Toll protesters take to the streets in Groton, New London
Scott Nolan held up a sign Saturday that he sees as a solution to Connecticut's fiscal problems: "Audit, prioritize spending, reduce cost."
Nolan, 50, of Norwich — or, as he calls it, "sinkhole city" — stood at the corner of Route 12 and Kings Highway in Groton with the sign, joining a group of demonstrators organized by the grassroots group No Tolls CT to protest Gov. Ned Lamont's proposal to institute electronic highway tolling.
"It's not a revenue problem. It's a spending problem," Nolan said, adding the state should go through its budget and identify wasteful spending "line by line" to find the money to fund transportation upgrades.
No Tolls CT took to busy intersections in Groton and New London on Saturday with this overriding message: Connecticut residents are taxed enough, and tolls would be another hit to their wallets.
Lamont has proposed tolling all motorists who travel Interstates 84, 91 and 95, and the Merritt Parkway, which the governor's office estimates will bring in an estimated $800 million in revenue annually. That's about the same amount the state currently is raising, largely through the gas tax, for transportation work.
Toll pricing would vary by the time of day, with the rate increasing at more heavily trafficked times. A 50 percent discount is being proposed for state residents. The Lamont administration has said that 40 percent of the toll revenue will come from out-of-state drivers. Toll revenues are not expected until 2023.
State Republicans have unveiled a 30-year, $65 billion plan called Prioritize Progress that would provide funding for transportation projects under the state's bond cap.
Groups of about 20 people, with some overlap, gathered at the intersection of Colman and Broad streets in New London, and later at the intersection of Route 12 and Kings Highway in Groton, holding up signs saying "Tolls hurt families" and "Honk for no tolls."
Flurries of honking could be heard from cars and trucks passing by. Some leaned out their car windows to yell out in support or gave a thumbs up as they were driving by.
While those gathered Saturday generally agree the state's infrastructure needs repair, they don't think tolling is the answer.
Eric Ossmann, 40 of Groton said he'd rate the quality of the state's roads a three out of 10. But he said he doesn't trust that toll revenue would go solely toward fixing the state's transportation infrastructure. Besides, he said, the state needs to "curtail its spending" and find money within the existing budget to make these repairs.
Marilyn Alden, 73, who with her husband, George, 75, traveled from Hebron to Groton to make the case for no tolls, said they both are retired and live on a fixed income. Two of their three children and most of their grandchildren live in Connecticut. They love living here, she said, and they don't want to leave because they can't afford to live in Connecticut anymore, a sentiment shared by several of the protesters.
"Enough is enough," she said, holding a "No tolls" sign with a picture of the state of Connecticut in the background. Her husband, a submarine veteran, stood beside her waving an American flag.
Several of the protesters had calculated what it would cost them based on the current proposal — 53 overhead tolling gantries spaced at six-mile intervals on some 330 miles of roadway. Estimates ranged from several hundred to several thousand dollars annually. The state Department of Transportation is recommending a rate of 4.4 cents per mile, the same that's charged to travelers on the Massachusetts Turnpike, and below what New York and New Jersey charge.
K. Robert Lewis, 65, of New London, who works as a veteran service officer for the Department of Veterans Affairs in Newington, estimated it'd cost him between $2,300 to $3,000 annually between driving to and from work and other parts of the state to meet with clients. Lewis also worried about the increase in cost to the state's veterans — many of whom are on fixed incomes — who travel to the VA facilities in Newington and West Haven for treatment.
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