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CT Construction Digest Wednesday November 20, 2019

Letter to Governor Lamont from House Leadership
Dear Governor Lamont:
We appreciate your continued commitment to fixing Connecticut's transportation system. Our caucus feels strongly that we must make investments in our roads, bridges and trains to grow our economy, but that tolling cars is not the way forward.
We believe that truck-only tolls on 12 of the 14 bridges, as outlined in your comprehensive CT2030 transportation investment plan, offers the best alternative. We would not include Route 9 (little truck traffic) and the Wilbur Cross and Merritt Parkways (no truck traffic) for truck-only tolls.
Since trucks account for 80-percent of the damage to our roads and bridges and many come from out of state, we believe that truck-only tolls on select bridges, in a manner similar to what other states do, makes the best sense, are legal, and will provide Connecticut with the revenue stream needed to secure low interest federal transportation loans.
Time is of the essence. It would be irresponsible to miss this opportunity to secure federal funds at these incredibly low interest rates. Our truck-only bridge tolling plan could raise approximately $150 million annually per DOT, giving the state a solid revenue stream to help support the federal loans.
Tapping into federal funding will allow the state to focus on desperately needed improvements like reducing commute times in lower Fairfield County, improving the speed and reliability of commuter rail services to New York (including from the Naugatuck Valley and Shoreline East), and ensuring the state's bridges are safe for decades to come.
There is bipartisan agreement that our transportation infrastructure is in need of upgrading and modernizing, with the challenge remaining on agreeing how best to pay for it.
Though we appreciate Senate Republican leader Len Fasano's thoughtful revamped transportation plan, taking $1.6 billion from the state's "rainy da y" reserve fund is a non­ stmi er for our members.
Thank you for your consideration and for keeping this important issue as a priority. We look forward to discussing this approach in more detail with you soon.
Sincerely,


Joe Aresimowicz                                                              Matt Ritter

Speaker of the House                                                        House Majority Leader



Governor Lamont Statement on House Democrats' Transportation Proposal
(HARTFORD, CT) – Governor Ned Lamont released the following statement regarding the transportation proposal announced today by the House Democratic caucus:
“I am appreciative of House Democrats’ thoughtful contribution to the discussion about Connecticut’s economic future and the critical need for investment in our transportation system. A guiding principle of CT2030is a dedicated revenue stream, which in large part comes from out-of-state drivers. This proposal adheres to that basic principle, albeit to a lesser extent, but is a concept that the governor has explored in the past and one that should be considered among the other plans. Given this addition to the conversation, the plan from Senate Republicans presented last week, and a reported plan forthcoming from House Republicans, I am recommending that all caucuses be prepared to bring these proposals to a meeting in my office as soon as possible. Connecticut’s economic success is vital to our state’s future and this discussion should be had with all caucuses dedicated to creating a solution.”




Governor Lamont has proposed a 10-year transportation plan. Visit CT2030 

Senate Republicans have proposed a 10-year transportation plan as well.  Visit Fastr CT

The plans deliver the same projects over the next 10 years!  The plans would provide a faster commute, safer travel, jobs, and economic activity!
The Senate Democratic Caucus will not support Governor Lamont’s plan because they are nervous about voting for tolls.
The Senate Democrats are “taking a look” at the Senate Republican Plan.
The Senate Democrats have no plan!
Call the Senate Democratic Leadership!
Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney 860-240-0375
Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff 860-240-0414
Ask them…since they oppose Governor Lamont’s and "taking a look" at the Republican Plan…
What is their plan to fix Connecticut’s failing transportation systems?
 
New Democratic plan scraps cars and proposes truck-only tolls at 12 sites across Connecticut; Lamont wants all sides to meet soon

