By State Rep. Pam Staneski
The hot topic right now at the State Capitol is tolls. Since Gov. Dannell P. Malloy announced his support for electronic tolling, an increase in the gasoline tax, and a new $3 tire tax, my office has been getting many calls and emails from constituents asking for additional information.
First, the governor’s transportation finance plan has no real strategy behind it. That is one thing we should have in order to truly evaluate the proposal. There is no discussion about what Connecticut’s transportation priorities should be if we have tolls. We should not be funding non-essential government waste projects, like a new Bridgeport train station or a nine-mile busway or a new-fangled ‘New Haven to Springfield’ rail line before repairing and maintaining existing transportation infrastructure and railroads.
As recently as last week, lawmakers in Hartford discussed plans to install “congestion pricing tolls” on all major highways, including I-95, I-91, I-84, I-395, I-691, as well as routes 2, 6, 7, 8 and 15.
Congestion pricing tolls are those in which the surcharge is not constant, but instead rises and falls based on the amount of traffic at the time. Some states have seen congestion tolls as high as $50 per toll. The State Department of Transportation presented a detailed plan last session to the General Assembly which would put 22 tolling gantries between New Haven and Greenwich on I-95 and the Merritt Parkway.
Some constituents have said to me that they would support tolls if they were at the border to primarily get the out-of-staters. Unfortunately, tolls are not allowed to just be on the borders because it would jeopardize the federal highway funding the state has received over many years. Connecticut could be forced to repay all that funding.
According to estimates, if tolls go up in our state, 70 percent of the tolls would be paid by Connecticut residents and only 30 percent by out-of-state drivers.
Others have said they would support tolls if the tax on gasoline was eliminated. But the proposal actually raises the tax (temporarily 7 cents for 4 years) – and we all know that temporary taxes never go away.
We need to look at the cost of doing transportation projects in Connecticut. A study by the Reason Foundation found Connecticut spends nearly $480,000 for each mile of road as opposed to the national average, which is just over $180,000 per mile. There is no excuse for this inefficiency in state government, and until we fix this and find out where our money is going, we should not be implementing additional things like tolls that further tax our residents.
Now that we are in legislative session, it’s time to drill down on transportation: what projects are needed, how to fund these projects, and how to safeguard taxpayers’ dollars.
As always, please reach out to me with any questions on the issue of tolls or other matters of concern to you. My office number is 800-842-1423 and my email is Pam.Staneski@housegop.ct.gov.