La­mont tran­sit plan makes Metro­North com­mit­ment

The Register Citizen (Torrington, CT) - - FRONT PAGE - By Ken Dixon

HART­FORD — Gov. Ned La­mont’s fourth at­tempt at per­suad­ing Con­necti­cut to adopt high­way tolls won bi­par­ti­san com­pli­ments on Thurs­day for its com­pre­hen­sive look at the potential for fu­ture high­way, rail, bus and air travel to fos­ter eco­nomic growth.

But he ad­mit­ted that the 10­year, $20 bil­lion plan hasn’t yet moved any Repub­li­cans to join him. And while La­mont would like the Gen­eral As­sem­bly to con­sider the plan in a spe­cial leg­isla­tive ses­sion be­fore the end of the year, the political re­al­ity is that it will likely enter the leg­isla­tive pro­cess in Fe­bru­ary, when the House and Se­nate kick off their reg­u­lar ses­sion.

La­mont con­ceded Thurs­day that he has weeks to sell the state on the lat­est it­er­a­tion of a tran­sit plan that be­gan dur­ing his cam­paign for gov­er­nor when he pro­posed trucks­only tolls. Af­ter his Jan­uary in­au­gu­ra­tion, he piv­oted to sup­port as many as 80 tolls for all

ve­hi­cles, then re­duced the num­ber down to 50 tolls later in the leg­isla­tive ses­sion.

The new plan pro­poses 14 strate­gi­cally placed toll lo­ca­tions on or near state bridges, with ded­i­cated rev­enue streams to sup­port re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion work on each span. La­mont’s of­fer­ing to sweeten the pot, by of­fer­ing 5 per­cent of rev­enues flow­ing to the com­mu­ni­ties that host the high­way tolls.

The mas­sive trans­porta­tion pro­gram in­cludes $5 bil­lion in ma­jor up­grades to the Metro­North Commuter Rail­road, in­clud­ing a new, first­time di­rect con­nec­tion from the Dan­bury and Water­bury branch lines to Grand Cen­tral Ter­mi­nal in New York.

The im­prove­ments to the Water­bury line would al­low two­way train traf­fic rather than the cur­rent oneway shut­tle from Water­bury to Bridge­port and back again. Pas­sen­gers on both the Dan­bury and Water­bury lines would no longer have to change cars to get to Grand Cen­tral.

In­cluded in the plan are 132 new rail cars and 30 dual­power lo­co­mo­tives for Metro­North, whose 40 mil­lion an­nual pas­sen­ger trips makes it the busiest train line in the coun­try. Over­all, the goal would be to shave as much as 15 min­utes off the cur­rent train trips to New York.

The tolls would be along In­ter­state 84 in New­town, Water­bury and West Hart­ford; on the Mer­ritt Park­way in Nor­walk; on I­91 near the Char­ter Oak Bridge in Hart­ford; along I­95 in Stam­ford, West­port, West Haven, East Lyme and New Lon­don; I­395 in Plain­field; I­684 in Green­wich on a stretch of road used mostly by New York­ers; Route 8 in Water­bury; and Route 9 in Mid­dle­town.

Toll prices would range from 50 cents to a dol­lar, with state res­i­dents en­joy­ing 20 per­cent dis­counts sim­i­lar to the rates that res­i­dents of nearby states get for their high­way tolls.

Un­der the pro­posal, com­muters would not pay for more for than one round­trip per day, per toll lo­ca­tion. La­mont told re­porters that there were no plans for con­ges­tion pric­ing that would charge com­muters more for morn­ing and af­ter­noon rush hours.

Plans for im­prove­ments to TweedNew Haven Air­port in East Haven and Siko­rsky Me­mo­rial Air­port in Strat­ford are up in the air in the plan, and are to be de­ter­mined. Both fa­cil­i­ties face ma­jor ob­sta­cles if run­ways are to be ex­panded, be­cause neigh­bors op­pose larger planes.

The plan also an­tic­i­pates even­tual de­vel­op­ment of the state’s ma­jor ports, from Stam­ford, which is not con­trolled by the state, to Bridge­port, New Haven and New Lon­don, which has been the cen­ter of La­mont’s hopes to sup­port wind­power projects tar­geted for the At­lantic Ocean 40 to 60 miles out to sea.

