Transportation talk at breakfast

State Sen. Joan Hartley, D-15th District, left, addresses the audience during the Naugatuck Chamber of Commerce’s annual Legislative Breakfast at Jesse Camille’s Restaurant Feb. 28 in Naugatuck as, from her left, state Sen. George Logan, R-17th District, state Rep. David Labriola, R-131st District, and state Rep. Rosa Rebimbas, R-Naugatuck, listen. –LUKE MARSHALL

NAUGATUCK — Transportation funding was a hot topic of discussion last week at the Naugatuck Chamber of Commerce’s annual Legislative Breakfast.

“There is no question that the [Special Transportation Fund], which is the fund that runs all of our transportation, is going to be in deficit within probably 18 months,” state Sen. Joan Hartley, D-15th District, said.

Hartley was joined by fellow state Sen. George Logan, R-17th District, and state representatives David Labriola, R-131st District, and Rosa Rebimbas, R-Naugatuck, at the breakfast at Jesse Camille’s Restaurant.

Gov. Dannel Malloy and the state Department of Transportation have postponed $4.3 billion in transportation projects indefinitely because the transportation fund is poised to become insolvent.

Malloy has proposed raising the gasoline tax to help keep the fund solvent.

Hartley said the revenue the state has collected from the gas tax has dropped due to the rising fuel efficiency of vehicles on the road these days.

Labriola spoke out against the proposal.

“Come on, you’re killing us. These ideas of raising more taxes, and the governor is coming out with some more tax increases, it is just so clearly the wrong way to go. I continue to oppose and all new tax increases,” Labriola said.

Bringing back tolls on the state’s highways is also being debated by lawmakers.

Labriola and Rebimbas voiced their opposition to the plan, while Logan said he’s hoping to explore the idea further.

“I am not against tolls. However, I don’t think we are in any position to make a decision right now in regards to what to do with tolls,” Logan said.

Logan said he recently introduced a bill that called upon the state to study all the options for tolls.

“What I mean by that is we need to look at where we are going to put the tolls, how many tolls, what it is we are planning to do and not do, and what is it going to cost Connecticut residents in real terms when we put tolls in,” Logan said.

Logan said the tolls would likely not just go on interstates 84, 91, and 95, but could end up on some smaller highways such as Route 8 and the Merritt Parkway.

Logan said, under current plans, it’s expected that 70 percent of the money collected at the tolls would come from Connecticut residents.

“If the people of Connecticut want tolls after they have all the facts, then I could support it. But, right now, we don’t have the facts,” Logan said. “We are not ready, in my opinion, to go ahead and install tolls when we don’t know what the impact will be.”

The Waterbury branch of the Metro-North Railroad, which runs from Waterbury to Bridgeport through the Naugatuck Valley, is also facing cuts due to the financial issues with the transportation fund.

The DOT is proposing to reduce weekend and weekday off-peak service and raise fares on the branch line. Also, the postponed projects include the purchase of new train locomotives and cars for the Waterbury branch.

Municipal leaders from throughout the Naugatuck Valley are fighting for funding for the branch line, arguing that investing in the rail line is crucial to economic development in the area.

The question of the potential to privatize the branch line was raised at last week’s breakfast.

Although he could support the idea, Labriola said it might be hard to find interested investors.

“I would suspect that if the commercial market out there thought there was money to be had on the rail line they would have been knocking on our doors already. But some of it may just be making it known we want to do this or would consider something like this,” Labriola said.