways throughout the state, was a “bridge too far” for many state lawmakers. Lamont said this new, scaled-back initiative relies on revenue from 14 tolls on a list of named bridges and overpasses, coupled with low-cost borrowing from the federal government and other borrowing. It attempts to target major traffic chokepoints across the state, helping to speed up commutes, both on the highways and rail lines.

Brookfield US 202 improvements are planned.  The total estimated cost is $7.1 Million.  Lamont says the commuter benefits include improvements to intersections reduce the number of crashes, as this is one of the highest frequency crash locations in Connecticut.  This section along Federal Road in Brookfield is notorious for crashes and traffic delays. An improved intersection and upgrades to the signal structure will lead to less traffic and fewer crashes, making it easier for drivers to access the various shopping and restaurant options on this stretch of road.

The plan calls for reconstruction of the Rochambeau Bridge over the Housatonic River in Newtown on I-84.  The total estimated project cost is $70 Million to $110 Million.  Lamont says this project is one of the essential elements to make sure CT2030 not only provides a prosperous future, but a safe one for Connecticut drivers. The reconstruction of this Newtown crossing will make driving safer and even more manageable during the winter months with an upgraded structure and repaved surface.

Improvements to ease access to local roads is planned in Southbury at Exit 14.  The total estimated cost is $5-7 Million.  Commuter benefits include exit upgrades rebuild the ramp, improving access to local roads, relieving congestion from both the highway and locally.  Lamont says this is yet another exit on a Connecticut interstate highway that was not designed with modern traffic in mind. When drivers come off the ramp, there is an abrupt stop at the end, which leads to headaches for both interstate and local drivers. Improvements to the exit structure will lead to better flows of traffic on and off the highway, decreasing delays on local roads in Southbury.

A controversial part of the proposal is the I-684, Bridge over Byram River in Greenwich.  The total estimated cost is $12.9 Million.  There are bridges across Connecticut that have not seen upgrades or renovations in decades and CT2030 addresses that issue head-on. This bridge on I-684 is maintained by CTDOT and is in need of State of Good Repair improvements. Improving this bridge will make traveling through Connecticut on this busy highway safer for all drivers.

Plans call for 132 New Rail Cars, 30 Locomotives for New Haven Line, Waterbury & Danbury Lines, Shore Line East, Hartford Line.  On the Danbury and Waterbury branch lines, new signaling systems, new cars, and new dual-power locomotives that can run on diesel and electric tracks will allow for more frequent service and for more convenient trains that provide direct service to Stamford and New York City.  The proposal also outlines digital fare collections and new kiosks.  Connectivity with a new CTtransit app allows customers to use the app to pay fares, and they have access to new kiosks on Shoreline East. This app provides connectivity across the CT Transit services.

New fare system investments in coordination with Metro-North Railroad that will better integrate mobile ticketing and fare kiosks with existing CTtransit & CTrail fare systems. Also Shore Line East will see new ticket machine kiosks on platforms in addition to a new mobile phone app.

It’s a new approach Lamont hopes will finally lead to a compromise with Democrats and Republicans in the Democratic-controlled General Assembly on transportation.

“As long as the numbers add up and they’re real, I’m willing to listen,” said Lamont, when asked if he’d agree to make changes. “Right now, there’s no other plan on the table. This is a plan that adds up and fixes the problems in front of us. If they have another idea, it’s time to bring it forward.”

Lamont is billing his new CT2030 plan, which he urged taxpayers to review online , as a “realistic” and “fiscally responsible” effort to reduce congestion, make travel faster, more convenient and reliable, while ultimately improving the state’s economy. It calls for investing $14 billion in Connecticut’s roads and bridges and $7 billion in public transportation, including airports, ports, and bus and rail service. There are two categories of projects: new enhancements, and preservation and maintenance projects. The whole package will require legislative approval. It remains unclear when, or if lawmakers might consider the proposal.

Representatives from both organized labor and business on Thursday urged legislators to support Lamont’s latest effort.

“Fixing our infrastructure is not a partisan issue,” said Sal Luciano, president of the Connecticut AFL-CIO labor organization. “That’s why labor is standing with the governor and the business community today to call upon the legislature to summon the political courage to get this done.”

H. Darrell Harvey, co-chief executive officer of The Ashforth Co., a Stamford-based real estate firm, said Lamont’s plan aligns with what needs to be done to retain and attract business in Connecticut and help the state’s workforce move easily around the state.

“This is the infrastructure of the state. We’re way behind the rest of the country. We’re way behind the rest of the world,” he said. “Let’s play politics on stuff besides our foundation of our state, the infrastructure of our state.”

Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said he appreciated the hard work and thoughtfulness that went into Lamont’s plan. But he said he still has “serious concerns” about tolls, which Lamont said would be in place for the length of the state’s loan for each of the 14 projects.

“Republicans agree with Governor Lamont that we need to invest in transportation to support economic success and encourage job growth,” Fasano said. “But where we have always differed is how to pay for it.”

Fasano said tolls “remain very problematic” for him and his fellow Senate Republicans. They also remain problematic for anti-toll activists, some of whom attended Lamont’s announcement on Thursday, and the trucking industry. Joe Sculley, president of the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut, said his group remains opposed to tolling existing highways, whether that means current highway lanes as first proposed or on specific bridges.

“As the trucking industry already pays the diesel tax, the Petroleum Gross Receipts Tax, and vehicle registration fees, tolls would be a fourth tax for the privilege of using what we have already paid for,” he said.

The base rate for tolls would range from 50 cents to $1 for passenger vehicles and $3.50 to $7 for heavy trucks, before discounts are applied. Some of the bridges proposed for tolls include the Gold Star Bridge that stretches over the Thames River from New London to Groton; the so-called “mixmaster” in Waterbury; and the Routes 15 and 17 interchange in Norwalk.

Lamont’s plan also proposes Connecticut partner with private companies to develop high-speed ferry service from Stamford to lower Manhattan; sets in motion a possible fully functioning airport in south-central Connecticut; calls for track improvements and new stations along the Hartford Line; and includes funding for new commuter rail cars and public busses.

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