State Sen. Toni Boucher: Will the reintroduction of tolls take a toll on commuters? [Danbury News-Times]

March 6, 2013

Editorial as it appeared in the Danbury News-Times

The Transportation Committee recently held an informational meeting and public hearing on several ideas affecting commuters. The biggest talker of the day was reinstating tolls on Connecticut’s highways.

Like a bad penny, the issue keeps coming back every year.

One glaring issue is whether the legislature and governor will add a toll on top of the highest gas tax in the nation.

Connecticut’s gas tax is actually two taxes combined — an excise tax and a percentage tax. The percentage tax (gross receipts tax) is scheduled to increase in July, which will bring the price at the pump even higher.

When I asked if tolls would replace or reduce the gas tax I received no reply.
Many who testified at the public hearing believe adding tolls is another example of the state reaching into the pockets of hard working citizens.

Some who opposed tolls were also very skeptical of their purpose. Is it to raise money so the state can fund road and bridge projects or are tolls just another way to fund an increase in state government spending? Could toll revenue be used to close a budget deficit?

As history has shown, this is a very real concern. The state has been in the habit of swiping millions from the special transportation fund not to fix roads, but to pay its bills.

Past attempts to reinstate tolls have taken a tortuous route through the legislature and this year looks to be no different. However, a variety of interesting ideas continue to inspire debate.

New electric tolling mechanisms are different around the country. Some studies have shown there is a 20 percent non-compliance threshold where violators fail to pay the bill they were sent. Unless there’s a way to levy a penalty, violations are difficult to enforce.

Experts tell us until there is national interoperability, so that one transponder can be used to go through all tolls anywhere in the country, it will be hard to collect from scofflaws. Federal Transportation officials have set a June 2016 date to complete this objective.

As in previous years, the merits of border tolls were also discussed. First Selectman Rudy Marconi of Ridgefield testified before the committee saying Connecticut roads are a gateway to New York and we should be charging a toll at the borders.

Others describe border tolls as inequitable, citing their disproportionate impact on border towns.

For example, the Danbury Fair mall gets 40 percent of its customers from New York. Levying a toll might adversely affect the mall’s business and hurt the regional economy.

There is also the issue of diversion. When border tolls are in place, trucks and cars tend to cut through local neighborhoods to avoid tolls, causing traffic headaches for local communities.

Finally, the committee heard an emotional plea from a family member who lost several loved ones in the tragic Stratford toll plaza crash in 1983 when six people were killed. This family member reminded the committee it would be ill advised to reinstate tolls.

She suggested stop raiding the special transportation fund and reduce spending if more revenue is needed to repair roads. Her testimony was very well received.
The next steps in the bill process are the transportation committee’s review of all testimony, determining whether this proposal should be voted on in committee and if supported, would go to the house and senate floor for a vote in the House and Senate.

With rolling deficits as far as the eye can see, it is important for the public to weigh in on this important proposal.

State Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, represents the 26th district which includes Ridgefield, Redding and a part of Bethel.