Reviving tolls — an idea that’s failed to gain traction in Connecticut for more than 25 years — will be at the center of a public hearing Wednesday as the Transportation Committee seeks input on a bill that would establish electronic tolling at the state’s borders.
As of Tuesday afternoon, approximately 350 pieces of written testimony were already available on the General Assembly’s website.
Those sharing their viewpoints in person will be heard Wednesday at 10:30 a.m. in Hartford’s Legislative Office Building.
The committee bill would authorize the state transportation commissioner to “initiate any actions necessary for the establishment and commencement of operations of electronic tolling at the borders of the state.”
The submitted testimony of Ralene Petrovich of Danbury was a simple: “NO to border tolls.”
Peter Sielman of Salem called for a more targeted approach built around specific projects, such as the completion of Route 11, that would remove the tolls once the project is paid for.
Some people — though not many — wrote in support of the bill. Trumbull’s Albert Cerino said technology that allows drivers to maintain speed through tolls eliminates safety and environmental concerns arising from vehicles idling at toll booths. He also said tolls are a fair way of generating revenue since only those who use the highways pay them.
A report prepared in 2009 for the Connecticut Office of Policy and Management by Cambridge Systematics Inc. examined the impact of tolls placed at each of the state’s eight limited access border crossings. The locations stretch from Interstate 95 on the New York line to Interstate 395 at the Massachusetts border.
While committee co-Chairman Antonio Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill, said border tolls would ease the burden on residents by capturing revenue from many out-of-state drivers, the study cited border town residents as those most adversely affected by the proposal.
“From an economic and equity perspective, travelers in the border regions would incur most of the costs and impacts, but few of the benefits. This could significantly disadvantage these regions of the state,” the report said.
Written testimony from Paul J. Pugliese, president of Greenwich Land Co. Inc., said border tolls would have “catastrophic consequences for local business areas,” as drivers leave the highway to avoid tolls: “The congestion we now experience when there are traffic issues on I-95 will be compounded and occur at all times of the day and night.”
According to the study, approximately 14,000 cars would divert on a daily basis from I-95 at the New York border — or 1,400 vehicles in the highest peak hour.
Pugliese said money should come from the federal government and from the state’s “extraordinarily high gas tax.”
Guerrera said the state no longer can rely on funding sources that have made transportation infrastructure projects possible in the past. “Our gas tax revenues are diminishing as we speak because cars are getting better gas mileage. They’ve become electric, hybrid; therefore, people aren’t going to the pump as often as they used to.”
Meanwhile, he said, federal officials are warning states that the Department of Transportation funding stream is drying up. “They can’t keep subsidizing all the infrastructure in the United States. They haven’t raised the national gas tax since 1993. They’re not anticipating raising it now because it’s a very unpopular vote. Nobody wants to raise the gas tax,” Guerrera said.
The study found border tolls would raise significant revenue but would do little to improve overall congestion in the corridors.
“However, if the toll revenue were used effectively, there could be other transportation system benefits achieved that were not evaluated in this study,” the report said.
Tolls in the amount of $1 per vehicle, with trucks paying more, would generate an estimated $3.7 billion in revenue over 30 years, according to the study.
The effective use of the revenue for transportation infrastructure needs is a sticking point with many toll foes. Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, questioned the state’s commitment to using toll revenue for transportation infrastructure needs.
“People are very suspicious that it’s going to go where it’s supposed to go,” she told WTIC 1080’s Ray Dunaway on his radio show Tuesday. “It’s raided all the time to be used to balance the budget. And, let’s face it, the budget’s in deficit again.”
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy used much of his State of the State address last month to advocate for a “lock box” to prevent lawmakers from diverting funds collected for transportation projects. The governor framed the policy as a prerequisite to collecting additional revenue to fund a 30-year plan to upgrade Connecticut’s transportation infrastructure.
Included in the Wednesday public hearing are two bills on the so-called lock box filed by Malloy as part of his budget package. One is a change in statute that he could sign into law if it’s approved by the legislature. The other is a constitutional amendment that would need to be approved by voters after the legislature either passed it with a super majority or passed it two years in a row. In either case, it takes more than one year to amend the constitution.
The agenda for the public hearing also includes a bill introduced by Rep. Mitch Bolinsky, R-Newtown, to make tolls tax deductible for those filling state personal income tax returns.