House Democratic leaders proposed a new compromise Tuesday that calls for installing electronic highway tolls for trucks only on 12 bridges across the state in the latest chapter in the long-running debate at the state Capitol.The move represents an alternative to Gov. Ned Lamont’s proposal for 14 tolled bridges where all drivers would be charged. Senate Democrats derailed that plan last week while Senate Republicans, who along with House Republicans remain opposed to tolls, released their own proposal that relied on dipping into the state’s rainy day fund to finance transportation repairs.House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz and House Majority Leader Matt Ritter are seeking tolls on 12 bridges that were outlined in Lamont’s plan. Two toll sites have been dropped — on Route 9 in Middletown and on the Merritt Parkway, where trucks are not permitted. Their proposal would raise an estimated $150 million per year, far less than the minimum amount needed to finance borrowing for the initiative.Additional money to support the compromise must still be identified to generate enough funding to pay off low-interest federal loans. Republicans have suggested using funds set aside in the state’s rainy day fund, but a Lamont spokesman said there is no agreement yet to use money from the rainy day fund.Legislators are working to cobble together the pieces of an overall compromise as lawmakers have repeatedly rejected the idea of tolls for passenger cars. Aresimowicz has been calling for tolls for years, saying it is unfair for Connecticut residents to pay tolls in other states when there is no reciprocal arrangement as out-of-state drivers cut through Connecticut without tolls. “Trucks do 80 percent of the damage to our roads and bridges, and many come from out of state,” Ritter said. “We believe that truck-only tolls on select bridges, in a manner similar to what other states do, are legal and will provide Connecticut with the revenue stream needed to secure low interest federal transportation loans.” Lamont campaigned last year on a proposal for tolls only on tractor-trailer trucks, but he dropped the idea after saying it would not raise enough money for needed transportation upgrades. Ritter rejected the idea the tolling trucks would pave the way to imposing tolls on all passenger cars. “I’m sick of people talking about camels and their noses and proverbial tents, or slippery slopes," Ritter said. “Tolling trucks has nothing to do with tolling cars — this is a completely separate issue. There is no tent. There is no slope. I want elected officials to answer this question: Is tolling trucks a good idea or a bad idea? Period.”In a statement, Lamont said the new proposal was a “thoughtful contribution” to the debate over how to fund transportation improvements, adding that a dedicated revenue stream is important to pay back the federal loans. He called for all sides to meet with him as soon as possible. "Given this addition to the conversation, the plan from Senate Republicans presented last week, and a reported plan forthcoming from House Republicans, I am recommending that all caucuses be prepared to bring these proposals to a meeting in my office as soon as possible,'' Lamont said. "Connecticut’s economic success is vital to our state’s future and this discussion should be had with all caucuses dedicated to creating a solution.” Senate President Pro Tem Martin Looney, a New Haven Democrat, said his caucus is studying different options and will review the House plan in depth. They are also expecting to receive additional alternatives from Lamont, he said. The state’s leading trucking association was strongly opposed to Lamont’s plan for 14 bridges - as well as previous plans. "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,'' said Joe Sculley, leader and chief lobbyist for the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut.  He added, "Needless to say, we’re still opposed when they’re talking about tolling just us.''Sculley and the conservative Yankee Institute both rejected Ritter’s assertion that the legal cloud has been removed regarding trucks."That’s exactly what we’re suing about in Rhode Island,'' Sculley said in an interview. "The 80 percent number [regarding road damage] is made up. There is no facts there. There’s no number.'' Instead of tolls, Sculley says that Connecticut needs to spend its current resources more wisely on transportation projects. Including diesel taxes and registration fees, the average 18-wheel trucks pays $17,000 in state and federal road taxes in Connecticut, Sculley said. Industry-wide, the Connecticut trucking industry pays $280 million per year in state and federal taxes, he said. Overall, the trucks pay 32 percent of the road taxes, even though they account for 5 percent of the vehicle miles traveled, he said. Because of all the taxes, Sculley disputed the idea that trucks travel through the state for free. “We agree with those who say that the I-84 Waterbury project was a success and that it should be replicated across the state,'' he said. "That project reduced highway congestion by reconfiguring part of the highway and adding new lanes, and it was done without tolls.”An advocacy group that opposes tolls, No Tolls Connecticut, said it remained opposed to any compromise on tolls."Gov. Lamont campaigned on truck-only tolls and then changed his mind and included all vehicles. There is little reason to think the same thing wouldn’t happen again if the state began to toll trucks,'' the group said in a statement. “With the flip of the switch, the average Connecticut driver could start having to pay tolls.”

