Some observers wonder why people in Connecticut are making such a fuss over proposals to install tolls.  After all, most of us pass through tolls regularly.  They are part of everyday life in surrounding states, so what is the big deal? Why are protests popping up all over? The opposition has become so contentious that one state representative suggests that towns protesting tolls should be denied state transportation aid.

Toni Boucher

This is unfortunate when an honest open dialogue is needed on what could become one of the most costly tax increases for residents coming on the heels of the historic increases in 2015 and 2011. Those increases give Connecticut the dubious distinction of having the highest combined federal, state and local tax burden in the nation. The state is losing people and jobs as a direct result.

Connecticut’s economy is an eco-system. Everything is connected. Legislators should be asking how tolls and taxes taken as a whole will impact the state’s reputation as a business- and taxpayer-friendly place. Any increases to the cost of living should be closely scrutinized, especially since Connecticut is one of the only states that has not recovered from the great recession of 2008, and GDP growth of .4% is the weakest in the Northeast.

Tolls are commonplace. However, what is not commonplace is the sheer volume of Connecticut taxes that other states don’t have:

  • High income tax that does not allow deductibles
  • High car property taxes
  • 8 percent gross petroleum gas added to a high gas excise tax
  • Real-estate conveyance tax
  • Gift and estate taxes
  • Social security and pension taxes
  • Luxury sales tax
  • High licensure fees
  • Hundreds of service taxes
  • Highest property tax in the country

Other factors that should be considered:

Connecticut could become the most tolled state in the nation. Plans call for tolls on both cars and trucks spread across 53-80 gantries —  30 percent of drivers without EZPass avoid paying a toll. As a result of this and DOT’s high administrative costs (Connecticut spent more than $83,000 per mile in administrative costs compared to $10,000 per mile nationally) show revenue estimates based on toll prices of up to 4 times the highest rate in the country.

Studies find 60-75 percent of toll revenues would come from Connecticut drivers. This would hurt state businesses and workers whose jobs require daily travel.

Congestion toll pricing increases during peak travel periods but a typical worker cannot dictate their schedule. Congestion pricing is regressive as it penalizes those who least can afford it. A toll could become a $240 monthly pay cut per month.

Connecticut receives approx. $528.6 million from the federal government to make up for lack of tolls. Those funds could be lost if tolls move forward.

Higher truck tolls equal higher prices that will be passed along to consumers in the form of higher priced goods and services.

Drivers avoiding tolls will detour through local roads creating congestion and wear and tear on roadways not accustomed to tractor-trailers and increased traffic.

One bill would allow the DOT to construct tolls almost immediately without the approval of the General Assembly if no vote is taken within 15 days of convening the legislature.  Another bill creates a Transportation Authority that would decide toll placement and rates also without a vote taken.  This would absolve legislators from taking responsibility from enacting tolls or raising prices drastically like the $40 congestion pricing for 10 miles one way trip on I-66 in Virginia. These decisions should not circumvent those who are answerable to the public.

Transportation improvements are needed, but tolls are not the solution.Prioritize Progress” is an alternative funding plan that utilizes current state resources to provide $65 billion for infrastructure projects over 30 years. It requires that all bonding, beyond the state’s core needs such as school construction, must go to transportation infrastructure. It guarantees a steady flow of funding and operates within the state’s bond cap without burdening people with tolls or taxes.

The state has yet to recover job losses from the great recession.  Rather than piling on, lawmakers need to control costs and embrace alternatives.  Commuters are looking for relief, not another historic tax increase. Call it what you will- a toll is tax and a big deal for Connecticut!

Toni Boucher is a businesswoman and former State Senate Co- Chair and State House Ranking Member of the Legislature’s Transportation committee.

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6 Comments

  1. Connecticut has not raised the gas tax in over 20 years. In that time, inflation has eaten away at the buying power of that tax. Studies show that revenue from the gas tax is flat and projected to go down in the future as cars become more fuel efficient and drivers switch to alternative fuel vehicles. This has created a revenue problem for the Transportation Fund.

    The Republicans (I am a Republican) have proposed to borrow money to fund transportation projects. How does that solve anything? Isn’t debt one of the reasons our state struggles financially? That makes absolutely no sense.

    Connecticut is the only state on the east coast without tolls. Out of state drivers use our roads for free. Is it fair that Connecticut residents must pay for to drive in other states yet they drive here for free?

    The Connecticut Department of Transportation has projected that tolls could raise as much as $800 million annually through tolls. It has been projected that as much as 40 percent of that will come from out of state drivers. Can we turn our backs on more than $300 million a year from someone other than Connecticut residents?

    Other states have been raising their gas taxes to increase funding. Our gas tax is no longer the highest in the country. Do we really want to raise our gas tax which is primarily paid by Connecticut residents?

    The Federal Highway Administration has already approved the use of tolls on I-95 from New Haven to New York and on I-84 west of Hartford. They approved state wide truck tolls in Rhode Island. They recognize that they cannot continue to fund transportation at the same rates as they have in the past so they are open to alternative funding sources. We will see what the true impact to federal funding will be. Given the desperate transportation needs we have, tolls seem to be the best way to raise the transportation revenue we need.

    1. I do not disagree with the concept that tolls are a way to fund transportation infrastructure, it’s just that I do not have confidence that CT will use the revenue as they sat they will.

      Mileage-based user fees could be even better, but the ACLU will have a field day with the associated privacy issues.

  2. Some questions regarding Federal rules associated with the funding and tolling of highways within CT:

    If the Feds restrict toll revenue to be used only for the tolled highway, does it apply to ALL highways or does it apply ONLY to the Federally designated Interstate highways?

    If it is the latter (Interstates), what will prevent a sweep of the toll revenues generated on CT routes (i.e. Routes 2, 5, 15, 7, 8) by the legislature or governor into the General Fund?

    Not that our ‘conscientious’ state government would EVER do such a thing.

  3. If taxes and other expenses are high in Connecticut, it is because our state assembly has failed us for decades — both parties. Certain mandates have gone unfunded and underfunded since the 1930s, and neither party worried enough about this to fix it. To make matters worse, the state raided funds that were promised to fund specific improvements. If this raiding had led to any sort of solution, it would not be so bad, but instead, it simply allowed the state to further ignore its duty to solve the problem.

    I support the plan for tolls as long as the assembly is not allowed to raid the funds again in order to avoid working on the unfunded mandate problems. Tolls are not a tax; they are not compulsory. One can avoid tolls by using alternate routes, so you can still get to your destination without a mandated fee. A toll is a use fee. We pay use fees for postage stamps, for example, in order to maintain the postal system. If we don’t pay tolls for wear and tear on the roads, especially by heavy vehicles, then we do have to pay taxes to keep them maintained. Why not levy the fees directly upon the people who are using the system.

  4. If the state wants to implement a tolling system, it needs to be fair across the state. Why does the state want to exclude some highways like I-395 in the Eastern part of the state? The excluded highways are maintained by the state so they should be tolled by the state if the state is going to be implementing a tolling system. A tolling system will hurt the residents of the Southwestern and Central part of the state more as that is where they are proposing to implement more of the tolls. Historically, the tolls were implemented in the Southwestern part of the state, but the highways the money generated from the tolls went into general funds that went towards things other than the highways the tolls were on. The gas tax is not as effective any more as more fuel efficient vehicles and electric vehicles reduce the revenue produced. A user mileage tax would be fairer, but you are not collecting revenue from out of state users.

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