Photo courtesy of the DOT highway camera

The Transportation Strategy Board will move forward this week with a study that analyzes the impacts and benefits of putting tolls back on Connecticut’s highways.

Tolls were removed from Connecticut’s highways following the fatal 1983 crash at a Stratford toll booth plaza. Since then, reinstating tolls has remained a topic of debate in the state. Over the years that debate has grown louder as traffic congestion increases and federal transportation funds decrease.

Phil Smith, Office of Policy and Management Undersecretary said Tuesday that the Transportation Strategy Board will use a little more than $1 million to conduct the toll study, which will look at major interstate highways and limited access roads like Route 2 and Route 3.

Smith said in a phone interview Tuesday that the Transportation Strategy Board hired Cambridge Systematics to conduct the study, which will look at the impacts of tolls and congestion pricing in the state.

He said the consultant has been told not to look at any toll systems that would require installing a toll booth. He said they were instructed to limit their study to electronic toll booths, which don’t require drivers to stop.

It will also look at what the impact of turning the Hartford area’s High-Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes into High-Occupancy Toll (HOT) lanes. Smith said at the moment only vehicles with more than one person in the car can travel in the HOV lanes, but if they were converted into HOT lanes lone motorists could pay to use them.

Smith said the study will be completed in late January 2009 or early February 2009 when the General Assembly is back in session. The study will not make any recommendations, but the Transportation Strategy Board is likely to use the study to make recommendations to the governor and the legislature. The chairman of the Transportation Strategy Board was unavailable for comment Tuesday.

Last year, Gov. M. Jodi Rell’s commission to reform the Department of Transportation supported the Transportation Strategy Board’s decision to move forward with a toll and congestion pricing study.

In the commission’s final report it states, “If the State does not authorize reinstituting tolls, it still has the fundamental problem of being unable to fund the transportation work needed.”

“State-of-the-art electronic tolling devices on State highways and other congestion pricing systems would improve traffic distribution, reallocate traffic to transit alternatives, and generate significant revenues without impeding traffic. Such funds could support further technology advances,” the report concluded.

Some 33 states now have tolls, and another five are piloting them.