Dems to Lamont: Scrap cars, toll trucks
Christine Stuart
HARTFORD, CT — House Democrats told Gov. Ned Lamont Tuesday that car tolls are off the table.
House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz and House Majority Leader asked Lamont to consider truck-only tolls on 12 of the 14 bridges that are part of the governor’s transportation plan.
House leadership would eliminate the tolls on Route 9 and the Wilbur Cross and Merritt Parkways.
“We appreciate Governor Lamont’s continued commitment to fixing Connecticut’s transportation system,” Aresimowicz said. “Our caucus feels strongly that we must make investments in our roads, bridges and trains to grow our economy, but that tolling cars is not the way forward.”Lamont had campaigned on truck-only tolls only to shift his position shortly after being sworn into office.
“A guiding principle of CT2030 is a dedicated revenue stream, which in large part comes from out-of-state drivers,” Lamont said in a statement. “This proposal adheres to that basic principle, albeit to a lesser extent, but is a concept that the governor has explored in the past and one that should be considered among the other plans.”
Lamont said he’s recommending that all caucuses be prepared to bring these proposals to a meeting in his office as soon as possible.
“Trucks do 80-percent of the damage to our roads and bridges and many come from out of state,” House Majority Leader Matt Ritter said. “We believe that truck-only tolls on select bridges, in a manner similar to what other states do, are legal and will provide Connecticut with the revenue stream needed to secure low interest federal transportation loans.”
Deputy House Minority Leader Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, said Connecticut residents “have heard the promise of trucks-only tolling once before, so I doubt frustrated taxpayers will view this proposal from a caucus that was fine with a 50-gantry plan as anything but a Trojan horse to install a full-blown tolling program throughout the state in the future.”
Aresimowicz and Ritter believe the new proposal for truck-only tolls avoids the potential legal peril that was faced by the governor’s original plan for truck-only tolls on the interstate highway system by placing truck-only tolls on select bridges. The tolls for trucks would be permanent under the Democratic plan and it would seek to prohibit car tolls in the future, Ritter said.
“I’m sick of people talking about camels and their noses and proverbial tents, or slippery slopes,” Ritter said. “Tolling trucks has nothing to do with tolling cars — this is a completely separate issue. There is no tent. There is no slope. I want elected officials to answer this question: Is tolling trucks a good idea or a bad idea — period.”
The tolls would be used as the revenue stream to access low-interest loans through the U.S. Department of Transportation’s Build America Bureau.
“Time is of the essence. It would be fiscal mismanagement to miss this opportunity to secure federal funds at these incredibly low rates. Rates change every day,” Aresimowicz said.
Under the proposal, truck-only tolling rates would be similar to rates in New York. The Connecticut Department of Transportation has estimated that truck-only tolls could raise approximately $150 million annually.
Aresimowicz and Ritter said the Senate Republican plan, which includes no tolls, is a non-starter for them because it would remove about $1.6 billion from the Rainy Day Fund.
“We have caucus-members who remember when the state raided the rainy day fund in 2007/08 to the tune of $1.4 billion,” Ritter said. “We have spent the last decade slowly rebuilding our reserves and our reputation on Wall Street.”
Fasano has maintained its not a raid on the Rainy Day Fund because the money, through budget constraints passed in 2017, would replenish the fund by 2024.
As for the truck-only proposal, “I appreciate that House Democrats want to be part of the conversation,” Fasano said. “However, Governor Lamont has already reviewed and abandoned this idea. I personally do not support tolls on trucks. I have always feared that tolls on trucks is the first step to eventually tolling cars, which is a tax increase people do not support.”
Last week, Senate Democrats told Lamont they were unable to support CT2023.
“We look forward to reviewing the House Democrats’ proposal in-depth,” Senate President Martin Looney, D-New Haven, said Tuesday. “Meanwhile, Senate Democrats are reviewing several different options, and we look forward to discussing all ideas with the governor and leaders from both parties. Also, since our caucus meeting with Governor Lamont last week, we have been awaiting his recommendations for additional alternatives.”
Joe Sculley, president of the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut, said his members already pay to use the roads.
“Connecticut has collected about $25 to $30 million annually from out-of-state trucks through the International Fuel Tax Agreement (IFTA), and the International Registration Program (IRP). Additionally, the trucking industry in Connecticut pays 32% of all road taxes owed by Connecticut motorists, even though the industry accounts for only 5% of vehicle miles traveled in the state.
“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,” Sculley has said.

