(Updated 5 p.m.) It looks like a bill that allows tolls to be implemented on new highways or highway extensions, and the red light camera bill received the green light from the Transportation Committee Friday afternoon. The toll bill passed 23-12 and the red light bill passed 25-11.
Rep. Ed Jutila, D-East Lyme, said the toll bill will authorize the Department of Transportation to impose tolls on new highways and new highway extensions, such as Route 11. The funds generated from those tolls would only be used to fund the new roads and would be discontinued as soon as the state’s share of the construction was paid off.
He begged his colleagues to refrain from the visceral reaction they may have at the mention of tolls as they consider the bill. The three other toll bills implementing electronic and border tolls effectively died Friday, the committee’s self-imposed deadline.
Jutila said when he realized Route 11 was never going to be completed for lack of funding he knew he had to find a way to finish its construction. The collection of the tolls will help to finish Route 11 and other unfinished or new highways statewide.
Sen. Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford, said the incompletion of Route 11 really is a public safety issue because of the Millstone Nuclear Power Plant in New London. She said Route 85 is currently the only evacuation route and a major accident on that road could lead to some real problems.
Rep. David Scribner, R-Bethel, said he understands Stillman and Jutila’s frustration with the unfinished highway, but is concerned about how establishing tolls will impact the state’s relationship with the federal government and its approval process for road construction.
He said he understands the application of tolls would be limited under this legislation, but believes there are better ways to find funding.
Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, said he’s been told by his constituents, who are largely against tolls on I-95 and the Merritt Parkway, that they would support tolling for completion of Route 7. He said he’s against border tolls too, but doesn’t believe there’s any other way the highway will be completed.
In addition to tolls, the Transportation Committee passed a bill that would allow communities with populations over 60,000 to implement red light cameras. However, those communities would also have to approve the measure before the cameras are installed.
The bill, pushed largely by the New Haven community where there have been numerous car v. pedestrian accidents, was touted as a public safety issue.
Rep. Roland Lemar III, D-New Haven, said for the past month and a half he’s been quietly lobbying his colleagues in the legislature to pass the bill and prior to becoming a lawmaker made annual trips to the Capitol in support of the legislation.
He said he believes there is sufficient evidence to show that people will change their behaviors if they know the cameras are there. He said he lives about two blocks from the Trumbull Street exit off of Interstate 91 and regularly counts four to five cars drive through the red light.
He said there are people in New Haven, where more people walk and bike to work than in many Connecticut cities, who are afraid to walk or bike seven blocks because of the dangerous drivers. He said this legislation is all about public safety.
But Scribner said he’s not convinced about the accuracy of the technology. He said at least a few states have removed them because of the inaccuracies.
Joe Grabarz, a lobbyist for the Connecticut American Civil Liberties Union, said there’s no appeals if you get one of these tickets and it’s the vehicle that gets the ticket, not the person driving it, which makes it that much more difficult to fight.
When they passed similar laws in Maine and New Mexico public outcry was so great they repealed them the very next year, Grabarz added.
That also concerned Rep. Joe Serra, D-Middletown, who said he just doesn’t think Connecticut is ready for this. But Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, said she was willing to support it because it requires municipal support.
Boucher also said she has concerns about the timing of the yellow light. She said municipalities shouldn’t have the ability to shorten the timing of the yellow light from 8 seconds to collect more money from fines.
Abby Roth and Kristen Bechtel with the Connecticut Livable Streets campaign, who were at the Capitol for a meeting with Sen. Martin Looney, said the bill is enabling legislation and does not force communities to do anything.
Bechtel said New Haven galvanized around this issue because of the number of accidents at several intersections across the city.
Bechtel, who is also a pediatrician at Yale, said a pedestrian doesn’t stand a chance against a car.
The 2008 death of 11-year-old Gabrielle “Gabby” Alexis Lee, was the second New Haven resident to be killed crossing the street that year. Mila Rainof, a Yale medical student, died in late April of 2008 when crossing the intersection at York Street and South Frontage.
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It’s likely the bill will be sent back from the floor of the House to the Judiciary Committee before it goes onto the calendar.