If Connecticut REALLY needs to raise a billion each year…

Don’t use traditional tolling. The easy way is low mileage-based use fees on all roads.  This is tracked using satellite and/or cell-phone technology.  On-board devices already in all cars built since 1998 can be programmed to record miles driven on Connecticut’s roads.  ($30 transponders under the hood are a less-intrusive alternative). Out-of-state drivers are asked to pull over to a welcome station the first time they enter the state to buy a transponder.  For drivers crossing our border on local roads, licensed roadside stores or gas stations can sell the transponders, the way lottery dealers do now.

Mileage-based use fees are in use now in Oregon.  At least three firms already have good technology and can compete for a contract with Connecticut to program the devices, record the miles traveled, and ensure payment from banks, credit cards, or pre-deposited diminishing travel accounts.  Our authorities can institute “rush hour” pricing to  encourage off-hours travel.  They can also be programmed to charge a steeper rate for out of state cars that don’t bulk-purchase.

The proposed highway tolls use gantries.  Installation will cost at least $500 million.  For under $5 million, Connecticut can have the mileage-based system up and running.  The gantry system instantly puts commuters who use highways at war with those who rarely drive on highways.  The commuter is likely to be socked with $800 a year, while the driver who travels just as far with hardly any highway travel, will pay one tenth of that.

The proposed tolls also impel some highway drivers to put themselves onto local roads for the last mile or two, to avoid a fee.  This puts needless congestion on those local roads.  Indeed, some towns may need to spend money to build extra lanes on their roads to  keep the by-passing traffic from clogging their streets.  Towns that choose not to spend this money will  push congestion on their townspeople, and make pedestrian and bike travel more dangerous.

Tracking mileage instead lets people use the highways as they were intended, as speedy, pass-through conduits. Tracking mileage does not incentivize side-street travel. It puts us all on the same system.  It’s far fairer.

On a per-mile basis, it’s cheaper too.  To raise a billion dollars a year, Connecticut need only to charge 2.5 cents per mile per car and three to nine cents per mile per truck.  These figures are based on the fairly constant 36 billion road miles traveled in Connecticut each year.  At 2.5 cents, that 216 mile round trip across I-95 costs all of $5.40.  At 2.5 cents, the New Haven to Hartford commute costs $2 round trip, less than one iced coffee.

Let me say, again, that the state should not have to resort to travel fees at all.  We do not have a revenue problem; we have a spending problem.  And remember that if we do tax travel with the eye towards gaining revenue from out-of-staters, we are still taxing PRIMARILY OURSELVES.

The proposals thus far (at a cost of over $2 million), have been INcautious, and seemingly unconcerned about local traffic.  Mileage-based fees have the merit of quick installation (about five weeks) and 1 percent of the cost.  These on-board diagnostics can easily help consumers save money over time.  They let us know when parts are highly worn and on the verge of breakdown; they let insurance companies charge less for drivers whom they know have good braking patterns and thus statistically less likely to get into a costly accident.  They even let the insurers determine, after an accident, whether their driver was at fault, due to speed, lane changing, or weaving.  Good drivers get discounts based on the likelihood of an insurer not paying claims on them.

So this proposal deserves caution. But if legislators can truly find no palatable way to pay our debts, these mileage-based fees on all Connecticut roads are FAR better than the costly, slow process of setting up gantries on four-lane highways.  If Connecticut really needs a method to financial stability other than cutting its state spending, this move has us covered.  Connecticut, for once, could be at the forefront of revenue collection in the northeast, not the laggards.

Mark Stewart Greenstein is an educator based in Newington.  He was a 2018 governor candidate and the founder of an academy for middle school enrichment: www.AmigoAcademy.us.

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