A Tolling Question for Connecticut

July 7, 2014

By State Senator Len Fasano | East Haven Courier

Tolls have come and gone from Connecticut, but recently there has been a whole lot of buzz about bringing them back. This chatter raises many questions and concerns. Why did we remove tolls in the first place, and would the law have to change to allow tolls to come back?

The first step to answering these questions is to understand the history.

Connecticut has not seen tolls since the late 1980s when the state entered into an agreement with the federal government to remove the tolls. In the early ‘80s, many peopled demanded the removal of tolls in response to a deadly accident on I-95 in which a truck crashed into a line of cars at a Stratford toll booth. While this accident influenced public discussion around the safety of toll booths, the true underlying reason for removing tolls was federal legislation. During this time, the government made additional federal funding available to states for road repairs, but to qualify states had to agree to remove all tolls. As the funding came in, the tolls went out.

Over time, the federal government made exceptions to this rule. Most recently, the Moving Ahead for Progress in the 21st Century Act (MAP-21), signed into law in 2012, allows tolls on interstate highways for any of the following projects:

  • Adding any new capacity to a roadway, including adding entirely new interstate routes or new lanes on existing highways
  • Converting HOV (high-occupancy vehicle) lanes to HOT (high-occupancy toll) lanes
  • Reconstructing bridges or tunnels
  • Instituting congestion pricing on urban interstates

If Connecticut wants to install tolls right now, and keep federal transportation funding, the state would have to prove they fit one of the above exemptions. One of these exemptions in particular, congestion pricing, has been talked about a lot recently with both I-95 and I-84 in mind.

With all that being said, there are still many questions about what lies ahead for Connecticut. Federal law may allow some tolls, but the state ultimately must decide whether or not to pursue new tolls. This next legislative session, the Connecticut General Assembly members are likely to find themselves debating this very issue.

In addition to a state discussion, the federal government will also be revisiting their toll policy within the next year, and the Obama administration has already proposed eliminating the prohibition on tolls on the interstate highways that receive federal funds. Depending on federal law, it may soon become easier for states to gain permission for new tolls.

We know that transportation is a huge issue in Connecticut. While we are a small state, we are all constantly moving around it. Tolls would, without a doubt, impact almost everyone. Some love the idea, some hate it. As public opinion fluctuates, the only thing that is certain is that the discussion and the debate are sure to remain parked in Connecticut for a while.