As one proposal to stymie electronic tolling sputtered to a halt Friday, Connecticut’s independent gubernatorial candidate pitched a limited, pilot tolling program that could be in place on commuter lanes by mid-2019.
Former MetroHartford Alliance President Oz Griebel, who is trying to petition his way onto the gubernatorial ballot, announced he would seek federal approval for tolls on the high-occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes on Interstates 84 and 91.
“Before you jumped in with both feet and really committed yourself (to tolls) we would have a chance to kick the tires on this,” Griebel said during a briefing at the Capitol.
Chairman of the former state Transportation Strategy Board, Griebel has said on several occasions he believes Connecticut cannot finance a major rebuild of its aging, overcrowded highway, bridge and rail systems without the revenue tolls would provide.
State Department of Transportation officials have estimated it would take about four years to fully implement a electronic tolls on all major highways, after which the system could yield as much as $800 million to $1 billion per year — minus whatever discounts Connecticut would award to in-state drivers.
Griebel sketched an outline of the pilot tolling proposal he would develop, if elected, in cooperation with the 2019 General Assembly.
Under his plan, HOV lanes on I-84 and I-91 — which currently are open only to cars with two passengers or more — would be open to all cars regardless of occupancy, and a toll charge would be set, for a period of 18 months to two years.
Because the pilot system would be limited to a few points around the Greater Hartford area, Griebel said he believes federal approval could be secured in expedited fashion, possibly in time to launch the program in July 2019.
Connecticut opened its first HOV lanes east of Hartford along I-84 and Interstate 384 in the westbound artery. In 1993, the state opened more lanes north of Hartford on I-91 south.
Griebel, who did not propose a specific fee, said the purpose of the pilot program is centered on information, not revenue.
“It would give us real data. … You could play with congestion pricing, you could play with different rates,” Griebel said.
The state also would have an opportunity to study commuter patterns and traffic and enforcement issues, Griebel said. Equally important, he added, motorists’ apprehension about tolls might be eased by an effective, efficient pilot program.
“Could people see there were tolls and the world didn’t come to an end? Yes,” he said.
Meanwhile, the Senate Republican Caucus indicated Friday it is not seeking to force a special session this summer to block Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s plan to spend $10 million for a detailed analysis on how tolls could be implemented on state highways.
House and Senate Democratic leadership indicated Thursday they also were not interested in a special session. Unless that changes, the House Republican bid to convene a session will come up short.
“We are looking at the issue, but the process has not been initiated in the Senate,” Nicole Rall, spokeswoman for the Senate GOP Caucus,” said Friday.
“I’m not surprised,” Deputy House Minority Leader Vincent J. Candelora, R-North Branford said, adding that Senate Republican leader Len Fasano of North Haven did not show interest in the special session when Candelora spoke with him recently.
House Republican leaders delivered 66 signatures from their caucus members to Secretary of the State Denise Merrill’s office Thursday afternoon. It would take signatures from a majority of both chambers to call the legislature into special session, which means 76 from the House and 24 from the Senate.
Candelora said his caucus wants to enact a bill prohibiting the administration from commissioning a study on tolling. The State Bond Commission, which Malloy chairs, voted Wednesday to approve $10 million in financing for a study.
The top Democrats in the legislature, House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz of Berlin and Senate President Pro Tem Martin M. Looney of New Haven, both indicated Wednesday they weren’t interested in a special session.
Aresimowicz, who has said he believes Connecticut cannot finance a major rebuilding of its transportation infrastructure without tolls, called the House GOP petition effort “political grandstanding.”
The speaker also said that if House Republicans want to have “an honest debate on how we can fix our failing roads and bridges without putting it solely on Connecticut taxpayers, I’ll work to call us in tomorrow.”