As the debate on toll implementation has recently garnered attention during this legislative session, the Connecticut Department of Transportation and the Federal Highway Administration are set to present a federal study on electronic tolls to the state General Assembly.
The study was approved by the FHA in 2012 in an effort to gather facts about the potential for electronic tolling in Connecticut. The report looks into the effectiveness of an electronic tolls system pilot program that is based on value pricing, in which toll prices can vary so drivers are incentivized to take different paths or travel at different times, thus clearing up road congestion. The pilot program marks an exception to a federal prohibition on installing new tolls at federal highways and enables states to use tolling as a revenue source for highway construction activities as well.
“The federal government is looking for ways to alleviate these restrictions on states so that they can collect more money for infrastructure projects,” said State Rep. Antonio Guerrera, a Democrat representing Newington, Rocky Hill and Wethersfield.
The legislature is currently considering a bill that would establish electronic tolls at state borders. The bill, presented during a hearing in front of the Transportation Committee last week, received mixed testimony from legislators. The 500 testimonies filed on the committee’s website are overwhelmingly negative, however.
Michael Riley, president of the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut, testified against the tolls at the hearing. Riley told the News that the problem with border tolls is that state officials believe they are necessary to accumulate revenue from drivers entering from out of state. However, he added that every driver on Connecticut roads ends up paying in some way or another, often through a fuel tax.
Fuel taxes require drivers to pay a tax on all fuel consumed in the state, regardless of where it is purchased. All drivers already bring in some sort of revenue, Riley added.
But Gov. Dannel Malloy said in a press conference Tuesday that fuel tax receipts have rapidly declined in light of recent gas price drops and a general decrease in gas use, and those decreases would only become more pronounced in upcoming years.
Malloy added that the state as a whole must first reach a consensus on the necessity of transportation reform before considering how tolls might help to fund that reform. He said he plans to go over the implications and limitations of the Federal Highway Association’s tolls pilot program with State Department of Transportation Commissioner Jim Redeker.
At the hearing, Secretary of the Office of Policy and Management Ben Barnes said that if the tolling system is implemented at a particular location, its maintenance fee will be relatively low. He added that he is certain the state could devise a way in which residents near the tolls would not be penalized, cost-wise, based on their location.
In addition to bringing in more revenue, value pricing tolls would also promote the use of alternative modes of transportation, New Haven Director of Transportation Doug Hausladen ’04 said.
However, Riley noted that those alternative transit options do not exist in the locations where the tolls are being proposed, such as Danbury, Union or Stonington.
Judd Everhart, director of communications for the state DOT, stressed that the study, which is due to come out in “another month or so,” is simply gathering facts about the potential for electronic tolling in the state. Once released, the initiative will need to be approved by both the General Assembly and the governor.
Malloy also said Tuesday that, regardless of what program the state approves, it is important to ensure that all transportation revenue be used for transportation initiatives.
“There should be a more comprehensive funding for transportation, but nothing should be done until the state of Connecticut and the people have got the constitutional amendment to protect the funds,” Riley said. “That’s important.”
Legislators have proposed a series of joint resolutions that would amend the state constitution so that money in the transportation fund could only be used for transportation projects. One of these resolutions specifies that toll revenue would also remain in the transportation fund.
Connecticut discontinued its tolling system in 1986. It had previously been implemented on the I-95, the Merritt and Wilbur Cross Parkways and several Hartford-area bridges.