(News Times Editorial) “Tolls are not the answer.”

January 6, 2015

Article as it appeared in the Danbury News-Times

The reinstitution of highway tolls will be floated again in the upcoming General Assembly session, this time as a funding source for infrastructure improvements.

Tolls have not been a good idea before and they certainly are not a good idea now.

Those who live and work in the border towns, such as Western Connecticut communities near New York, would pay a greater share of the burden of tolls.

But in the 27 years since tolls were eliminated, in response to the horrific Jan. 19, 1983 accident that killed six people at a toll plaza in Stratford, the notion keeps surfacing and this year the call for tolls promises to be stronger than ever.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said last week that transportation would be a key focus of his second term — a commitment we support — and that everything is on the table to pay for improvements, including tolls.

Incoming Speaker of the House Brendan Sharkey, a Democrat from the non-border town of Hamden, said the time has come to begin the transition to tolls as a steady way to fund infrastructure improvements. Tolls would allow a reduction in the gas tax, Sharkey postulates.

Lowering the gas tax, which is among the highest in the nation, would be a welcome relief to motorists. But filling the gap with tolls would unfairly shift the expense to those near the state borders.

Also, would revenue generated by tolls truly go for highway and rail repairs? That is worrisome because every year the General Assembly dips into the Special Transportation Fund, where the gas tax goes, to instead plug holes in the budget.

That infrastructure improvements to Connecticut’s highway and rail systems are needed is unquestionable. Metro-North, one of the busiest rail commuting lines in the country, relies on some bridges that are more than 100 years old. Major portions of Interstate 84 from Danbury through Waterbury and Hartford are built for only half the traffic capacity seen now. Congestion is a frustrating, time-consuming and air-polluting way of life.

One common sense argument against reinstituting tolls has been that the state would lose a substantial amount of federal money, which is awarded to states that do not have tolls. For Connecticut, that is $500 million a year.

Legislators on both sides of the aisle representing western Connecticut have been steadfast and articulate in their opposition to tolls.

State Rep. David Scribner, a Republican from Brookfield and ranking minority member of the Transportation Committee, estimates the cost at $50 a week for commuters. State Sen. Michael McLachlan, a Republican from Danbury, points to the wear on local streets when motorists get off the highway to avoid tolls. State Rep. Bob Godfrey, a Democrat from Danbury, rightly calls tolls unfair and unjust.

We are confident the local delegation will continue its coordinated opposition to tolls, though the challenge will be greater this year with the climate at the Capitol fueled by billion-dollar budget deficits projected for the next two fiscal years.

A serious and detailed discussion is needed on how to fund the necessary upgrade of Connecticut’s transportation systems, but tolls are not the answer.