Lawmakers balk at electronic tolls, vote for study instead

The legislature’s Transportation Committee backed away from a proposal to immediately implement electronic toll collection at major state border crossings, but directed the Department of Transportation to study the idea.

Rep. Antonio Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill, had been pushing for tolls to open immediately at seven state border locations, but said he did not have the votes.

Instead the committee voted 19-17 to study electronic tolls, even though a year-old study on electronic tolls exists. The state paid Cambridge Systematics $1.5 million for the study.

“There is already a plan out there. What are we waiting for?” Guerrera said, acknowledging he voted in favor of another study because one is needed to convince legislators with unanswered questions.

One recurring question has been whether tolls would hinder federal funding for highway transportation projects. The state received $427 million in federal highway funds last fiscal year, the Connecticut Department of Transportation reports.

But uncertainty remains if federal funds will continue to flow, said co-chairman Sen. Donald J. DeFronzo of New Britain.

“The reality is what it is. If tolls are not the answer then we have to find some other source of revenue,” he said before voting in favor of the study.

There’s also the question of how the state would collect from drivers who don’t use a credit-card debiting system such as E-ZPass. Guerrera said the state could scan license plate numbers and send monthly bills.

He also said the electronic tolls would be nothing like the toll booths that dotted the Connecticut Turnpike before being removed in the 1980s after catastrophic crashes.

“Maybe we should start calling them ‘electronic speed passes,'”Guerrera said, responding to concerns that tolls would cause traffic jams.

No matter the type of toll, numerous committee members from both parties view tolls as a tax and said they cannot support the measure or a study.

Rep. David A. Scribner, ranking Republican on the committee from Brookfield, called border tolls “counterproductive” and said they would deter residents from neighboring states from shopping in Connecticut and paying sales tax.

Guerrera says border tolls are fair because he estimates 75 percent of traffic on Connecticut roads is from out-of-state residents.

“They should be paying to use our roads. We pay for their roads. They have tolls,” he said.