Transportation officials hear public on return of tolls
Published: Thursday, April 30, 2009
By Rachael Scarborough King, Register Staff
NEW HAVEN — With the state’s budget crisis looming, officials from the Transportation Safety Board met Wednesday to hear public comment on the possibility of reintroducing tolls on Connecticut’s highways.
Last year, the board commissioned a study on electronic tolls and congestion pricing. The report outlined nine options for tolls, including creating highway express lanes that would be tolled, charging only trucks on certain roads or installing tolls at the state’s borders.
Philip Smith, under-secretary for the Office of Transportation Policy, said Wednesday that neither the consultants nor the board have made any recommendations about the concept.
“This is in the very earliest stages of understanding what this is all about and what the application in Connecticut might be,” Smith said.
He added that there could be two possible reasons for installing tolls: collecting revenue and reducing congestion.
The hearing held at Gateway Community College attracted about 20 people, and most of those who spoke opposed reinstalling tolls.
Some of Connecticut’s highways had tolls until the 1980s, when they were removed. Several speakers Wednesday, in explaining their opposition to the tolls, referenced the 1983 crash at the Stratford toll plaza in which seven people died.
“I think for you to put my life and property in jeopardy just so you can collect tolls is one of the most grievous forms of taxation that there is,” Forrest Anderson, of East Haddam, said. “People do slow down at tolls; they idle at tolls. Tolls also cause people to change lanes.”
Smith said the tolls under consideration would be charged electronically, so that they would not require booths and barriers across the roads.
“I fully understand the emotions from 20 years ago with the incident in Stratford — I live there, too — but that’s not what we’re proposing,” he said.
Bob Manzella, of West Haven, said he would rather see an increase in the gas tax than the reintroduction of tolls.
“The state of Connecticut seems to have a never-ending appetite for my money and everybody else’s money,” he said. “Let’s let everyone in the state share in this debt, so if you want to get it from the cars, put it in the gas tax.”
Irving Stern, a Madison resident, said he would also prefer raising the revenue in another way. Stern said he thought adding tolls would exacerbate rather than improve traffic problems.
“I don’t see the need for creating the entire infrastructure within the transportation department that was probably done away with 20 years ago,” Stern said. “If you need the money, fine, send me the bill. … I think the most expedient way to get the money is to add the tax to current bills.”
But Brian Walters, of Danbury, said he was “100 percent” in favor of tolls.
“Living in Danbury and commuting to Waterbury six days a week, I see that every other car is out of state and it’s especially the tractor-trailer drivers I think you need to go after, because they don’t stop in Connecticut to get the fuel so they’re not paying the fuel tax,” he said. “I’m concerned about safety just like everybody else … but the technology is out there for E-Z Pass to get through there.”
Smith noted that the various options could have an effect on other forms of transportation in the state.
“Everything we propose has a domino effect, so there is no silver bullet in anything that has been proposed,” he said. “If we’re going to do something, it’s going to take bold courage and leadership and political will.”
Another public hearing is scheduled from 6 to 9 p.m. May 5 at the University of Connecticut Waterbury campus, and officials said that an additional hearing will likely be set for mid-May in Norwalk.
For more information on the report on tolls, visit www.ct.gov/opm and click on “Transportation Strategy Board.”