House Democrats counter with trucks-only tolls
and
The House Democratic majority offered a transportation financing plan Tuesday that recycles a campaign proposal made and abandoned by Gov. Ned Lamont: Trucks-only tolls to be charged at a dozen bridges on interstate highways in Connecticut.
The concept was quickly welcomed by Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney, D-New Haven, whose unyielding opposition effectively killed Lamont’s broader proposal of charging tolls on all motor vehicles at 14 tolling gantries.
“Some members of our caucus would favor that,” Looney said, saying it keeps faith with a campaign promise Lamont made last year. “The original plan he ran on — the trucks-only — is the only voter-tested proposal that is out there.”
Lamont praised the House Democrats for reviving an approach that shares two of his goals: Finding a dedicated revenue source for his 10-year infrastructure plan, CT2030, that taps out-of-state drivers and can leverage low-cost federal financing.
“I am appreciative of House Democrats’ thoughtful contribution to the discussion about Connecticut’s economic future and the critical need for investment in our transportation system,” Lamont said. “A guiding principle of CT2030 is a dedicated revenue stream, which in large part comes from out-of-state drivers.”
House Speaker Joseph Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, and House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, say their plan would raise between $100 million and $150 million annually, less than half the $320 million Lamont wanted to raise from tolls on cars and trucks to finance CT2030.
Last week, the Senate Republican minority proposed using nearly two-thirds of the state’s budget reserves to pay down pension liabilities, producing an annual savings of $130 million that could be spent on transportation. Another $100 million would come from cutting annual borrowing for things such as capital spending on local schools and public universities.
Ritter said House Democrats saw using $1.5 billion of the $2.5 billion budget reserves as too risky, but a more conservative version of the GOP plan might be combined with trucks-only tolls or other alternatives.
 Any plan with tolls most likely would end hopes of significant bipartisan support.
“I personally do not support tolls on trucks,” said Senate Minority Leader Len Fasano, R-North Haven. “I have always feared that tolls on trucks is the first step to eventually tolling cars, which is a tax increase people do not support. Senate Republicans have offered a comprehensive transportation plan with no tolls and no tax increases. We still believe that is the best way forward for our state.”
Patrick Sasser, a leader of No Tolls CT, said Connecticut should not trust Lamont to stick to a trucks-only plan after already reneging on that campaign promise.
“With the flip of the switch, the average Connecticut driver could start having to pay tolls. The legislature and the governor have done nothing to rebuild trust with the people, and this latest proposal has all the makings of another broken promise,” Sasser said. “There have been enough toll proposals.”
Ritter anticipated that kind of skepticism in his statement outlining the plan, saying it was intellectually disingenuous to view trucks-only tolls as the first step on “a slippery slope” or the “camel getting his nose under the tent.”
“I’m sick of people talking about camels and their noses and proverbial tents, or slippery slopes. Tolling trucks has nothing to do with tolling cars — this is a completely separate issue,” Ritter said. “There is no tent. There is no slope. I want elected officials to answer this question: Is tolling trucks a good idea or a bad idea — period.”
Lamont wants to meet next week with legislative leaders to talk about how to proceed. He expects all four caucuses to offer alternatives, not just the Senate GOP and House Democrats.
After a tumultuous and frustrating 10 months seeking support for how to finance a major transportation infrastructure plan, the governor can claim one small victory: All four legislative caucuses are on record conceding that transportation is a priority that must be addressed now.
 Aresimowicz said the state must act immediately to exploit federal financing, as well as restore the Special Transportation Fund to solvency.
“Time is of the essence. It would be fiscal mismanagement to miss this opportunity to secure federal funds at these incredibly low rates – rates change every day,” Aresimowicz said.
Rhode Island’s trucks-only tolls is being challenged in court, but no judge has blocked the collection of tolls while the case is being litigated.
“The feds have been very, very clear: You could not toll trucks only on our interstate highway system,” Ritter told reporters late Tuesday afternoon. “There is an exception, which Rhode Island does and other states do, which is just bridges.”
The House Democratic proposal would be more expensive for trucks than Lamont’s most recent plan to toll trucks and cars. It would mirror the tolls charged trucks in New York, where the EZ-pass rates range from $11.06 for a two-axle truck to $84,52 for a seven-axle vehicle.
The rationale for trucks-only tolls is the greater damage they cause to the highways, Ritter said. “Trucks do 80 percent of the damage, and they pay nothing in Connecticut,” Ritter said. “That has to change.”
It is a figure the trucking industry disputes.
“The claim that trucks do 80 percent of the damage to our roads and bridges is a made up number,” said Joe Sculley of the Motor Transport Association of Connectiuct. “There is no data to support that statement. In fact, the Federal Bridge Formula ensures that a truck cannot inherently damage a road or a bridge. In short, the bridge formula requires that a truck’s gross weight is distributed over a certain number of axles, which must be appropriately spaced, over a specified length of the truck or tractor-trailer combination.”
 The two bridges that appear on Lamont’s plan but are missing from the House Democratic proposal are located on the Merritt Parkway, where truck traffic is prohibited, and Route 9 in Middletown.
Ritter stopped short of guaranteeing this would be supported by the 91-member House Democratic Caucus, but said there is reason to be optimistic a trucks-only tolls plan could be the centerpiece of a compromise deal.
“We’ve caucused this issue many times, not just this year but over the last seven or eight years. The concept of tolling only trucks has never received the level of pushback that we’ve received with passenger cars.”
Echoing Looney, Ritter told reporters not to discount the importance of Lamont’s campaign pledge last fall to toll just trucks.
“This was what was said would be done and Governor Lamont won that election,” Ritter said. “So that to me is the ultimate poll.”

