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Thomas Cribbin Pump the brakes on tolls

January 25, 2019

I am profoundly disappointed with state Sen. Alex Bergstein’s support for tolls on our highways.

I attended her meeting at the Italian Center and came away more convinced than ever that tolls will hurt middle class families and make Connecticut less desirable than it already is. I’d like to address some of the salient points.

Bergstein previously indicated she “has yet to meet a voter who doesn’t want (tolls).” She also has said she’d “talked to thousands of people about tolls and probably 98 percent of the people (you) talk to are in favor (of tolls) and don’t understand why we don’t have them yet.” I couldn’t help but chuckle at the irony; namely that 98 percent of the people at the Italian Center were vehemently opposed to her plan to install tolls. I guess she finally met some voters who don’t want them.

Bergstein reiterated a prior claim which is demonstrably false. She said Wednesday, for at least the second time, that “we’re leaving a lot of revenue on the table, mostly from out-of-state drivers.” This is not the case. According to a Nov. 14 Department of Transportation study on tolls, 40 percent of revenue from tolls would derive from out-of-state cars.

Forty percent does not constitute “mostly out-of-state drivers.” Bergstein chastised one constituent who objected to her bill, saying “(she) would not tolerate misinformation.” Bergstein told another constituent who criticized her proposal that “he should do his homework.” No, Senator Bergstein — you should do your homework and understand the minority of drivers availing themselves of our highways are out-of-staters. I don’t understand this absolute obsession with punishing the majority of Connecticut residents to exact revenge on the minority of out-of-staters.

Bergstein talked about a “30-30-30” proposal that would enable trains to go from Hartford to New Haven, New Haven to Stamford, and Stamford to Grand Central in 30 minutes respectively. This high speed rail seems like more of a pipe dream than reality. A 2013 New Haven Register article quoted a Metro-North source, stating that: “The New Haven line has a lot of curves and is very costly to straighten ... Of the 72 miles to New York City’s Grand Central Terminal, there is only one mile of straight track that allows the trains to hit 90 mph.”

Bergstein said it would only cost “$5 billion” to do the 30-30-30 plan as if we were talking about five dollars. I’ve seen this “high speed rail” nightmare unfold in California. According to SFCurbed.com, the initial projected budget for the high speed rail in 2008 was $40 billion. By 2018, that number had ballooned to $77 billion and was reportedly on its way to becoming a $100 billion project.

The project is also “years behind schedule.” There is absolutely no way 30-30-30 will only cost $5 billion, which is a massive taxpayer burden. The senator can masquerade her tolling proposal with euphemisms such as “investing in transportation,” but it doesn’t change the reality of extracting more tax dollars from hardworking taxpayers.

At one point, Bergstein said Connecticut residents will be happy with tolls because it would allow them to get to work faster and live farther from work. It is naive to think tolls will improve commuting times. If tolls make everyone get to work faster, then why do New Jersey and New York — the paradigm for tolls — have some of the worst commutes to work in the nation?

According to NJ.com, New Jersey is “49th in the nation for worst commutes” and New York is 47th. The article explained “The length of the commute was a category that dragged (New Jersey) down, mostly because the time on the road got worse. The study found that, like most of the eastern states, New Jersey commute times “significantly” increased.” This is completely inconsistent with Bergstein’s assertion that tolls will make life better for commuters.

If anything, people will try to move closer to work and make more sacrifices because they won’t be able to pay for a long commute.

The senator wants to have it both ways. She says tolls will help people get to work faster and thus, be more productive. Yet she acknowledges more commuters will avoid highways. How will productivity increase if people avoid tolls and take out-of the way backroads that increase the length of their commutes? Wouldn’t commuters be more likely to be late to work by taking back roads?

Senator, if you believe in your proposal to impose tolls, I urge you to show the courage of your conviction and pay the cost of them out of your own pocket and not out of your state provided travel allowance when you drive to Hartford. It would be inconsistent with your position to call for tolls, say they’re going to help the state, then exempt yourself from them and deny the state that revenue it desperately needs. If we really need toll revenue for transportation, you should share the same burden and misery of contributing to its costs as the rest of us.

Thomas Cribbin is a lifelong Stamford resident.