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Republican lawmakers keeping open mind on Lamont's revised transportation plan

Local Republican lawmakers say they are open to Gov. Ned Lamont's proposal to use low-interest federal loans to partly fund a 10-year, $18 billion transportation plan he intends to unveil soon.

But they, and Democratic lawmakers in the region, say more details are needed about the funding mechanism and the plan in general.

Lamont is revising his transportation plan from earlier in the year, which received criticism from Republicans and some Democrats due in large part to a proposal to install 50-plus toll gantries on major highways across the state.

Details on the reworked proposal, which is being called "CT 2030," are still scant but at recent  appearances Lamont has indicated it will likely contain a scaled-back tolling proposal with tolls in "strategic areas" while taking advantage of below market federal financing available from the U.S. Department of Transportation.

"Leveraging additional federal dollars is an important piece of the puzzle," said Rep. Devin Carney, R-Old Lyme. "Connecticut sends a lot of money to the federal government and we don't always get a lot back."

Carney, who attended a briefing by Lamont's chief of staff on the federal financing, said he "tentatively" supports that approach as a way to pay for some transportation improvements.

"That piece of it made a lot of sense from what I heard from his chief of staff," he said.

Carney opposed Lamont's 50-plus gantry tolling proposal and said he is waiting on details on the scaled-back version.

"It has to be a good deal for Connecticut residents and really has to focus on out-of-state drivers," he said.

As for the aspects of the plan that would have direct impact on southeastern Connecticut, Carney said he expects improvements to the Gold Star Bridge to be among the list of projects presented as part of the transportation package. He said he'd like the package to include a proposal to widen portions of Interstate 95.

Tony Sheridan, president and CEO of the Eastern Connecticut Chamber of Commerce, said widening I-95 to a minimum of three lanes from Branford to the Rhode Island border is the chamber's top priority.

The group's second priority is extending Shore Line East rail service to Westerly. Right now, trains run from New Haven to New London. Sheridan said Lamont told him during a previous discussion that he would be "taking a hard look" at the train expansion.

Sheridan said he expects to speak with the Lamont administration in the coming days about the revised proposal.

While Republicans and Democrats in Connecticut agree the state's transportation infrastructure needs upgrading, the issue has always been how to pay for it.

Sen. Paul Formica, R-East Lyme, pointed to the tolls-free transportation plan released by Republicans earlier this year, which proposed reserving about $700 million annually in state general obligation bonds for transportation projects and leveraging about $750 million per year in federal reimbursements.

Formica said the federal loan proposal by Lamont "should be looked at," and that he was keeping an open mind about the governor's reworked proposal. He called for "open doors, lots of conversations, collaboration and compromise."

Rep. Kathleen McCarty, R-Waterford, echoed Formica's sentiments, saying that from what she's heard so far, the proposal sounds better than what was previously presented, but that she needs more details.

"There needs to be a thorough discussion," she said.

j.bergman@theday.com

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