Tolls returning to Connecticut?

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | Monday, April 17, 2017

Connecticut lawmakers are again talking about whether to bring back tolls to boost sagging transportation funding.

State officials are trying to expand their list of options to help the state address estimates that have put costs to repair and maintain transportation infrastructure during the next few years at as much as $5 billion.

A House bill moving through the General Assembly would authorize the Department of Transportation to build, maintain, and operate electronic tolls. The state could also partner with a private group to carry out the duties.

Tolls have been off limits in the state since the mid-1980s when state officials removed tolls from the Connecticut Turnpike. Concerns about safety and congestion spurred the state to remove toll booths.

Advocates for charging highway users to access existing roads say that the state’s road funding needs warrant revisiting tolls.

Democratic House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz said some tolls could be up and running in about 18 months if lawmakers endorse plans to install electronic tolls.

The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association has pointed out that truck drivers already foot quite a bill to travel through states, including Connecticut. While truckers may not buy fuel in the state, they still pay whatever Connecticut’s fuel tax is for every mile they run in the state.

The state’s tax rate on gas is now set at 25 cents per gallon. The diesel rate is 41.7 cents.

In exchange for additional expenses related to tolls, bill sponsors added a provision to reduce the state’s fuel taxes by 2.5 cents per gallon over five years.

Also included in the bill, HB6058, is authorization for the state DOT to set toll rates that vary by congestion and type of vehicle.

The Joint Committee on Transportation voted 19-16 to advance the bill for further consideration.

Supporters say the state has two corridors that would be most suitable for congestion pricing: Interstate 84 between New Britain and Hartford, and I-95 in southwest Connecticut. Others say the state’s fuel tax model is a less-than-equitable method for raising transportation revenue.

Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, wants no part of tolls. She points out that Connecticut is the third-highest taxing state in the nation.

“We have plenty of taxes. People have had enough of more taxes,” she recently told Land Line Now. “In any other form this truly is another tax. It’s not a toll. It’s a tax on an already overburdened Connecticut taxpayer.”

Boucher also shared concern about the costs that would be incurred by professional drivers.

“Every time they have to pay extra the price of consumer goods has to go up. As a result it is going to cost people more at the grocery store.”

An alternative provided by Republican leadership at the statehouse involves financing with special tax obligation bonds.

Sen. Len Fasano, R-North Haven, said estimates show the bonds would result in at least $1 billion annually for transportation needs during the next 30 years.

“All of this would be done without the need for tax increases or tolls,” Fasano testified during a recent hearing.

HB6058 is one of at least five efforts at the statehouse to permit electronic tolls in the state.

Another concern voiced by opponents is the lack of a guarantee that toll revenues, or any other road revenues, could not be raided for other purposes.

“The state of Connecticut has raided the transportation fund where the gas tax is deposited,” Boucher said. “Instead of paying for better roads they literally use it to balance the budget.”

In an effort to address this concern, at least nine bills have been offered to amend the state’s constitution to create a “lockbox” for transportation revenue.

To view other legislative activities of interest for Connecticut, click here.

Land Line Now Host Mark Reddig contributed to this report.

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