Toll protests were a common sight at the state Capitol last spring. Ryan Caron King / Connecticut Public Radio
Gov. Ned Lamont’s tolling plan is in trouble.  I knew it last weekend when I got a call from Dan Malloy.
Jim Cameron

The former governor and I know each other going back to his days as mayor of Stamford, but he’s only called me once before (many years ago when he sought my endorsement in his run for a second term as governor).

This time he was calling about my recent column about the Transportation Strategy Board, the panel that 18 years ago was tasked with prioritizing our state’s transportation needs and how to pay for them.

It wasn’t my fawning over then-TSB Chairman Oz Griebel that prompted Malloy’s recent call, but instead my characterization of the “lock box” on the Special Transportation Fund as having, to quote one wag, “more back doors than a hot-sheets motel on the Berlin Turnpike.”  The Wag’s words, not mine.

“That comment was not helpful, Jim” said Malloy.  “We’re just trying to get this tolls idea across the finish line and your comments aren’t helping.”

That’s when I knew that the tolls plan is in real trouble. (Why is he calling me, of all people?)  Not that there weren’t earlier warning signs that trouble was brewing.

The first was Gov. Lamont’s somersaults on tolling from being in favor, then promising trucks-only tolling and finally settling (again) on tolling all vehicles.  Voters felt betrayed.

Then Lamont pulled millions in car sales taxes from the Special Transportation Fund, potentially bankrupting the transportation fund by 2022.

Those moves gave grassroots No-Tolls groups new-found fertile soil, picketing and tapping into the media’s love of controversy by offering up great photo ops.

Sure, the Republicans helped fan the flames with their so-called “information sessions” in local communities, providing a forum to attack Lamont and tolls while resurrecting their “Prioritize Progress” bonding plan, asking our grandkids to pay for the roads and rails we use today.

Then there were the “no tolls votes” in local communities, non-binding of course, but a clear indication of local sentiment.  Even Stamford’s Board of Reps voted against tolls.  Polling by Sacred Heart University, though perhaps poorly worded, showed 59 percent of respondents were against tolling.

But wait.  Where are the pro-toll voices?

Well, a coalition of Hartford lobbyists did try to organize an expensive campaign to support Lamont’s tolling vision, seeking money from construction companies and consultants who’d make a lot of money if tolls were approved.  But a reporter somehow got hold of their pitch book, detailing the campaign, and it now seems dead in the water.  Talk about “not helpful.”

Now, Gov. Lamont is on a Magical Misery Tour, holding press events at every crumbling bridge, viaduct and train platform in the state.  Against those backdrops he pitches the need for billions in funding achievable only, he says, through tolling.

In the last couple of months Metro-North has had two major power meltdowns as circuit breakers, transformers and sub-stations have failed, slowing trains and disrupting service.  Commuters take such crises in stride knowing full well they’re riding in shiny new railcars on a century-old railroad crumbling beneath them.

But people upstate could care less.  It’s not their problem, so why should they pay tolls or support mass transit?

Cynicism abounds that toll revenues would really be spent on transportation and not get diverted.  Nobody trusts Hartford.

Tolls, my friends, are in trouble.

Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media. Jim Cameron is founder of The Commuter Action Group, and a member of the Darien Representative Town Meeting.

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Jim Cameron is founder of the Commuter Action Group and advocates for Connecticut rail riders. He writes a weekly column called "Talking Transportation" for CT Mirror and other publications in the state. Read past Talking Transportation columns here. Contact Jim at the Commuter Action Group.

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  1. As someone who drives the entire North east for work. I can get behind tolls here in CT. I pay when i go to these other states. So do tolls but the following changes need to made if we as a state go this route. 1 law needs to be made where no gov or GA can take toll funds for the GF or penison debt .This law must make iron clad to used for road repairs only .Again no pie in the sky transportation projects like the bus to nowhere. Fix the roads the gov lamont stands in front of like the mixmaster and Hartford viaduct. What scares me is the above is going to happen and this is why i believe most people are against this. They will steal our added tax for what state above

  2. Wish I could agree with Mr. Cameron but tolls are coming. Don’t get me wrong. I adamantly oppose tolls.

    But this is simple math. According to published reports from across the political spectrum, the budget has a one-year deficit of $1.7 billion and a two-year deficit of $3.8 billion. The budget must be balanced. Where is this money going to come from?

    Raising income taxes was tried but did not bring in enough money as more people fled the state. Raising them more will have the same result. More casinos and taxing marijuana will put a small dent in this deficit. Adding more surcharges to things like prescription drugs, legal bills etc. will outrage a significant portion of the Democratic base.

    The only other option is to cut spending and this will never happen in a Democratic state. If fact, it hardly ever happens in a Republican state.

    Governor Lamont will do exactly what Weicker did in the early 1990s when he – like Lamont – mislead the voters in order to win. He will promise Democrats in marginal districts state jobs with fat pensions if they lose re-election by falling on the sword and voting to enact tolls. Such blatant corruption is normal in Connecticut politics.

    But this will be another nail in the coffin in our beautiful state as more people rush toward the exits. They can’t even sell houses in Greenwich!

    So it goes.

  3. I am not sure how you can say that the proposal for tolls is in trouble when anti-toll rallies around the state were so poorly attended this past weekend. There were less than 150 people at the State Capitol and fewer than 30 at one in Milford. If tolls were so hated by state residents, shouldn’t these have been attended by hundreds?

    1. Why waste your time when you know the that CT needs money and they don’t care where they get it. Do you remember the Income Tax and the thousands that turned out against it? What good did it do? None .

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