Tolls spark spirited discussion, protest in Southington

Protestors gathered on Queen Street last Saturday to object to the possibility of tolls returning. (Photo by Janelle Morelli)

By SHERIDAN ROY

STAFF WRITER

A Town Council resolution taking a stand against tolls failed to make it to a vote on March 25 during a spirited discussion that was drawn along party lines. The discussion was added to the March 25 agenda after Tom Lombardi (R) introduced a resolution penned by Republican at the March 11 meeting.

The resolution, which opposed tolls on state roads, saying that tolls would create a financial burden on Southington residents. The resolution stated that Southington residents already pay more in taxes and fees than most residents in the country.

After a heated back-and-forth discussion that went on for almost an hour in the packed municipal center meeting room, Lombardi made a motion to bring the resolution to a vote. Mike Riccio (R) seconded, but the motion failed along party lines, 5-4.

A protestor waves a sign at passing motorists on Queen Street last Saturday. (Photo by Janelle Morelli)

“I understand this is a state issue, but it’s also the biggest capital expenditure the state has ever undergone. I’m hoping the Town Council will stand with residents and make a statement that we are against tolls and send a firm message to our legislators,” said Lombardi. “I’m hoping we can look our residents in the eyes and say we stood with them and did all we could to fight this.”

The discussion came on the heels of a protest against tolls that was held on Queen Street last Saturday, and protestors armed with signs continued their stance at the council meeting. Sign-holders from the “No Tolls CT” group lined the entranceway to the municipal center, soliciting beeps from passing cars before the meeting.

The same group organized more than a dozen protestors in front of Denny’s on Queen Street last Saturday, joined by councilors Lombardi and Rev. Vicky Triano. Similar protests were held in Berlin, Waterbury and Cromwell.

Democrats who opposed bringing the resolution to a vote wanted to avoid acting on the controversial topic, citing that there was a lack of information about the effect tolls would have on residents. Connecticut Speaker of the House Joe Aresimowicz (D-31) addressed the council, saying that specific questions were “just not possible to answer at this time.”

“The problem is there are three different toll bills that have made their way out of the transportation committee, all of which require a process which could take up to two or three years,” Aresimowicz told councilors. “That includes active vetting with the federal government, working out placements of toll gantries, prices… Those questions at this time just simply can’t be answered.”

Aresimowicz contended that truckers create 20 to 35 percent of the damage on state roads and ought to “pay their fair share of road use,” but Riccio countered that truckers already pay a fee in Connecticut based on mileage. Adding the cost of tolls on top of that fee, Riccio said, would cause distributors to raise costs of goods, and residents would have to make up for the fee.

Councilor William Dziedzic (R) brought up another ongoing discussion in town—public transportation—and expressed concern for the impact to local roads and traffic if drivers were using local roads to escape tolls while new buses were also slowing traffic down and taking up space.

Protestors gathered on Queen Street last Saturday. (Photo by Janelle Morelli)

Democratic councilors voiced concern over local government taking on state issues.

“I don’t even know if this is our role—if this is an effective use of our time,” said Chris Poulos (D). “There are a lot of unanswered questions and a lot of emotions on the table. I think when we have a lot of missing information, we need to take a pause, step back, and consider that this issue might be more complicated than a simple yes or no to a resolution.”

Poulos also questioned what the alternative would be if tolls were not passed in Connecticut. “Our grandparents voted and paid to create the interstate system, and it’s our generation’s responsibility to maintain it,” he said. “We can’t just let it go into disrepair.”

Dawn Miceli (D) said the council can’t “pick and choose” what state topics to discuss, referencing the ongoing conversations surrounding legalization of recreational marijuana.

Triano (R) maintained that tolls are, in fact, a town issue. “For Southington, a town with five exits on I-84… I feel strongly that that is a cop-out,” she said. “We’re talking about people with fixed incomes, single mothers, those who can’t afford this. We have to acknowledge the direct impact on the citizens who stand before us.”

Democratic councilors John Barry and Kelly Morrissey both pointed out that a vote against the resolution is not a vote for taxes.

“There are a lot of controversial issues at the state, and so many are important to the town of Southington. But, I’m not going to sit here every two weeks talking about major controversial discussions,” said Barry. “This is about democracy, and that’s a great thing.”

To comment on this story or to contact staff writer Sheridan Roy, email her at SRoy@SouthingtonObserver.com.

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