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The tolls bill: What’s in it and what’s not
Gov. Ned Lamont released his working draft transportation bill on Monday and a subject matter hearing is scheduled for Friday with a possible special session vote next week. So, what does the bill say and what doesn’t it say?
First, it’s important to note that this is a “working draft” bill, which means the language is not yet finalized.
Also, the costs associated with the bill and revenue estimates have not yet been released, which will give a better picture as how the system will work. Legislative leaders say they expect between $150 and $175 million per year in toll revenue from trucks, but the costs for construction of the gantries, contracts with toll operators and administrative costs have yet to be released for this plan and are based on estimates for Lamont’s previous CT2030 plan.
Here’s a run-down of what’s in the bill:
- Construction of twelve gantries: Allows the Connecticut Department of Transportation to construct twelve tolling gantries. Three on I-84, one on I-91/Route 15, five on I-95, one on 395, one on 684 and one on Route 8. CT DOT can enter into contracts with tolling companies like E-ZPass and apply for federal loans.
- Where the toll money goes: Toll revenue will be deposited into the Special Transportation Fund.
- Initial toll rates for trucks: The CT DOT will establish the initial base toll rate which will range from $6 to $13. Those rates increase by 50 percent if the truck does not have an electronic transponder.
- Creates the Transportation Policy Council: The largely un-elected council will be comprised of 13 appointees made by legislative leaders and the governor. It will include commissioners of the Department of Economic and Community Development, the Department of Housing and the Department of Energy and Environmental Protection or their appointees, the state treasurer or his appointee and the secretary of the Office of Policy and Management or her appointee. One of the governor’s appointees must represent labor unions.
- Legislature will not vote on toll rates: The Transportation Policy Council will have the ability to set toll rates based on either the rate of inflation or the construction cost index, whichever is greater.
- Deemed approved: The Transportation Policy Council will have the power to approve or reject the state’s five-year transportation plan and hold one annual public hearing on that plan. If the council does not vote on the plan within 30 days, it is “deemed approved.” The council can also approve or reject any transportation project, but if they do not vote on the project within 15 days it is also deemed approved.
- Emergency override: The plan guarantees that only truck-toll revenue will be used to pay bonds for the first two years of bond issuance and says the provisions cannot be altered until 2030 unless the governor declares an emergency or there are “extraordinary circumstances,” which would require three-fifths vote in each chamber of the General Assembly.
- Bond holder loophole: If bond holders can be guaranteed protection through a funding mechanism, the the bond covenant can be changed. This includes the guarantee that only truck-toll revenue will be used to pay bond holders. Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven, has said this provision leaves the door open for tolling cars because tolling all vehicles will bring in more money and offer bond holders added protection and points out that this was recently done by Lamont for teacher pension bond-holders.
- Project labor agreements: Construction projects will be completed using project labor agreements, which largely guarantee that labor unions will receive the bulk of the $19 billion in constructions projects as opposed to non-union construction firms, which comprise 85 percent of Connecticut’s construction industry.
- Limits on toll collection: Trucks would pay only one toll per bridge per day.
What’s not in the bill:
- A limit on the number of gantries: CT DOT can submit its five-year plan and how it will be funded, which is subject to approval by the transportation council. There is no explicit language in the bill saying that only twelve gantries will be maintained.
- What happens if Rhode Island loses its lawsuit: Trucking associations have filed suit against Rhode Island for their truck-only tolls. The case is now in federal court. If Rhode Island loses it could affect Connecticut’s tolling system. Presumably, this is covered by the “emergency” override by the governor or the bond holder loophole, but there is nothing explicit in the language addressing the issue. If Rhode Island loses the suit, cars could presumably be tolled in order to pay bond holders.
- Municipal sharing: Lamont’s original CT2030 plan included a provision to share toll revenue with municipalities in which there were toll gantries. There is no revenue sharing in this bill unless it is found that significant traffic is being diverted from the highway onto back roads.
- Guarantees the funds will be used for bridge and road maintenance: The toll revenue will be used to leverage federal loans which can then be used for any transportation projects. Lamont hopes to use the loans for public transportation projects.
- A cost analysis by the Office of Fiscal Analysis: The nonpartisan OFA examines bills that have a financial impact on the state and offers a cost analysis. This analysis is attached to the bill so lawmakers can examine any revenue impacts. This has yet to be released.
The bill is slated for a subject matter hearing on Friday where Lamont will make a presentation before the Transportation Committee. A possible vote may be held during a special session the following Monday or Tuesday
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