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Lamont answers public's questions on tolls, transportation

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) — Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont was greeted by a mostly pro-tolls crowd Sunday during a forum about transportation, which comes as lawmakers inch closer to a possible vote on a plan that includes tolls on big trucks.

The Democrat told reporters Friday that he believed a tentative deal on a transportation funding bill could be reached soon, possibly over the weekend, with leaders of the Democratic controlled General Assembly.

“And we’ll be getting together with the leadership very early next week and hopefully bringing it to a vote,” Lamont said.

Lamont, Department of Transportation Commissioner Joseph Giulietti and state legislators appeared at Bedford Middle School in Westport for the town hall forum on transportation. About 400 people turned out, including many union members who have advocated for tolling.

“Labor knows these are thousands and thousands of good, recession-proof jobs,” Lamont told the crowd, the Hartford Courant reported.  Organized toll opponents mostly boycotted the event, campaigning instead for anti-toll candidates hoping to fill several open legislative seats.

Some in the crowd Sunday expressed concern that the proposed tolls on big rigs will eventually be extended to cars and smaller trucks. But state Sen. Will Haskell, D-Westport, said lawmakers are working on language that would prevent that from happening, the Courant reported.

“It is simply not allowed in the current toll proposal,” Haskell said.

A draft copy of the latest transportation proposal, obtained by the Hartford Courant, calls for installing electronic tolls for large tractor-trailers on a dozen Connecticut bridges along Interstates 84, 95, 395, 684, Route 8, as well as the Charter Oak Bridge in Hartford and the so-called Mixmaster in Waterbury.

Lamont and supportive lawmakers began to coalesce last month around the idea of only tolling trucks after previous plans to toll other vehicles, including passenger cars, faltered. It still remains uncertain whether a 10-year, $19.4 billion transportation plan that includes tolls as a way to generate part of the needed revenue can ultimately clear the legislature. The state would also pursue low-cost federal loans.

“We’re following Rhode Island’s example — the big tractor-trailer trucks — taking their law, a law that’s been in operation a couple of years,″ Lamont said Friday.

Members of the public at the forum were mostly in favor of Lamont’s latest plan for truck-only tolls on 12 bridges that span six highways across the state, the Hartofrd Courant reported.

Lamont and Democratic legislative leaders have said they want a vote held before the regular legislative session opens on Feb. 5.

Republican lawmakers, who represent the minority party in the General Assembly, have opposed any tolling on Connecticut’s highways and bridges, even if it’s limited to big rigs like in neighboring Rhode Island.

Tolls on trucks have been estimated to raise between $150 million to $200 million annually, figures questioned by the president of the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut.

“As recently as three days ago, legislative leaders admitted that they had out-of-date revenue estimates that were not valid anymore,” said Joseph Sculley on Friday. “Legislative leaders had not even decided what type of vehicles they wanted to toll until three days ago. Now all of the sudden, they claim to have a legitimate bill ready to be voted on next week. Nothing about this is legitimate.”

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Rich Valdes

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