NEWTOWN — The Legislative Council, meeting Wednesday, January 15, unanimously approved a resolution opposing tolling gantries in Newtown.
The resolution expressed concern for the unintended consequences of shifting commercial traffic to local roads and the impact on quality of life for Newtown’s residents.
The resolution urged the town’s elected representatives in the state legislature to, “Continue to oppose any measurement that would negatively affect Newtown’s residents and roadways.”
Council member Ryan Knapp noted that the town of Southbury had passed a similar resolution as he pointed out the potential added cost of roadwork as more vehicles use town roads.
Council member Jordana Bloom referred to feedback from constituents before saying she needs more information. “We don’t know if trucks will get off the [highway], do we?”
Council member Cathy Reiss said there is a concern that tolls could easily shift from trucks only to include all vehicles.
Mr. Lundquist agreed that the unknown factors are enough of a reason to ask the state legislature for more information before implementing the tolls, adding that the resolution is not necessarily against the idea of tolls.
First Selectman Dan Rosenthal commented that local officials should weigh the impact of state decisions on residents, adding that it is not within the purview of local town officials to comment on how the state spends money.
He had asked the governor for studies on the tolls so that the town could understand the impact, noting that Newtown was identified as a likely toll location.
State Sen. Tony Hwang, R-28, and state Rep. Mitch Bolinsky, R-106, spoke during the meeting to address the power of the council’s resolution.
Sen. Hwang said the resolution sent the message that any action at the state level should include input from the towns.
He described his concerns that a vote could occur as soon as the week of January 20, yet he has not seen a draft of the proposal detailing the number of toll gantries and his worry that the future implementation of the tolls could shift to the state Department of Transportation.
There, the tolls could be managed without public input.
Rep. Bolinsky agreed with the senator and supported the resolution, “We have the power to have this thing be a truly public-driven process.”
Addressing the question of alternatives, Sen. Hwang said that both parties are in agreement that infrastructure is critical, but the difference is in how to pay for that work.
He noted that projects are now prioritized, such as the Waterbury Mixmaster, and referred to a Senate Republican proposal to use the rainy-day fund to pay down pension liabilities to shift funds for infrastructure.
“Is it perfect? Absolutely not,” he said, noting that his underlying problem with the toll proposal has a lack of detail but, he is sure that the Rochambeau Bridge that carries I-84 over Lake Zoar will be part of the program.
When asked if gas taxes pay for roads, Rep. Bolinsky replied that there are dedicated revenue sources for transportation, but those funds are diverted, “The public doesn’t trust us… the legislative body.”
In other business, Mr. Lundquist explained that he had described the Legislative Council’s revision to the Capital Improvement Plan 2020-21 to 2024-25 to the Board of Finance.
The council had voted to shift projects from the fifth year of the plan to the sixth year, with the goal of taking a year off from bonding in that fifth year to realize savings.
The finance board agreed with the revision in a five to one vote.
When the matter returned to the council for final approval, only council member Ryan Knapp voted against the ratification.
Before adjourning, the Legislative Council considered the creation of a permanent Community Center Commission, which would replace the ad hoc committee currently in place.
Mr. Lundquist noted the work done by the existing committee before the council moved the matter to the Ordinance Committee, where the idea would be reviewed and a recommendation developed.
Council member Dan Wiedemann clarified the intent of the council’s action and Mr. Knapp described how the Ordinance Committee could create a framework for such a commission, including number of members, term limits and transition plan to move from a committee to commission.
“It’s mostly mechanics,” Mr. Knapp said, pointing out that the Ordinance Committee had performed this kind of action in the past.
The matter will return to the Legislative Council for final approval.