Sen. Kissel Pleased that Border Tolls Plan is Stuck in “Long-term Traffic Jam” [Hartford Courant]

February 21, 2012

Article as it appeared in the Hartford Courant

By DANIELA ALTIMARI, [email protected]
The Hartford Courant
7:13 p.m. EST, February 17, 2012

Federal authorities have frustrated Rhode Island’s plan to place toll booths on I-95 in Hopkinton, near the Connecticut border.

The Federal Highway Administration on Friday announced that it had chosen North Carolina for its third and final slot in a pilot program for new interstate tolls. The agency had already approved requests from Virginia and Missouri.

Nancy Singer, a spokeswoman for the administration, said North Carolina’s I-95 tolls project was further along than the one proposed by Rhode Island. The selection is not necessarily final approval, she said, and is contingent upon North Carolina’s meeting certain requirements.

Federal approval is required for states to place tolls on interstate highways.

Friday’s announcement drew praise from Connecticut officials who were concerned that new tolls so close to the state line would hurt tourism and commerce here and contribute to congestion on local roads.

U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, had written a letter to U.S. Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood voicing his objection to the Rhode Island plan.

“I am a strong supporter of infrastructure investment, and I understand the challenges facing states today, but Rhode Island’s toll proposal would have disproportionately impacted southeastern Connecticut travelers,” Courtney, who represents eastern Connecticut, said in a press release Friday. “The Federal Highway Administration did the right thing in rejecting Rhode Island’s proposal, which would have made existing congestion even worse and wrought havoc on smaller roads as drivers tried to avoid tolls.”

Also fighting the plan was Republican state Sen. John Kissel of Enfield.

“It’s great to see that this ill-advised idea is now stuck in a long-term traffic jam,” Kissel said in a statement. “Tolls near the state line would impede commerce, hurt Connecticut tourism and possibly set off a toll war in New England.”

In their pitch to the Federal Highway Administration, Rhode Island officials said they were running out of money to keep their 43 miles of I-95 in good shape while also rebuilding the highway viaduct in Providence and reconstructing a major interchange. They projected that charging a $4 toll each way on I-95 would raise $40 million a year.

The Associated Press reported Friday that Rhode Island plans to continue to study the proposal in hopes of winning approval in the future. Rhode Island Transportation Director Michael Lewis said the highway administration’s decision shouldn’t be seen as a final verdict on the state’s proposal.

“This is an approval of North Carolina, not a rejection of Rhode Island,” he said. “Our application is still under consideration.”

Authority for the three new tolls projects is being granted under a pilot program that will test toll collection as a way to fund highway improvements.

The program gives the three states — North Carolina, Virginia and Missouri — authority to collect tolls on specific interstates; it does not fund the projects.