Dur­ing a mid­af­ter­noon news con­fer­ence in a down­town Hart­ford busi­ness cen­ter, La­mont con­ceded that that he would push for the tolls even if Con­necti­cut loses el­i­gi­bil­ity for some fed­eral sup­port, be­cause the state’s ded­i­cated fund for tran­sit im­prove­ments will be­come in­sol­vent over the next sev­eral years due to de­clin­ing sales­tax rev­enues on gas sales.

La­mont said the state’s trans­porta­tion sys­tem, with 65­year­old high­ways and 100­year­old rail­road bridges, are be­ing over­stressed.

“The prob­lem re­ally is we have some se­vere choke points that were built into the de­sign of these high­ways many years ago,” La­mont said, un­der­scor­ing the need for a rev­enue stream sup­ported in part by out­of­s­tate traf­fic. “And if we fix these choke points we can dra­mat­i­cally im­prove com­mut­ing times.”

La­mont was joined by union lead­ers, busi­ness ex­ec­u­tives and mem­bers of his ad­min­is­tra­tion in­clud­ing, DOT Com­mis­sioner Joseph Gi­uli­etti, who stressed that state buses carry another 40 mil­lion pas­sen­gers a year. The new tran­sit plan in­cludes re­vi­sions to the bus op­er­a­tions along Route 1 from Stam­ford to Bridge­port.

“It’s time that vis­i­tors to our great state of Con­necti­cut pay their fair share,” said David Roche, pres­i­dent of the State Build­ing and Con­struc­tion Trades Coun­cil, es­ti­mat­ing that La­mont’s plan could cre­ate 26,000 jobs a year.

“Let’s play pol­i­tics with some­thing else be­sides the foun­da­tion of our state,” said H. Dar­rell Har­vey, co­CEO and prin­ci­pal of The Ash­ford Com­pany, a Stam­ford real es­tate con­cern, who says that the econ­omy is fal­ter­ing be­cause peo­ple can­not eas­ily get to work, so they be­come frus­trated and leave their jobs.

Joseph McGee, vice pres­i­dent of the Busi­ness Coun­cil of Fair­field County and a for­mer state eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment com­mis­sioner, said that La­mont’s new plan is wor­thy of sup­port.

“Stand­ing here, I just had a thought,” McGee said to a crowd of 100 in a busi­ness in­cu­ba­tor off Park Street. “You’ve got la­bor, you’ve got busi­ness and you have the gov­er­nor all aligned. This is a big deal. This is about our eco­nomic fu­ture.”

The new web­site for CT2030 went on­line Thurs­day morn­ing, around the time that La­mont’s staff briefed Se­nate majority Democrats in the State Capi­tol. The web­site in­cludes in­ter­ac­tive maps that briefly ex­plain a va­ri­ety of pro­pos­als.

“No com­pany should be less pro­duc­tive as a re­sult of traf­fic jams or slow trains and buses,” La­mont said on the new web­site. “No par­ent should be late to pick their child up from school be­cause of a traf­fic sig­nal in the mid­dle of a busy high­way, or a pre­ventable de­lay at a bridge or exit. Our state has the op­por­tu­nity to­day to make the in­vest­ments and de­ci­sions that will pay off for our chil­dren to­mor­row.”

House Mi­nor­ity Leader Themis Klar­ides, R­Derby, and Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Len Fasano, R­North Haven, both praised La­mont’s vi­sion and the de­tails, but backed away from sup­port­ing any type of tolls. Fasano said GOP sen­a­tors are de­vel­op­ing their own pro­posal, which will not in­clude new fees.

Klar­ides sug­gested a much smaller plan of about half the scope of the $20 bil­lion.

La­mont said he’s will­ing to lis­ten to other plans.

Joe Scul­ley, who as pres­i­dent of the Mo­tor Trans­port As­so­ci­a­tion of Con­necti­cut rep­re­sents state truck­ers, said af­ter La­mont’s an­nounce­ment that his group still op­poses tolls.

“MTAC re­mains op­posed to tolling ex­ist­ing high­way ca­pac­ity, whether that means cur­rent high­way lanes, or spe­cific bridges,” he said. “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.”

Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia file photo

Com­muters wait on the plat­form as a Metro­North train ar­rives at the Stam­ford train sta­tion on Oct. 23, 2018.

Chris­tian Abra­ham / Hearst Con­necti­cut Me­dia

A train passes through at the Fair­field Metro sta­tion.

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