Sen. Boucher Fights the Reintroduction of Tolls

April 28, 2012

Senator Toni Boucher released the following statement re: SB 289 An Act Concerning the Establishment of Tolls for the Extension of Rte 11 from Salem to I-95 at the border of East Lyme and Waterford in southeastern Connecticut.

“I strongly opposed this bill as it sets a precedent to reinstitute tolls throughout Connecticut whenever a new road way or extension is considered. I believe a vote for this bill is a vote for the return of tolls in Connecticut. Tolls that were eliminated in 1987 by then Governor O’Neil after a massive accident destroyed a Connecticut toll plaza and many lives were lost.

“I do not support re-introducing tolls onto Connecticut Highways due to the potentially harmful and costly effect installing electronic tolls on our roads would have on our towns and residents who are already overburdened by high taxes. In addition voters in my district have a visceral negative reaction anytime they hear the word tolls.

“The Denver Post reports that their tolls have not produced the revenues projected to recover costs of toll construction due to toll avoidance and traffic diverting to their local roadways impacting the quality of life in their communities.

“Tractor trailers already take alternative routes through these towns. How much worse will traffic become on local roads if people start using them to avoid paying tolls? Is that really fair to residents of these communities, or the local businesses if customers are lost when they have to fight horrendous traffic or pay added travel costs to patronize them?

“I understand that the state has to consider all possible revenue sources, especially now when transportation projects are looking for dedicated revenue sources, despite having one of the highest gas taxes in the nation. However, this is a complex issue and we have to carefully consider all of the consequences – intended and unintended – before we take such a drastic step such as the reintroduction of tolls.

“Questions were left unanswered during the debate: the impact to Connecticut should we lose federal transportation dollars because tolls were reintroduced. Note Connecticut was awarded over 4 billion dollars from the federal government as a result of eliminating tolls from its highways. And, where would the $1.1 Billion estimated to pay for this 8 miles of new roadway on Rte 11 if the federal government turned the project down for similar projects in Rhode Island?

“As I anticipated, parallels were quickly drawn by State Senator Bob Duff to a project he has long advocated – a Super 7 Highway from Danbury to Norwalk.

“I was successful in blocking Sen. Duff’s amendment to add this controversial plan to the act establishing tolls for the extension of Rte. 11.

“Super 7 a (55 year controversy) has been shelved by the state for the foreseeable future due to insurmountable barriers that include:

Environmental & Health Issues:

  • It is home to one of the largest wetlands in our state that cannot be mitigated.
  • A National Park is now located along the originally proposed route.
  • Wetlands along the route serve as habitats for rare species.

Cost Issues:

  • 40% of the land needed for building Super 7 is not currently owned by the state.
  • New federal highway grading requirements and regulations would require it to be elevated in most places; cost of building a 20-mile, 100- foot-high fly over highway would be several billions of dollars, assuming necessary permits could ever be obtained.

Multiple Town Opposition:

  • Previous efforts to build Super 7 were killed when local citizens took their opposition to court; today, environment groups and local governments, including Ridgefield, Redding, Wilton, and parts of many surrounding towns, would keep future proposals to build Super 7 in the courts for decades.

“In addition, I helped to broker an environmentally sensitive and less expensive compromise to building a one hundred foot high Interstate 95 – like super highway through Wilton, Redding and Ridgefield that has resulted in the successful widening of the existing Rte. 7.

“This successful road project has cost the state a fraction of the projected cost of a new highway. It has also been less damaging to the environment while completely eliminating congestion in the area and the need for an exorbitant super highway in the future.

“In fact, the project managers and construction crew have done such a fine job they have been tasked with some of our state’s largest construction projects. We are grateful for their fine work that has not only addressed our traffic issues but left the area with a well landscaped and widened roadway without cutting out the heart of our communities which a super highway was certain to do.

“It has the added benefit of preserving some of the most beautiful colonial communities that have made Connecticut such an attractive place for our families to live in. A win, win for the taxpayer and the state! “