Connecticut border tolls up for debate

By Keith Goble, Land Line state legislative editor | 3/18/2015

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

State officials are trying to expand their list of options to help the state address estimates that put cost to repair and maintain transportation infrastructure during the next few years at as much as $5 billion. Connecticut already claims the highest fuel tax rate in the nation.

The Joint Committee on Transportation met recently to discuss a bill that would authorize charging toll taxes to highway users at the state’s eight limited-access border crossings. About 500 people submitted written testimony on the issue with a large majority in opposition.

Tolls have been off-limits in the state since the mid-’80s 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 needs road funding that warrants revisiting tolls.

OOIDA leadership points 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.

Michael Riley, president of the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut, is opposed to the toll plan. He said charging tolls at the state’s border may be illegal.

“Border tolls likely violate the U.S. Constitution’s Commerce Clause, since placement of tolls at or close to a state border has the explicit intent of imposing a greater burden on interstate travelers than intrastate travelers,” Riley said in written testimony.

Committee co-Chairman Tony Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill, said he supports tolls. He pointed out that Connecticut is the only state in the region that does not charge highway users to access highways.

Rep. Mike Bocchino, R-Greenwich, said that although at first glance tolls may appear to be “a magical, pain-free source of revenue,” it is not the case. In submitted testimony, he wrote that the proposal would increase pollution and congestion in towns near proposed toll locations.

“In many cases the infrastructure of these local roads are not equipped to handle such large numbers of motorists and commercial trucks,” Bocchino testified.

Instead, Bocchino suggested that legislators re-evaluate how the state uses and operates weigh stations. He referred to facilities around the state that he says are rarely open.

“Why not utilize the weigh stations more to increase revenue since it is overweight trucks which cause the most damage to our highways?”

Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, and other Republicans at the statehouse say that instead of collecting tolls the state would be better served to reserve a set amount of general obligation bonds for transportation work.

“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.”

Other lawmakers, including Gov. Dannel Malloy, say that a “lockbox” for transportation revenue already available is needed.

The governor has said he would veto any legislation to raise new revenue for transportation unless the General Assembly first sends him a bill creating a lockbox.

OOIDA and MTAC support the protection for transportation revenue. Riley wrote it is impossible to improve the state’s condition if road revenue “is used as a piggy bank to be broken into for any reason.”

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