The proposed locations for a new highway toll system - one that wouldn't necessarily require toll booths, or human beings to staff them. Connecticut Office of Policy and Management map, January 2011
It’s time to bring back highway tolls at Connecticut’s borders, says Rep. Anthony Guerrera, D-29 (Newington, Rocky Hill and Wethersfield), who chairs the Legislature’s Transportation Committee.
No one has had to pay at a toll booth in Connecticut since 1986.
Once the tolls were closed, partly because of safety issues, the state became heavily dependent on federal funds for transportation projects.
In a recent published statement, Rep. Guerrera says, “You put up border tolls for $5 a trip, you’re talking $600 million a year in revenue. That’s $18 billion over 30 years. You can’t argue with that.”
The proposal also calls for earmarking these funds for repairing highways and bridges and other transportation incentives, and not putting them into the general budget.
“We know we have more than $3 billion in infrastructure needs in this state, just to repair what we have,” Rep. Guerrera says.
“We know that raising the gas tax won’t do it — cars are getting more mileage, we’re hearing gas could cost $5 by next year, people are driving less. So that’s not going to work. The federal government doesn’t have the money. They’ve said they can’t keep up with all the work that America’s infrastructure needs. Tolls are a way to bring in $600 million a year for 30 years,” he argues.
Some of the transportation projects the tolls could help pay for include improving traffic flow on I-95, and expanding mass transit.
A bill is expected to be introduced to the Transportation Committee within the next couple of months.
A similar bill was introduced last March. At that time, Rep. Guerrera said that he wanted to see the gas tax cut in half if border tolls are installed.
Opponents to the proposal argued that the tolls would create an unfair financial burden for people living in towns along the border near the proposed toll locations.
Rep. Guerrera suggested that these residents, particularly if they cross the state line on a regular basis – i.e. to go to work – could be given a tax credit.
The tolls would be on interstates including I-95, I-91, I-84 and I-395 and the Merritt Parkway and Route 6 into Rhode Island.
Others who object to bringing back highway tolls, including the Department of Transportation, worry that Connecticut could lose federal highway money because of certain federal regulations.
In 2005, federal legislation was enacted known as SAFETEA-LU (Safe, Accountable, Flexible, Efficient Transportation Equity Act) that provided a number of waivers regarding toll roads and other projects that met certain requirements. However, that bill expired Sept. 30, 2009. In March 2010, President Obama signed the Hiring Incentives to Restore Employment (HIRE) Act, which extended the SAFETEA-LU only until the end of 2010.
Another concern about bringing back tolls is that local roads could become congested as drivers take alternate routes to avoid the tolls. A driver might, for example, read the “last exit before toll” sign and follow signs back to the highway past the toll.
State Rep. Anthony Guerrera, who chairs the Transportation Committee, is renewing his efforts to bring back highway tolls in Connecticut. Courtesy photo.
The proposal would not bring back the original toll booth system. In fact, there might not be any booths at all.
The plan calls for tolls to be paid electronically with an EZPass scanned by a device instead of paying cash.
Or for those who infrequently drive through these gateways, a high-tech camera system would be used that would photograph license plates and send a monthly bill to the registered owner, an idea based on a system used in Toronto.
Rep. Guerrera has even suggested that new cars come equipped with a device – a “fast lane transponder” – that would trigger when passing a toll, same as the EZPass. This electronic data would be used to bill the driver.
The talk of tolls is not a new topic. Legislators, and then-Gov. John Rowland, were debating the pro’s and con’s in 2003.
A New York Times story from April 27, 2003 (“Paying the toll may become part of the ride again”) discusses “new” technology that would allow drivers to maintain highway speeds while passing under devices hung from overhead stanchions.
This story also notes that while the Toronto system was collecting $250 million Canadian dollars a year in 2003, they also got stuck with about a half million accounts that owed $2 each.
Posted Jan. 19, 2011
Sunlight Foundation, “Disappearmarks: Millions in SAFETEA-LU Transit Earmarks are Unspent,” June 22, 2010 http://reporting.sunlightfoundation.com/2010/disappearmarks-millions-safetea-lu-transit-earmarks-are-unspent/
Connecticut Mirror, “Tolls on the table again,” March 12, 2010 http://www.ctmirror.org/story/5150/tolls-table-again
Connecticut Roads – a history of I-95, http://www.kurumi.com/roads/ct/i95.html
The preservation of a Merritt Parkway Toll Booth Plaza http://www.hmdb.org/marker.asp?marker=25903
Insurance Journal, “Toll plazas present serious highway dangers, feds warn,” April 20, 2006 http://www.insurancejournal.com/news/national/2006/04/20/67441.htm