Department of Transportation Commissioner James Redeker testified in July before the State Bond Commission that a 3.5 cent per mile toll on Connecticut highways would generate $1 billion in revenue.
However, DOT has yet to offer any figures to support Redeker's claim and refused a request for the data under Connecticut's Freedom of Information Act from Republican Vice Chairman of the Transportation Committee Len Suzio, R-Meriden.
An email dated October 15 from DOT Principle Attorney Alice Sexton to Suzio, says Redeker’s numbers were based on a report which has yet to be finalized nearly three months after Redeker offered testimony in support of Gov. Dannel Malloy’s executive order to bond $10 million for a new study on tolls.
“As of September 25, 2018, when the Department responded to your last request, we estimated the report would be complete within a month,” Sexton wrote. “We are still in deliberations about the policy assumptions to be included in the report. In light of the ongoing deliberations, it’s difficult to estimate when the report will be complete.”
The numbers offered by Redeker during the Bond Commission meeting differed substantially from previous estimates by engineering firm CDM Smith, which estimated the state would have to charge 10 cents per mile in order to generate $1.2 billion in revenue.
Suzio responded to Sexton saying he found it “incredible” the commissioner gave testimony using assumptions and data which had yet to be studied or finalized.
“In fact, it's amazing that the Commissioner hasn't even determined what the assumptions are for his definitive testimony which he hesitates to share now but had no hesitation to rely upon when giving his authoritative opinion nearly 3 months ago,” Suzio wrote.
Suzio questioned Redeker’s numbers the day after the Commission meeting and submitted a Freedom of Information request when DOT refused to respond.
DOT in September refused the FOI request, stating the figures were based on a preliminary draft report and meetings Redeker attended with consulting company CDM Smith.
Under state statute, preliminary draft reports are exempt from Freedom of Information requests.
DOT Spokesman Judd Everhart informed Suzio in an email dated September 25 – two months after the Bond Commission meeting – that “Commissioner Redeker’s representations regarding possible toll rates and net revenues were based on meetings he attended with Department consultant CDM Smith while it was conducting computer modeling regarding toll rate and discount options.”
“These kinds of pricing details have not been included in prior reports but will be included in a report the Department is working on and expects to issue within the next month,” Everhart wrote.
However, according to the most recent email from Sexton, the DOT is unsure when that report will be completed or available.
“If you had the data at the time to make such an unequivocal representation to the Commission the public has a right to know what that data was,” Suzio wrote in a September 19 response letter. “The exemption you claim under Connecticut FOIA does not apply since your remarks were not qualified as ‘preliminary’ in nature.”
The Bond Commission meeting in July was a contentious one, largely due to Malloy’s executive order which forced a study on tolls after the legislature declined several bills to authorize a new study.
Republican Senator Scott Frantz, R-Greenwich, and Republican Representative Chris Davis, R-Ellington, pushed back against Malloy’s proposal, putting forward a motion to have it removed from the transportation bond.
That motion was denied by the Commission, which is largely controlled by the governor.
But there was some dissent from those who traditionally side with Malloy on bonding issues: State Comptroller Kevin Lembo voted against bonding for the tolls study, saying it should be done legislatively rather than through executive order, and State Treasurer Denise Nappier abstained from the vote.