Effort in Connecticut would take a toll

| Tuesday, April 26, 2005

Advocates for improving transportation in Connecticut want the state to take a hard look at reviving tolls to raise revenue for transportation work.

Earlier this month, two panels assigned by the state to study transportation along Interstates 395 and 95 in eastern Connecticut backed a plan for a comprehensive study of the costs and benefits of charging drivers to use state highways.

According to The Day in New London, CT, committee members endorsed the proposal after a presentation from Transportation Strategy Board Chairman R. Nelson Griebel, who estimated the study would cost as much as $2 million. The board advises lawmakers and the governor on transportation planning.

The board also told Gov. M. Jodi Rell that the state would need to spend more than $4 billion during the next decade to make significant improvements to its roads, ports and mass transit. The governor responded with a $1.3 billion plan, funded by increasing Connecticut’s fuel tax by 6 cents per gallon in the next nine years.

The proposed fuel tax increase would create an additional $13 million to $15 million a year in revenue. Much of the money would be used to increase and improve traffic flow and repair ramps on I-95.

Other designations for the money include $150 million for improvements to I-84 and I-91; $7.5 million for new buses; and $667 million to add 342 new passenger rail cars to the Metro-North railroad fleet.

Drivers were freed from paying to use Connecticut highways in 1985 after accidents near tollbooths raised safety concerns. Critics also pointed out the original purpose of the tolls were to pay off the cost of construction – a task that had been achieved.

Today, toll advocates say such systems as EZ-Pass would be far more sophisticated than the tollbooths of 20 years ago and could be ready to go in as little as four years, the Republican-American reported.

Griebel said other strategies such as higher fees during rush hours and penalty fees for entering the highway and exiting only a couple of exits later could be utilized.

Lawmakers in the General Assembly have not yet introduced any bills to bring back tolls. Griebel, however, told The Day he is optimistic that legislation would be considered before the session ends in June.

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