Christine Stuart photo
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy said he doesn’t know a whole lot about “mileage taxes,” but he wants the task force created to come up with ideas to fund his 30-year, $100 billion transportation initiative to consider everything.

The idea of taxing drivers based on how much they drive is an idea that’s being piloted in Oregon and it’s one of the many funding concepts raised by the Transportation Finance Panel last week. The panel is expected to make their recommendations in a final report due to Malloy and the General Assembly in mid-October.

“I think they’re looking at every way to do it,” Malloy said Tuesday at an event in East Hartford.

He said a mileage tax wasn’t his proposal, but that’s why they have a panel to look at all the options.

Former state Rep. Cameron Staples, who chairs the transportation panel, told the panel that they “are not embracing anything particular,” but “should be open to all forms of revenue that are reasonable ways to finance part or all of the governor’s transportation plan.”

Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, couldn’t even believe a mileage tax was raised for consideration by the panel.

“This is another tax residents simply cannot afford and this is not the direction Connecticut should be headed,” Boucher, the ranking Republican on the Transportation Committee, said in a statement. “. . . I cannot understand how anyone can think this is a good idea.”

Most of last week’s meeting involved a discussion about reinstating tolls on Connecticut’s highways. A bill to allow electronic tolls to be placed on Connecticut’s highways failed to get called for a vote on the floor of the House and lawmakers are divided about whether it’s a good idea.

Transportation Committee co-Chairman Antonio Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill, has argued that with more cars getting 50 miles per gallon, gas tax revenue will decline and the state will need to find another way to fund its transportation improvements. One of those ways is tolls.

Patrick Jones, executive director of the International Bridge Tunnel and Turnpike Association, told the panel that tolling has come a long way in 30 years.

“Tolling is a viable, proven, and increasingly popular tool to fund major transportation infrastructure,” Jones said.

He said there are nearly 6,000 miles of tolled highways in the country that collect more than $13 billion in tolls annually.

A 2013 Quinnipiac University poll found that 58 percent of Connecticut residents oppose tolls. However, that same poll found 57 percent of voters support tolls if the money raised is used to repair the state’s roads and bridges.

Jones explained that electronic tolling could be mounted above the highway system and installed without plazas. The money would be collected by transponders that drivers would have in their windshields.

A photograph of the license plate of a driver without a transponder could be mailed to their residence with a bill to be paid at a later date. Jones said tolling agencies usually decide how many times a vehicle can pass through without paying before they look to enforce the toll.

Oz Griebel, president and CEO of the MetroHartford Alliance and a member of the panel, asked about how many vehicles try to avoid toll by getting off the highway and taking a side street.

Jones said over time most people understand avoiding the toll isn’t saving them time on the commute.

“I wouldn’t be too concerned about that,” Jones said.

As far as privacy is concerned, Jones said every toll agency has their own requirements. There are 120 toll agencies in 35 states, but most require law enforcement to get a court order for the information.

The panel made no decisions last week about whether it would recommend tolling or a mileage tax or something else. The panel is expected to meet again in September.

Malloy said Tuesday that he doesn’t expect a special session on transportation until the fall.

“I think August is a nice time for us to iron out some things,” Malloy added.

He said he’s still committed to a constitutional lockbox for transportation funding, even though there’s debate with Democratic legislative leaders over whether that should include the half percent of the sales tax now going to fund transportation.