Letter: Gladstone Makes Specious Claims on Bergstein’s Proposed Bill for Tolls

Letter to the editor submitted by Margaret Van Vliet on Jan 30,2019

Dear Editor:

Ms. Gladstone makes a number of specious claims and omits important information in her January 27 letter to the editor regarding Senator Bergstein’s January Community Conversations.

I attended all three of Senator Bergstein’s Community Conversations last week and can attest that they were professionally run, adherent to the intent publicized, and well attended by members of each community. The meeting series was designed to address two fundamental questions: How to attract businesses to Connecticut and how to grow our economy. Last week’s meetings were the second in a series of Community Conversations launched by Senator Bergstein last November. They were promoted in local newspapers and social media.

Each of the three Community Conversations included a special guest, or in the case of the Stamford event, two guests. All experts in the field of Business and Urban Development, the guests included Joe McGee from the Business Counsel of Fairfield County; Michael Freemuth, Executive Director, Capital Regional Development Authority; Thomas Madden, Director of Economic Development, City of Stamford and Indra Nooyi, Greenwich resident, Former CEO, and retired Chair of PepsiCo.

These individuals were invited to share their firsthand knowledge of and experience with obstacles that have thwarted business expansion and job growth in CT. Their insights helped me identify and understand the necessary components to improve the business climate in our state.

The guidelines of comportment were outlined at each Community Conversation back in November. One would hope it unnecessary to remind people of how they are expected to conduct themselves at a public event, but the behavior of a few people at the Stamford Community Conversation reinforced in my mind the need to make these guidelines explicitly clear.

As Ms. Gladstone herself acknowledges, every state in the northeast, except Connecticut has tolls. Rhode Island will soon implement a trucks-only toll which many believe will not withstand a constitutional challenge. With the infrastructure in place to implement tolls, it is hard to believe that Rhode Island will abandon its investment in gantries and tolling technology if the trucks-only tolling concept fails.

Contrary to Ms. Gladstone’s assertion, Senator Bergstein’s proposed bill does not include a plan to install “82 toll gantries along 95, Merritt, 84 and others.”

Please read the proposed bill at https://www.cga.ct.gov/2019/TOB/s/pdf/2019SB-00102-R00-SB.PDF.

Moreover, Ms. Gladstone fails to share an important piece of information about 21st
century tolling technology: Because it is electronic, the toll fees can be stratified
based on time of day, vehicle type, and vehicle occupancy.

This means commuters and lower income drivers can be charged a lower rate or no fee at all. Trucks can be charged a higher fee than cars while Connecticut drivers would be charged a lower fee than out-of- state drivers. The ability to tailor our tolling system provides us with an opportunity to (1) capture necessary revenue in a more equitable manner for local residents and, (2) capture revenue from out-of-state vehicles that currently travel on our roads for free – while Connecticut residents foot 100% of the cost of road and bridge upkeep.

Ms. Gladstone also expresses concern for middle and working class drivers. Joe Cortright, a nationally recognized economist specializing in urban and regional economies and President/ Principal Economist of Impresa, (a consulting firm specializing in regional economic analysis, innovation and industry clusters) outlines 10 practices more detrimental to middle and low income families than tolls.

These practices can be read at: Think Toll Lanes Are Unfair? Let’s Talk About These 10 Transportation Issues First.

We all know our state needs a business boost and the obstacles to this are clear. The
installation of tolls will provide the much needed (and now, lawfully protected)
revenue to invest in improvements, updates and upkeep that will get us moving
forward again.

I applaud Senator Bergstein for her business-friendly actions and I respect her ability to generate dialogue between the private and public sectors.

Let’s not shut down an important conversation on a potential revenue stream before all the specifics are made available to us. I ask that members of the community keep an open mind, an eye on what’s happening in Hartford and engage in constructive and civil dialogue.

Margaret Van Vliet