Westport state reps, selectman split on tolls

WESTPORT — State representatives are speaking out both in favor and against tolls after Gov. Ned Lamont offered two potential paths for instituting highway tolls in his budget proposal last week.

First-term state Sen. Will Haskell, D-26, campaigned on the implementation of tolls and said he’s sticking by his promise.

“People in my community are commuters and don’t understand why the train has gotten slower. They’re frustrated by crumbling transportation infrastructure and understand we can’t make improvements unless we have the funds we need,” Haskell said.

Lamont, too, has said tolls or all who drive through the state are the “best long-term solution,” for financing Connecticut’s transportation needs.

The toll plan should come with concessions, including a provision that says those who live within 10 miles of a toll don’t have to pay, Haskell said, adding residents who travel across state lines more than 40 times per month and those who have a Connecticut E-Z Pass should also receive a discount on tolls.

“There’s tremendous opposition to tolls because we live in the land of steady habits, but sometimes those habits are really bad,” Haskell said.

Fellow Democratic representative Jonathan Steinberg, D-136, also said he favors tolls and similar concessions as Haskell, but wants to see a more fleshed out toll plan.

Lamont presented one plan to toll both trucks and cars and another to toll only trucks. Steinberg said he doesn’t favor the latter because tolling only trucks is potentially unconstitutional and will not generate enough revenue to fix the state’s failing roads and bridges.

“So many interstate drivers drive through our state, but Connecticut taxpayers pay for infrastructure improvements, and we need more tools to support that. What we’re trying to do make sure it’s not all on Connecticut taxpayers,” Steinberg said.

The two other state representatives whose districts encompass parts of Westport expressed more lukewarm opinions about the reinstitution of tolls.

“If natural market forces cause the gas tax to disappear over time, then I’m willing to consider them, but right now I don’t think we need them. Even if I did, we don’t have enough detail and I wouldn’t vote for it without more detail,” said state Rep. Gail Lavielle, R-143.

The gas tax currently helps funds transportation infrastructure improvements and may decline in the future due to the rise of fuel efficient cars, Lavielle said, adding evidence of declining gast tax revenue is not clear enough to necessitate tolls to substitute for gast tax revenue.

State Sen. Tony Hwang, R-28, said tolls wouldn’t be an immediate “panacea to our transportation ills.” When asked about solutions, said he was open to exploring public private partnerships and a prioritization of transportation projects through the Legislature.

Although he does not have a vote in the Legislature, Westport First Selectman Jim Marpe said he’s concerned tolls may may aggravate traffic in town if people choose to use local Westport roads to avoid highway tolls. Marpe said he’s also worried about the impact of tolls on people who commute into Westport to work from out of state.

“I’m as much an advocate to fix our transportation system as anyone and recognize this will take billions of dollars,” Marpe said, adding he’s in favor of tolling trucks, but wants to see the state reduce costs through pension reform to free up money for transportation fixes.

“It isn’t enough to keep raising money. I think we need to save money as well and direct it toward important transportation infrastructure investments,” Marpe said.

Includes reporting by Humberto J Rocha

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