Lamont’s dedication to reserves stems from debts heaped on Malloy

As Gov. Ned Lamont tries to decide whether to weaken Connecticut’s firewall against the next recession to jumpstart its cash-starved transportation program — as Republicans have proposed — he can’t help but look backward.
Lamont’s rearview mirror is fixed on his predecessor, Dannel P. Malloy. More specifically, it’s centered on the fiscal chaos Malloy faced — due in no small part to the empty reserves and debt he inherited.
Meanwhile, the former governor — who now serves as chancellor of Maine’s public university system — said Tuesday it would be a “grave mistake” to exhaust the rainy day fund at this time.
Malloy’s warning comes less than a week after Senate Republicans proposed that Connecticut take 60% of its reserves, $1.5 billion, and use it to pay down pension debt, rather than install tolls gantries on the state’s highways.
Lamont appears to agree.
While Lamont’s first 11 months in office have been marked by a certain degree of inconsistency on issues like tolls and tax relief for the middle class, he has been the picture of consistency when it comes to Connecticut’s rainy day fund.
“There’s a tendency to want to spend [the reserves] and defer the tough choices we know we have to make,” Lamont said last November, just two weeks after winning the gubernatorial election. “But you know how volatile our income taxes can be. If the bottom falls out … we ought to be ready.”
He pushed this message again when he unveiled his first budget.
 “Our economy has still not fully recovered from the Great Recession more than a decade ago, and we must be prepared for the possibility of another economic downturn,” Lamont wrote in an “open letter” to Connecticut residents back in February to accompany his first budget proposal.
And as nonprofit social service agencies pressed for a $100 million infusion — drawn chiefly from the reserve — Lamont dug in again earlier this month.
“Remember, the rainy day fund is to make darn sure that when there’s a rainy day I don’t have to cut funding for services like this at a time of most need,” the governor told reporters after addressing the CT Community Nonprofit Alliance’s annual convention in Hartford.
To understand Lamont’s focus on reserves, one only needs to look back eight years. The governor’s communications director, Max Reiss, said the chief executive’s position on maintaining proper reserves was formed, in part, by that crisis.
When Malloy took office in January 2011, Connecticut was just beginning a long, slow crawl out of The Great Recession — and state government was on fiscal life support.
Gov. M. Jodi Rell and the 2009-10 legislature had exhausted a then-record $1.4 billion reserve and run up another $950 million in operating debt.(Historical note: Rell and legislators borrowed $1 billion to cover both the shortfall and the first two payments on the loan, thereby ensuring the entire debt would be paid off by the next administration. It wouldn’t be retired until January 2018.)
Nearly 15% of local education aid to cities and towns — roughly $2 billion — was propped up on federal grants that would expire in July 2011.
Annual tax receipts had plunged $1.6 billion during the recession.
And overall spending — without adjustments —was projected to exceed revenues by a record-setting $7 billion during Malloy’s first two years in office, a gap of almost 20 percent.
“I worked mightily to change the trajectory of budget increases,” Malloy told The CT Mirror on Tuesday, but said no one should underestimate how far behind the eight-ball his administration began.
