For Many, A Border Toll is a “Four Letter Word”

February 26, 2015

Hartford, CT – Senator Toni Boucher (R-Wilton) and Ranking member of the General Assembly’s Transportation Committee challenged a proposal to reintroduce border tolls in Connecticut would be a good idea. The committee held a public hearing today on a proposed bill which would bring tolls back to Connecticut.

“The public is weighing in on this issue in a big way. I have preliminary survey results conducted by my office that reveal that 82.5 % of constituents from my part of the state are against border tolls, 12 % are in favor and the other 5.5% are undecided,” said Sen. Boucher. “We have also received nearly 500 electronic testimonies in the Transportation Committee from residents throughout Connecticut so far and the numbers are growing.” The vast majority are communicating that they strongly oppose tolls for the following reasons:

  • It is another tax in top of one of the highest taxes in the country
  • Border tolls may not be legal so that tolls throughout all of Connecticut highways would be required.
  • It would unfairly target Connecticut residents that work across state lines or live close to a toll and raise the cost of living and working in our state
  • Revenue projections would not be realized as the cost to build could be between $1-2 billion while they may only produce $50-75 million per year in revenues.
  • Commuters would use diversionary roads to avoid paying a toll and clog local roadways.
  • Out of state drivers may not pay. Experience in other state shows a nearly 30% nonpayment rate
  • Just using electric tolls (EZ pass) will not be allowed due to “reciprocity” with other states that would allow collection of delinquent tolls. Therefore standard toll booths cannot be avoided.
  • People do not trust that any toll revenue will be used for transportation improvements given past practice of raiding transportation funds
  • Tolls are highly unpopular, some suggest that voting for them is political suicide

The hearing held at the legislative office building in Hartford also included emotional testimony from family members of the Stratford Toll Plaza accident, where a truck slammed into cars waiting to pay the toll. Seven people died including the cousins of Cindy Penkoff. The horrific deaths of adults and children – some as young as three years old – produced such outrage that tolls were eliminated. Instead federal funds were given to the state producing a higher subsidy.

“My family lost two young lives. My cousins died in that fiery crash. I put part of the blame on the driver and part of the blame on the tolls. Had they not slowed down for the tolls they would be here today,” said Penkoff.

Senator Boucher asked Penkoff to explain what bringing back tolls would mean?

“The tolls were removed because of a number of crashes not just this accident. My aunt lost two children, I lost my “sister” – I lost my “brother”. Some still suffer from the physical emotional scars so many years later. We have to change the federal government and what they allow us to do. There is a major cost associated with this. I can’t see the benefits here.

“You can’t force people to buy EZ pass. In order to collect the tax you will have to bill them every time they don’t pay a toll,” remarked Penkoff. “I’m not looking forward to the devastation that comes with the learning curve of bringing tolls back. I think they are unfair, unsafe and are not the answer you think they are.”

Patrick D. Jones, Executive Director and CEO of International Bridge, Tunnel and Turnpike Association (IBTTA) stated if tolling is a viable funding option the state would need to do some critical studies that would look at different models of how to toll.

In addition, the Office of Legislative Research reports the tolls on I-95, the parkways and the three bridges raised approximately $72.3 million during the last full year of each’s operations. Operating costs were approximately $13.4 million, leaving overall net revenue of approximately $60 million. This net figure did not include personnel and administrative costs of approximately $6 million to $7 million.

Boucher is supportive of a “lock box” on special transportation funds for transportation needs.

But says with the public outcry over past practice of swiping funds from the special transportation fund to pay for the day to day bills of state government the case for tolls has not been substantiated.

Instead, she says a Republican plan to reserve a set amount of general obligation bonds to be used solely for transportation projects, starting with $441.5 million in the upcoming 2016 fiscal year may be the better route for Connecticut.

The plan also recommends the state continue to issue an average of $600 million in special tax-backed bonds that are used to fund the Department of Transportation’s capital program. Prioritizing infrastructure that lasts 50 to 100 years is the right reason for bonds, not yearly operating coast or to close budget holes.

“This plan will provide a predictable and sustainable funding stream of $1 billion a year for road, bridge, rail, bus and port improvements for 30 years without adding tolls or raising the gas tax or other taxes. We cannot rely principally on the federal government to pay for the maintenance and upgrade of Connecticut’s infrastructure. We need to look inside and set priorities” added Boucher.

The “Prioritize Progress” plan also looks to re-establish the Transportation Strategy Board to identify the most urgent needs and rank projects for funding. The toll bill will continue through the legislative process. The 2015 legislative session ends on June 3, 2015.

To take the border toll survey please visit