STAMFORD — Last February, protesters circled City Hall in their trucks.
On Jan. 9, they waved signs at the state capitol during Gov. Ned Lamont’s inaugural parade.
Wednesday evening they plan to attend a meeting about bringing business to Connecticut, hosted by state Sen. Alexandra Bergstein at the Italian Center of Stamford.
They’re on a road to blocking tolls.
The latest stop is the community gathering organized by Bergstein, a Greenwich Democrat elected in November who submitted the first of what is expected to be several bills to authorize electronic tolls on Connecticut highways.
Stamford’s Patrick Sasser is an organizer of a grassroots group, No Tolls CT, that is behind the protests of the last year, including an online effort called No Tolls Tuesday — which posts contact information for a different set of state lawmakers each week — and a petition at www.notollsct.org.
Sasser said the goal is “to make sure people understand the ramifications” of installing toll gantries on the highways.
“This is about every small business owner who uses the highways, every single working mom who will have to bear the additional cost, not just on the highways but at stores, where prices will go up because of the added expense of trucking things into Connecticut,” he said.
No Tolls CT has teamed up with a statewide group called 100 Women Strong, Sasser said.
“They’ve been a huge part of getting the movement organized to fight this battle,” he said. “We’re getting the word out to people to come Wednesday night to express to the senator that we are not happy about her proposal for a toll bill.”
Bergstein’s Proposed Bill No. 102 would install tolls on the main highways and set per-mile fees for cars and trucks that are comparable to surrounding states. It would require that the money be deposited in the Special Transportation Fund and in a proposed infrastructure bank.
But Bergstein, who represents state Senate District 36, which includes a portion of Stamford, said Wednesday’s meeting at the Italian Center — and two others this week in Greenwich and New Canaan, which she also represents — are about attracting businesses.
Republicans are targeting her events on social media and in emails to make them about tolls, said Bergstein, who two months ago defeated longtime state Sen. L. Scott Frantz, a Greenwich Republican and toll opponent.
Republican Town Committees in Stamford, Greenwich and New Canaan “all sent emails asking people to show up at these events with ‘No Tolls’ signs,” she wrote in an email. “My intention is to have a constructive dialogue, ‘Bringing Business to Connecticut.’ Everyone is welcome ... if they’re civil and respectful of everyone else.”
The three meetings will feature business leaders who “will share their views on what we need to do — including faster trains,” Bergstein wrote.Read Full Article
“This is not a referendum on tolls but a conversation with business experts,” she said. “But I welcome a discussion of the facts around tolls because the facts are that Connecticut residents already spend $2,300 (per person) in wasted time and fuel sitting in unnecessary traffic. Wouldn’t people rather pay just $600 in tolls to save $2,300, and get to their destinations faster so they can spend more time with their families? Nearly everyone I speak with, except the most partisan, answers ‘yes.’”
The meeting in New Canaan was held Tuesday night, and a video of the proceedings can be watched on Facebook.
It was a “great Community Conversation” with guest speaker Joe McGee of the Business Council of Fairfield County, Bergstein said on her official Facebook page. “Three people showed up to protest and we had a frank and open discussion about infrastructure financing. Joe is an expert and has invaluable insight.”
A state panel reported two years ago that congested roads cost Connecticut motorists $1.6 billion a year in repairs and $3.5 billion in lost productivity because of traffic delays.
A recent state Department of Transportation analysis estimated that, by 2023, tolls could raise up to $950 million a year in revenue, with the potential that 40 percent of it will be generated by out-of-state motorists. The money is needed for long-delayed transportation projects that could ease congestion by modernizing roads, bridges, tunnels and rails.
Sasser, a Republican, said the protests are nonpartisan.
“It’s not about politics on my end,” said Sasser, who co-owns a family trucking business. “We are doing anything we can to keep this from being about Democrats and Republicans, though it’s no secret that Republicans in the state House and Senate oppose tolls, so a lot of the pro-tolls comment comes from Democrats.”
Tolls, however, are a topic on which both parties can agree, he said.
“I was talking to a Democrat who voted for Bergstein and now realizes that she’s for tolls. This person does not believe in Bergstein’s toll policy,” he said. “So a big part of our effort is to educate people. We got a movement going last year and successfully opposed tolls. It has everything to do with the economy of Connecticut and stopping residents from being taxed to death.”
State Republicans have pointed to projections that the Special Transportation Fund will grow significantly in the next few years, fueled by a tax on oil companies and a share of the sales-tax revenue.
“We are planning protests around the state, in places where certain legislators live, to try to turn their opinions on tolls,” Sasser said.
Bergstein said lawmakers and citizens must have an honest discussion about transportation and tolls.
“Simplistic slogans are not helpful,” she said. “A real discussion that is based in fact only is what I’m promoting.”
Wednesday’s meeting is slated for 7 p.m. at the Italian Center of Stamford, 1620 Newfield Ave.