“It was a grave mistake to exhaust the rainy day fund and to undertake the borrowing” done by Rell and the 2009-10 legislature,” he added.
Perhaps the single-biggest factor behind that fiscal chaos — decades of poor savings for the state’s pension programs — is a problem analysts say will be dogging Connecticut’s finances through the late 2040s.
That pension debt has been refinanced — at greater cost — and stabilized somewhat. But expenses still will be climbing for much of the next decade, and Connecticut’s tax system arguably is more volatile than it was a decade ago.
While income tax hikes in 2009, 2011 and 2015 helped generate the $2.5 billion reserve the state enjoys today, the income tax also tends to fluctuate much more than ever levies, plunging during down economic times.
The Republican plan to raid Connecticut’s reserves to pay down pension debt would, in turn, enable the state to reduce its pension contributions over the next decade — and funnel that savings into its transportation program.
There still would be $1 billion in reserves. And Senate Republicans note that if positive economic trends continue, the rainy day fund could be back to $2.5 billion by 2024
But the state analysts’ projections they rely upon do not make assumptions about whether another recession is imminent. 
Both the legislature’s Office of Fiscal Analysis and the Executive Branch’s Office of Policy and Management base their reports on short-term economic trends.
In other words, neither agency ever suggested Connecticut was guaranteed — or even likely — to avoid a recession in the next four-to-five years.
When Rell and the 2009 legislature exhausted the reserves and still had to close operating debt, they borrowed funds for seven years at 2.3%. The interest cost projected at that time was $170 million.
Lamont also has noted in the past how quickly reserves could be drained down if a recession is severe.
If annual tax receipts alone can drop as much as $1.6 billion per year — as they did in the last recession — how safe is a $1 billion reserve?
The $2.5 billion currently socked away represents about 13% of annual operating costs. The legal maximum Connecticut could save is 15%, or about $3 billion.
“It would be a grave mistake to misspend that money,” Malloy said.
Majority Democrats in the House of Representatives also have questioned whether a $1.5 billion drawdown of reserves is wise at this time.
And a national poll released Monday by CNBC found two-thirds of Americans surveyed believe the U.S. economy will enter another recession within the next year, while a monthly worldwide report by Bank of America Merrill Lynch finds money managers heartened by a pause in the U.S.-China trade war and optimistic of continued growth.
House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, said he would be willing to consider a much smaller transfer of reserves — something closer to $200 million or $300 million — than the $1.5 billion Senate Republicans want.
“We’re not opposed to prepaying our long-term pension liabilities,” Ritter said, adding that the concept is sound even if the timing is worrisome. 
Ritter added there still is some hope reserves will continue to grow over the next year-and-a-half and his caucus always could reconsider a larger transfer to help transportation in the future,
“But our caucus would rather verify those numbers rather than assume them 18 months out,” he added.


