Lamont talking with private sector on tolls, vows state control
HARTFORD — Gov. Ned Lamont is already having informal discussions with firms about using public/private partnerships to operate tolls in Connecticut, although tolls have yet been approved by the General Assembly.
“I’ve had some very preliminary conversations, but most importantly I have to get the legislature on board,” Lamont said Thursday.
On March 6, Lamont met with Patrick Jones, executive director and CEO of the International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association, an association of owners and operators of toll facilities. The 30-minute meeting was the same day hundreds of Connecticut residents flocked to the Capitol for a day-long public hearing on tolls.
Jones met with Lamont “to express support for the governor’s tolling proposal to help address congestion and the state’s highway funding needs,” said Bill Cramer, communications director for the IBTTA.
Later in March, Lamont had coffee in New York with Jamie Rubin, CEO of the North American operations of Meridiam.
Meridiam has worked on toll road projects in Texas, Colorado and California, as well as tunnel, rail, airport, offshore wind and solar projects in the U.S. and abroad.
These meetings appear on a copy of Lamont’s schedule. The governor’s office declined to say what was discussed in these meetings, but they are notable as Lamont, a former businessman, continues a strong push to bring tolls to Connecticut.
The meetings were not wholly unusual: former Gov. Dannel P. Malloy also had many meetings with toll companies and organizations as his administration explored tolling.
Most states use public/private partnerships to construct new toll roads or lanes. But Connecticut plans to toll existing highways with 53 gantries on I-84, 91, 95 and Route 15.
It could use a public private partnership to pay for the installation of toll gantries, essentially letting a company pay to contruct the toll-collecting system and take a portion of the revenue for repayment.
A November study from the Department of Transportation estimated capital start-up costs for tolls at about $372 million. A public/private partnership could be a funding mechanism to pay for these costs, without using state bonding.
With his budget, Lamont proposed capping transportation bonding and putting other state bonding on a “debt diet.”
The state could also considering a lease of public assets like roads or rails — that could give Connecticut funding to pay for transportation improvements quick, but sometimes results in motorist or rides paying higher user fees.
Lamont seemed to dismiss the idea Thursday, saying Connecticut will not be handing over full control.
“We’ll keep control. We’ll keep ownership,” he said. “We’re not giving away any of that.”
So far, Lamont has provided few details on how he envisions exactly public/private partnerships may be used for tolling, but has several times mentioned “real interest” from the private sector to participate.
The Malloy administration never used public/private partnerships to fund transportation projects because of strong limitations from the legislature on when and how they can be used.
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