Light turnout for highway toll hearing

Excerpt from CT Post article:

A public hearing Monday on placing electronic tolls on state highways drew little interest — a possible indicator few believe tolls can pass the General Assembly.

Only a handful of supporters and opponents offered testimony on a bill before the finance, revenue and bonding committee that would place tolls on state highways and allow the state to obtain loans from the federal government for transportation projects.

The light turnout contrasted with the dozens of state residents, lawmakers and experts who testified for and against tolls during a February hearing before the Legislature’s Transportation Committee.

State Sen. John Fonfara, D-Hartford, complained the state Department of Transportation did not send a representative to speak to the committee.

“I am disappointed there is no one signed up to speak for DOT,” Fonfara said. “This is a significant piece of legislation.”

DOT Commissioner James Redeker did submit written testimony, but he took no position on the controversial issue of electronic tolls, which scan license plates and send the registered owner a bill.

Instead, Redeker spoke in favor of obtaining loans from the federal government.

“This will provide the state with added options in implementing a robust capital program, including more flexible repayment terms and potentially more favorable interest rates,” Redeker said.

Ben Barnes, Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s budget chief, also submitted testimony supporting federal loans.

“These two financing tools will provide greater flexibility for financing large scale transportation projects and will reduce the state’s reliance on the current bond program,” Barnes said.

Others portrayed tolls as either a necessary evil to fund billions in much needed transportation improvements or an unnecessary tax residents don’t want.

“I agree the Special Transportation Fund is running out of funds and federal funds are coming up short,” said State Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-Wilton.“But there are reasons for not having [tolls], and I hear that from my constituents.”

Joseph Sculley, president of the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut, said tolls are a bad idea.

“Charging tolls on our existing highways would be charging businesses and residents more money to sit in the same traffic congestion,” said Sculley, who represents truckers.

Read the full article from CT Post online.