Shortly after midnight the House passed a bill 76 to 60 that allows the Department of Transportation to temporarily resurrect and collect highway tolls on Route 11 in the southeastern part of the state.
The temporary tolls will be used to pay for the completion of the highway, which currently stops about 8.5 miles short of its planned completion in Salem.
Rep. Ed Jutila, D-East Lyme, has championed the issue as a creative way to solve a problem that has plagued that area of the state for years. He said it will reduce traffic on Route 85 when its completed.
House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, had a difficult time wrapping his mind around the idea that the state was going to temporarily resurrect tolls, which were eliminated 28 years ago after a fatal accident, in order to pay $180 million in bonding. The $180 million will be the state’s share of the estimated $900 million project, which is expected to attract federal highway funds.
“We’re creating tolls we can’t describe or tell you what they are or where they’re going to go,” Cafero said.
Rep. David Scribner, R-Brookfield, urged his colleagues not to think about the bill as a completion to Route 11, but a change in policy that permits tolls to be placed on Connecticut highways.
“It’s worth us taking time to study before we make a policy change of prioritizing and funding highways,” Scribner said.
But as with many bills this one came with the support of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, who held a press conference May 23 in order to announce a $5 million grant from the Federal Highway Administration to fund the environmental impact study. The 80-20 percent matching grant requires the state to contribute $1 million.
In addition to the environmental assessment, Department of Transportation Acting Commissioner James P. Redeker said last week that the success of the project is tied to two other steps. First the department must complete the remaining field survey work for the project and use it to come up with engineering cost estimates. The final step is figuring out how the project will be paid for, Redeker said.
“The final piece will be a revenue study that will take a look at options for funding the road, using not just traditional sources as was done before but investigating things like tolling and other mechanisms that can bring sufficient funding to the table to do this,” he said.
This legislation, which now goes to the Senate, gives the DOT more funding options as it looks for ways to complete the highway.