Connecticut bills would take toll on road users

| Monday, February 28, 2011

Time is running out at the Connecticut statehouse on numerous bills that would charge truckers and other drivers to use roads.

With a $3.5 billion budget deficit looming over the heads of state officials, Transportation Chairman Tony Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill, has offered a bill to help eat into that gap.

Rep. Guerrera is pushing to charge tolls on certain major roadways to bolster revenues for roads. More specifically, all-electronic tolls would be charged at eight key entry points to the state: Interstates 84, 91, 95 and 395, as well as the Merritt Parkway and two each on Interstates 84 and 95, and one each on I-91, I-395, the Merritt Parkway and U.S. Route 6.

?You put up border tolls for $5 a trip, you?re talking $600 million a year in revenue. That?s $18 billion over 30 years. You can?t argue with that,? Guerrera said in a statement.

Guerrera also said that truckers and others passing through the state typically don?t buy fuel there because Connecticut has one of the highest fuel tax rates. He said they are using Connecticut roads for free.

OOIDA leadership points out 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.

State officials removed tolls from the Connecticut Turnpike in the mid 80s. Concerns about safety and congestion spurred the state to remove toll booths that were scattered across roadways.

The Legislature?s Transportation Committee recently held a hearing on Guerrera?s bill ?HB6136? and other toll legislation.

Sen. Edith Prague, D-Columbia, is the sponsor of one of the bills calling for border tolls. The bill ?SB31? would authorize tolls to be charged on the state?s ?major highways.?

Michael Riley, president of the Connecticut Motor Transport Association, told panel members at the hearing that tolling existing highways is simply wrong.

?Turning highways into cash cows for individual states is unfair to the highway users who have paid for the construction and maintenance of these roads through the payment of fuel taxes,? Riley said in prepared remarks. ?Tolling on existing highways is nothing more than an ill-conceived quick fix for transportation funding shortfalls.?

Rep. David Scribner, D-Columbia, also pointed out that reinstating tolls could jeopardize money the state receives from the federal government, which prohibits states from adding tolls on existing highways.

Another bill would rely solely on trucks to pay for the privilege of driving through the state. Sponsored by Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, the bill ?HB5949? would require the installation of E-ZPass stations on interstates to collect fees from trucks passing through the state.

Sen. Michael McLachlan, R-Danbury, spoke in opposition to the bills. He told lawmakers that imposing tolls would lead to a flood of traffic on local roads near the state?s borders.

?An estimated 13,800 vehicle a day will revert to this practice just at the border change on Interstate 84 in Danbury,? McLachlan stated.

He also noted that placing tolls at the borders could be a violation of the U.S. commerce clause.

One effort that wards off concerns about putting tolls on existing roadways is offered by Rep. Ed Jutila, D-Niantic. HB6200 calls for tolls to be charged on new highways or highway extensions ? such as Route 11 ? to help pay for construction.

Gov. Dannel Malloy has said he wants the road connecting Hartford with southeastern Connecticut to get done, and tolls are an option.

The deadline for bills to advance from the Legislature?s Transportation Committee is Friday, March 4.

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

Editor?s Note: Please share your thoughts with us about the topic included in this story. Comments may be sent to statelegislativedesk@ooida.com.