Tolls back on Legislature’s table

January 19, 2017

CT Post

HARTFORD — The General Assembly will again consider installing electronic tolls on state highways, renewing a debate that’s becoming an annual ritual at the state Capitol.

State Rep. Henry Genga, D-East Hartford, has submitted a bill that would bring electronic tolls to an unspecified number of highways and state Sen. Ted Kennedy, D-Branford, a rising star in the Democratic Party, is pushing the idea at various forums.

“It’s the worst possible time right now,” said state Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton and co-chairwoman of the transportation committee, referring to implementing tolls.

But Boucher, an adamant opponent of tolls, said she expects the Legislature will again hold hearings over tolls and committees will vote on legislation. Similar debates have occurred during each of the last two years but supporters have failed to adopt a bill.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, despite proposing to spend $100 billion over 30 years to improve the state’s roads, rails and bridges, has not embraced tolls as a way of paying for his initiative. The governor last week said he will not call for highway tolls in his upcoming budget, and added it would take up to four years to install tolls.

Chris Collibee, a spokesperson for Malloy, said on Tuesday the governor believes all options should be on the table, including a “lockbox” to prevent spending Special Transportation Fund money on non-transportation items.

“Connecticut must continue to make critically needed transportation investments that our businesses and residents are demanding,” Collibee said. “All options should be on the table for discussion in terms of how to get there. We need to focus our efforts on the transportation lockbox so that we ensure dollars meant for transportation actually go toward funding our transportation initiatives.”
Many studies

A state commissioned study several years ago projected that tolls on all highways could generate as much as $46 billion over 25 years. Lawmakers have also considered lesser forms of tolling, such as deploying electronic tolls only during peak times or charging a fee to travel on a dedicated express lane. Those proposals would would generate far less revenue.

A task force appointed by Malloy to find ways to fund the governor’s transportation initiative included tolls in its mix of ideas.

“We should at least consider congestion pricing,” Kennedy said last week during a meeting of the Connecticut Council of Small Towns, referring to charging a toll only during peak times. “Electronic tolls don’t make you slow down. That’s a reasonable way to fix the budget.”

Electronic tolls use overhead scanners to read the license plates of vehicles passing underneath and a bill is mailed to the registered owner if they do not have an EZ Pass. Connecticut removed tolls after a horrific 1983 Stratford accident in which a semi-truck loaded with potatoes crashed into a booth and killed seven people.

Genga did not respond to a request for comment about his legislation, which directs the state Department of Transportation to implement highway tolls as a source of revenue for the state’s Special Transportation Fund dedicated to road, rail and bridge projects.

Boucher said Republicans are convinced Democrats would use toll revenue to pay for a variety of needs and that little money would go toward fixing roads and bridges.

“I’m tired of the administration saying we are running out of money and saying towns and schools and the poor commuters have to pay more,” Boucher said. “Who really believes they won’t plow the fees back into paying deficits. Enough is enough. But (Democrats) are looking under every cushion and carpet for money.”