Democrats propose new tolling plan limited to trucks
PAUL HUGHES
HARTFORD — The Democratic leaders of the House are proposing a plan for truck-only tolls that they say can raise $150 million annually to support transportation spending.
The proposal from House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, and House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, comes after Senate Democrats rebuffed Gov. Ned Lamont on his revised plan for 14 bridge and highway tolls.
The two Democratic leaders are asking Lamont to consider truck-only tolls on 12 of the 14 locations proposed in his latest transportation funding plan. They eliminated one recommended location on Route 9 in Middletown because of the lower volume of truck traffic, and another on the Merritt Parkway in Norwalk because trucks are barred from the highway.
“Our caucus feels strongly that we must make investments in our roads, bridges and trains to grow our economy, but that tolling cars is not the way forward,” Aresimowicz said.
“Trucks do 80% of the damage to our roads and bridges and many come from out of state,” Ritter said.
Lamont had campaigned on a plan to impose tolls on out-of-state trucks only, but abandoned that approach after taking office because the anticipated revenue would be insufficient.
Instead, the first-term Democrat proposed to put 50 tolls on Interstate 84, Interstate 91, Interstate 95, and the Merritt and Wilbur Cross parkways. This wider plan failed amid bipartisan opposition.
Lamont released a revised transportation funding plan called CT2030 on Nov. 7 that proposed 14 bridge and highway tolls. This plan immediately ran into bipartisan resistance.
Senate Democrats made clear that there were not enough votes in the caucus for the 14-toll plan when Lamont made a personal presentation to 19 of the 22 Democratic senators last Wednesday.
This left Lamont boxed in because the two Republican caucuses remain opposed to tolls of any kind.
Like Lamont, Aresimowicz and Ritter are proposing to use revenue from the 12 bridge tolls on out-of-state truck traffic to secure low-interest federal loans to finance the construction costs.
The two Democratic leaders estimated their tolling plan would raise $150 million annually. The Lamont administration estimated its 14-toll plan would raise an average of $320 million annually, and it projected its previous 50-toll plan would raise $800 million annually.Aresimowicz and Ritter said their approach avoids the potential legal peril of Lamont’s truck-only tolling plan because all trucks would be required to pay tolls.

Norwich Sherman Street bridge reconstruction plans explained
Claire Bessette
Norwich — The $13.4 million reconstruction of the Sherman Street bridge will require closing the busy street for the bulk of two construction seasons in 2022 and 2023 to replace the two bridge spans, widen the road, add a 5-foot sidewalk and improve water flow in the flood-prone Yantic River.
The bridge also will be shifted 20 feet to the south, to “square off” the intersection with Asylum Street to improve turns, and Asylum Street will be raised by 18 inches to meet the new height of the bridges, also about 18 inches higher than the existing bridges.
State, project and city engineers presented the bridge construction project to about 40 people, including several city officials and two state legislators Tuesday. The project cost will be divided, with 80 percent federal funds, $10.7 million, and the city and state each with 10 percent, $1.35 million.
Project Manager John A. Wengell of WMC Consulting Engineers quickly reviewed the numbers for the audience. The larger bridge, the west span over the main river, dates to 1955, and the superstructure has a state Department of Transportation grade of “poor,” and the substructure a grade of “satisfactory.” The smaller eastern span over a former canal was built in 1920 and reconstructed in 1964. This bridge superstructure is rated lower at “serious” and the substructure as “poor.”
Wengell said the replacement project will begin in spring of 2022 with relocation of utilities crossing the spans and along Asylum Street and the replacement of the shorter span over the canal. Sherman Street will be closed for much of the construction season that summer.
But in the second season, the road is expected to be closed from about April through early November, as replacement of the larger span is done.
The new bridges will be “clear span” structures, allowing improved water flow to reduce flooding and buildup of debris. The existing piers will be removed, and the bridges raised about 18 inches to reduce flooding as well. Drainage improvements are planned along both Sherman and Asylum streets in the project area.
The new bridges will have a natural stone-looking structure, Wengell said, to improve appearance.
The new road will be widened to two 12-foot lanes, 4-foot shoulders and one five-foot-wide sidewalk relocated to the south side of the bridges.
Fielding questions from the audience, project officials said Asylum Street would not be widened, and large trucks still will have a tight turning radius to enter and exit the road. Residents at the meeting complained that 18-wheelers routinely get stuck and damage the guardrails making the turn now, ignoring the reduced weight limit signs erected due to the poor bridge condition.
After the formal presentation, Mayor Peter Nystrom and city Public Works Director Patrick McLaughlin discussed the total closure of the bridges, cutting off pedestrian traffic on a route used by Norwich Free Academy students from the West Side to the campus.
But McLaughlin said a separate city plan to reconstruct a historic staircase that connects Yantic Street at Uncas Leap to Sherman Street not far from NFA will be done next year and will be done before the bridge closure. Pedestrians could use pedestrian bridges over the Central Vermont freight rail tracks and over the Yantic River at Uncas Leap to cross the river during the bridge closure.
City officials also expressed the desire to use the project to clean debris and litter from the woods and riverbeds on both sides of the bridges and at the Sherman Street entrance to the Upper Falls Heritage Park just east of the two bridges.
The bridge reconstruction plan will be posted on the city website, www.norwichct.org. For more information, contact McLaughlin or city Engineer Brian Long at (860) 823-3798.

