OP ED By Senator Tony Hwang and Representative Laura Devlin
In Fairfield County, we know all too well how serious Connecticut’s transportation problems are. We also know that our problems go beyond our roadways, and mass transit needs to be a focus when talking about any kind of solution to make transportation in Connecticut an economic asset.
We’ve also heard some lawmakers pitch tolls as a comprehensive solution to invest in roads, mass transit and rail. We’ve been told that tolls would transform the commuter experience. We were assured that commute times between Stamford and Grand Central would be reduced to a half-hour, and when that didn’t seem likely, we were promised that at the very least rail commuters could count on more time at home with their families if tolls were installed. We were shown lists of rail projects to be funded under a previous tolls proposal that is no longer on the table. We were promised that any tolls bill would make mass transit a top priority because rail in Fairfield County is an economic engine supporting residents and businesses.
But the tolls bill set to be voted on next week delivers on none of those promises.
The latest tolls bill would be damaging to our state in many ways. Just as concerning as what’s in the bill is what’s not included; and this bill contains no mention whatsoever of rail improvements that Fairfield county was promised.
When asked this week about what the latest tolls plan would do for public transit, a Democrat legislative leader pointed to a new transportation oversight board that would have one bus transit advocate and one rail advocate. The board would “put pressure on DOT to not ignore mass transit needs.”
After all the talk, we have nothing more than a single rail advocate telling DOT please don’t ignore mass transit. Where is the transformative vision? Where is the guarantee that specific projects will ever be completed? How exactly will commute times be reduced? Where’s the comprehensive plan for rail?
The bill contains none of the language regarding investments in rail we have seen in previous tolls bills. The governor’s toll website remains out of date, showing projects funded by a previous plan that has long been abandoned. No new numbers have been released to show which projects will be protected and which will be cut under the governor’s scaled back trucks-only tolls plan. The bill contains no protections to ensure rail promises will be fulfilled.
We have other major concerns about the tolls bill Democrat legislative leaders intend to vote on next week. The bill does nothing to legally stop tolls from being expanded to passenger vehicles. It sets us up for costly and risky legal challenges from the trucking industry and our neighbors in the state of New York. It also does nothing to stop the expansion of tolls to more locations in the future. But as Fairfield residents, its especially disappointing that this tolls package fails to deliver on the many assurances we have all heard that mass transit will be a priority.
We oppose this bill for all these reasons. And we also think the public deserves the truth about what this bill will do and won’t do. What’s clear is that this bill is a tolls bill, not a transportation vision by any means.
When it comes to rail investments there are no guarantees in this bill, only an empty promise to do better.
State Senator Tony Hwang (R-28) represents Easton, Fairfield, Newtown, Weston and Westport.
State Representative Laura Devlin (R-134) represents Fairfield and Trumbull and serves as Ranking Member on the General Assembly’s Transportation Committee.
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