HARTFORD (AP) - Some Democratic legislative leaders gave early, positive reviews Wednesday of Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont's latest transportation improvement proposal, which includes limited tolling on certain major bridges and interchanges.
The Democratic governor's staff provided the lawmakers a private preview of his $21 billion proposal, which he's expected to unveil publicly Thursday. Besides highway and bridge improvements, the 10-year initiative known as CT2030 includes new investments in commuter rail and bus service.
"I think this a plan, in its original form, as it is now, that might need a little work," said House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin. "But it's something I can entirely embrace."
Unlike earlier transportation proposals, this plan focuses heavily on addressing the state's worst traffic chokepoints, an idea welcomed by both Democrats and Republicans.
"I think no question, commuters in the state of Connecticut complain the most about driving down the highway and all of a sudden you're slamming on your breaks," said Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, who credited Lamont with "focusing on the right issues." But Candelora said the GOP questions whether tolls are still needed to accomplish that goal.
"Now that we're looking at a more realistic, scaled-back plan, we think that there could be ways to fund this program without adding a new revenue stream," he said.
Lawmakers said Wednesday that Lamont's plan will rely on low-cost borrowing from the federal government, which needs to be repaid with a dedicated funding stream. Candelora said that doesn't necessarily have to be highway tolls.
Tolling opponents agree.
Cherie Juhnke of Plainville, who stood outside Wednesday's meeting holding a "no tolls" sign, was unimpressed that this latest transportation proposal would limit the tolls to 14 bridges and interchanges - a figure that could change. The prior proposal called for about 50 overhead tolling gantries on Interstates 84, 91, 95 and parts of Route 15.
"We pay enough," Juhnke said. "No tolls. They'll never go away if they go up."
It's unclear when the General Assembly might vote on this latest transportation plan, which still requires additional negotiations with lawmakers.
Aresimowicz said he'd like to see a vote in a special session. However, he didn't rule out the issue coming up in the next regular legislative session, which convenes in February.
Lamont had hoped to pass a more wide-ranging tolling bill during 2019 regular legislative session, but lawmakers ultimately adjourned without taking a final vote.