Cross Sound Ferry flips out over wind assembly plans
David Collins
If you could scream and shout and jump up and down in a letter, that's exactly what Cross Sound Ferry seemed to be doing in a two-page missive it fired off last week, lambasting the Connecticut Port Authority for its obtrusive plans to accommodate wind turbine assembly at State Pier in New London.
The company says the wind work as proposed would interfere with the company's use of its ferry terminals, a complaint it says has been ignored.
The Nov. 13 letter, with a headline underlined and in capital letters — URGENT FOR IMMEDIATE ATTENTION — is signed by John Wronowski, Cross Sound president, and addressed to David Kooris, acting port authority chairman, with copies to Gov. Ned Lamont, U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney and the entire southeastern Connecticut delegation to the General Assembly.
Wronowski complains in no uncertain terms, with lots of underlining and capital letters throughout, that its months of "articulating concerns" about how an enormous "installation vessel," the largest of its kind in the world, that offshore wind partners Orsted and Eversource want to berth at the pier, would obstruct the ferry company's use of its nearby terminals for arriving and departing vessels.
Indeed, at about the same time I obtained the letter, I tracked down a rendering of the giant ship, which literally towers over the Gold Star Memorial Bridge, taller even than the city's church steeples. New London's imposing waterfront Union Station looks like a toy next to it.
The ship "creates a maneuvering interference in the federal channel that obstructs and reduces the usefulness of the ferry loading slips . . . which are critical for present operations and future growth," Wronowski wrote.
Yikes.
Not only can't Lamont seem to find a way to pay for the state's crumbling transportation infrastructure, but he's proposing to allow a Danish wind company to disrupt the state's marine link to eastern Long Island, one of the largest ferry systems in the country, carrying hundreds of thousands of vehicles a year.
What astonishes me most about the letter is the inept way the Lamont administration has handled the problem, leaving this significant Connecticut business to resort to a loud cry for help, after getting mostly the cold shoulder.
I wrote to Kooris Monday to ask about the Cross Sound Ferry letter. He usually responds promptly to email, but this one was met with silence.
The letter — I got a copy from state Sen. Cathy Osten, who mentioned it when we were discussing the upcoming Transportation Committee hearing on port authority corruption — explains the ferry company's extreme frustration with the way its complaints have been received.
Most alarming, the company suggested, was that after its first complaints about an installation vessel, which would be 475 feet long and 175 feet wide, were lodged, over months, during multiple meetings with Orsted, Eversource, port authority representatives and lawmakers, the plans changed, but for the worse.
"Recently we received a new plan titled 'CSF PROPOSED ADJUSTMENTS' from state officials that depicts alterations to our ferry terminal that might mitigate interference caused by the installation vessel.
"Upon closer inspection, we discovered that this plan now depicts a MUCH LARGER installation vessel (560 feet long x 185 feet wide) that is located even CLOSER to our ferry terminal."
This is the part of the letter where Wronowski seems to be jumping up and down and shouting. Who can blame him ?
The new plan moves the vessel 75 feet closer to the ferry terminal and 20 feet farther south into the maneuvering areas of the ferries.
"This change in vessel size and location is TOTALLY CONTRARY to the concerns we have repeatedly expressed and MAGNIFIES OUR CONCERNS significantly," the ferry company president wrote.
Wronowski had explained earlier how ferry captains tested the impact of the installation vessel by trying to maneuver around a buoy placed at the end of the location where it would be moored.
Making matters even worse, the vessel becomes virtually 300 feet wide when loaded and would be docked in New London as many as 72 days a year, instead of the 20 per year Cross Sound was originally told.
In all the years I have watched Cross Sound grow and prosper, it has always enjoyed bipartisan government support and lots of grant money. In one of its last big grants, the federal government agreed to replace the engines in a used ferry that Cross Sound purchased for its fleet, to make them cleaner burning and more efficient.
I wouldn't be surprised if the morning coffee at the ferry offices is purchased with federal grants.
But the Lamont administration has managed to turn this relationship on its head, creating a loud squeaky wheel, important constituents who can't seem to find a sympathetic ear in Hartford.
This is the opinion of David Collins.






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