Not Enough Information to Show that Tolls Are Right for Connecticut

August 15, 2017

As I travel throughout my district, many constituents have asked about highway tolls. They say that surrounding states have tolls, why don’t we? They say tolls may be the answer to rebuilding Connecticut’s crumbling infrastructure. They think tolls will mostly be paid by drivers from other states.

But, as I have explained to others, tolls are not the revenue savior they’ve been made out to be. Simply, there has been no study to show if and how tolls can realistically make a profit in Connecticut.

Right now, without tolls, Connecticut receives a higher percentage of federal transportation funds than neighboring states with tolls. If we implement tolls, we lose the higher percentage of funding.

To be accepted by the federal government, congestion tolling would have to be placed on every major highway throughout the state as a means to reduce traffic congestion. Drivers who regularly use 84, 95, 91, 15, and 9 would either, have to pay a toll, or navigate without using these Connecticut highways. This would lead to increased traffic and wear and tear on remaining roadways.

Because we have no definitive studies on tolls in Connecticut, we also do not know how much would need to be charged. In addition to funding transportation initiatives in the state, the tolls would have to recoup the cost spent to construct them. Given the need to place them on virtually every exit of every highway in the state, we can expect the cost of installing tolls to be pretty steep before the state sees a single cent in revenue, and we don’t know how many years it will take before the state breaks even.

Of the limited studies that have been done, drivers would pay toll rates that far exceed tolls in other places by anywhere between 2-4 times the highest rate in the country. These studies also do not calculate the effect of when people take parallel roads, such as Route 1 instead of I-95. The studies fail to provide information on the impact of reduced toll prices for residents and indigents. Additionally, current studies do not take into account how out-of-state drivers could plan routes around Connecticut if toll rates are set too high.

As for the semi-tractor trailer drivers that people assume get a free pass when driving through the state, the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut said Connecticut netted $30 million from out-of-state truck fleets last year. This is because Connecticut participates in the International Fuel Tax agreement with Canadian provinces that the other states in the Continental US.

I also would point out that the proposed legislation for tolls that came before the legislature this year did not significantly reduce the state’s two fuel taxes. The petroleum products gross earnings tax would remain at 8.1 percent and the 25-cent a gallon gasoline tax would only be reduced by half a penny-a year over five years. Drivers would continue paying virtually the same amount in fuel taxes while also paying new tolls.

The burden on drivers that would be caused by tolls is compounded by the fact that we have no guarantee it will be spent on transportation. Republicans have called for a transportation lockbox that would prevent money collected from fuel taxes and tolls from being spent for any other purpose.

Tolls are not a magic bullet that can fix Connecticut’s transportation funding problems. There are other ways we can prioritize spending to support transportation.

Senate Republicans have proposed a budget to take Connecticut in a new direction. You can read our proposal, where we propose dedicating $62 billion in transportation spending over the next 30 years. We do this by making policy changes that will make the Special Transportation Fund solvent without raising taxes or implementing tolls.

Connecticut can improve its roads and transportation infrastructure without tolls for now. Further studies and information are needed so we can make the best fiscal decision for our state. This will go a long way toward making our state more livable for residents and better for business. This is something we should address sooner than later.

I hope this gives you a clearer understanding of the complexities surrounding the issue of tolls in Connecticut. If you have any other questions, feel free to contact me at [email protected] or at (860) 240-8800.

State Senator Henri Martin represents the 31st State Senate District, which includes the communities of Bristol, Harwinton, Plainville, Plymouth, and Thomaston.