(Hartford Courant) Sen. Kissel: “We were able to take the border tolls idea out of the fast lane, for now.”

March 19, 2013

Article as it appeared in the Hartford Courant

Legislative Panel Moves To Protect Transportation Funds, Consider Highway Tolls

By DON STACOM, [email protected]
The Hartford Courant
7:14 PM EDT, March 15, 2013

State lawmakers moved forward Friday with legislation to create tolls for Route 11, protect transportation funds from budget raids and punish drivers who carelessly hurt pedestrians or cyclists.

The transportation committee advanced nearly 24 proposed bills, but it’s far too early to know whether the full legislature will vote on some, all or none of them.

Perhaps the most widely watched proposal would have established electronic tolls at Connecticut’s borders on I-91, I-84 and other highways. Its sponsors argued that the state desperately needs new money to fix decrepit roads and bridges, but acknowledged early on that the idea may not be adopted for another year or two.

On Friday, lawmakers, on a mostly party line vote, approved a heavily watered-down version that requires state transportation planners to present a study by next February about benefits and disadvantages of placing tolls on Connecticut highways — or just the lightly used high-occupancy vehicle lanes.

“We were able to take the border tolls idea out of the fast lane, for now,” said Sen. John Kissel, R-Enfield. “Tolls near the state line would impede commerce, hurt Connecticut tourism and possibly set off a toll war in New England.”

Sen. Michael McLachlan, R-Danbury, said: “Fending off border tolls for another year and relegating the bill to a study is a small victory for area motorists, but this is an issue we must continue to stay on top of.”

A bill to complete the southern end of Route 11 and install tolls there to repay the expense was sent for a legislative vote, but a similar bill last year couldn’t get through the full General Assembly.

A bill to keep money raised for the special transportation fund also made progress. It is designed to block governors or legislators from raiding the money — earmarked to improve roads and transit infrastructure — to cover shortfalls in the general fund.

“I’ve seen a serious interest from both parties and all four caucuses for this,” said Rep. David Scribner, ranking member of the transportation committee and the bill’s chief sponsor.

“The money is supposed to go toward fixing roads and bridges, upgrading trains and buses. When the administration takes it for other purposes, the commuting public suffers,” Sen. Jason Welch, R-Bristol, said.

The committee also endorsed the so-called vulnerable users bill, which would levy a $1,000 fine on drivers whose negligence injures a pedestrian, wheelchair user or cyclist on the roads. Pedestrian and cycling advocacy groups have long lobbied for such a law to crack down on drivers who are careless or deliberately reckless near walkers, runners, bicycle riders and others.

Friday was the committee’s deadline to pass bills along to the full General Assembly; the vast majority of proposals went nowhere.

Thirty legislators had signed on this session for a proposal to outlaw smoking in cars where young children are riding, and several Fairfield County lawmakers were pushing hard to upgrade Metro-North’s branch lines and improve amenities for passengers.

Neither of those measures made it out of committee, and a proposal to cap the operating subsidy for the CTfastrak busway never even received a hearing.

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