Connecticut needs toll revenue and a solvent Special Transportation Fund (STF).

Tolls are needed to improve our roads and bridges. Tolls will allow for generous contributions toward the upkeep of Connecticut roads by out-of-state users— that’s good for Connecticut residents today. Tolls will allow for debt reduction, less borrowing, and more “pay-as-you-go” projects — that’s good for Connecticut residents in the future. Tolls will reduce the stress on the STF, allowing for a more vibrant public transportation system and better alternatives to driving alone — that’s good for drivers and public transportation riders. Tolls will better prepare us for leveraging federal funding for our projects in the near future — this is critical to the major work before us.

Over the past two decades, Connecticut has had four independent task forces — comprised of successful business leaders, economic development trailblazers, and transportation innovators — that have identified the major barriers to economic growth in Connecticut. All four identified a hearty transportation system as central to a strong economy and recommended increased transportation investment. Three specifically recommended electronic tolling, and each one did so with a greater sense of urgency than the previous.

In 2011, the Transportation Strategy Board concluded “Electronic tolling could finance most of the cost of large individual projects.” In 2016, the Transportation Finance Panel again recommended “The state should authorize the process to implement congestion mitigation all-electronic tolling systems on the major corridors to help cover the costs of several large projects and mitigate congestion at various times of day.”

The most recent recommendation for implementing tolls came from the Connecticut Commission on Fiscal Stability and Economic Growth in 2018, which noted “Despite its importance, the state has underinvested in transportation infrastructure for years. This has resulted in degraded infrastructure, causing congestion, potential future safety concerns and unreliable service. The resulting loss of productivity for business is a major impediment to economic growth.”

For a generation, our tolling debate has continued while our backlog of projects has expanded and congestion worsened. Our highways now rank among the worst in the nation. This has been coupled with the regular threat of major cuts and fare increases to our bus and rail services during a time when we should have been expanding these commuting options. We have all seen it and we have all been impacted.

Connecticut residents want major improvements in the transportation system. Last year’s referendum to secure the STF passed with 88 percent of the vote — a slam-dunk by any referendum standard and a clear cry by residents for the improvements we have been talking about for so long.

This choice is important to us all. Ask yourself: How much longer will we wait for lawmakers to find some other mysterious and agreeable funding solution that has eluded the State for more than 20 years? If you drive: How much more time will you waste in congestion? If you are a rail or bus rider: How many more years will you live under the threat of major service cuts and fare increases? Equally as important — Why would any of us want to take on these future colossal expenditures ourselves through borrowing when an enormous portion can and should be shared with out-of-state users?

Let’s take action now. Electronic tolling and the revenue it brings, coupled with a solvent STF, will address all of these problems for ourselves and Connecticut families in the future. The revenues raised by tolls can be used only on the roads that are tolled — nothing else. Beyond that, a sound and solvent STF will allow for improvements to our bus and rail services making them a more appealing alternative to driving alone — important to successful congestion pricing.

Let’s not wait any longer as conditions and congestion worsen and we fall farther behind on supporting our transportation systems — hobbling the State’s efforts to grow. Let’s achieve, and move beyond, state of good repair and work toward a state-of-the-art transportation network for all.

The positions expressed in this editorial are solely the personal opinions of Douglas Holcomb in his capacity as a private citizen.   This editorial does not present the official opinions of the office of the Chief Executive Officer of the Greater Bridgeport Transit (“GBT”), the position in which Mr. Holcomb serves; nor does it present the opinions of the GBT as a public agency or those of any of its member municipalities.

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12 Comments

  1. The cost per month for a monthly ticket from Fairfield to GCT on Metro North is $335.00. That equates to a cost per trip of approximately $5.50. This clearly shows there is room for fare increases if neeed, to invest in, and improve rail service. If you embrace the concept of a “Usage Fee”, lets ask those who ride to pay. Not those who drive!

  2. “Last year’s referendum to secure the STF passed with 88 percent of the vote — a slam-dunk by any referendum standard and a clear cry by residents for the improvements we have been talking about for so long.”

    We all also knew that it wouldn’t stop the stripping funds of dedicated to that “secure STF.” Why was there no mention by Mr. Holcomb of this?

    Yankee Institute—

    Gov. Ned Lamont’s budget will freeze the transfer of vehicle sales tax revenue from the General Fund to the Special Transportation Fund, essentially bankrupting the state’s transportation fund by 2022.

    Whereas the STF was projected to have a surplus and increase revenue by $300 million over the next three years, according to budget projections by the Office of Fiscal Analysis and the Office of Policy and Management, the governor’s budget short-changes the STF by $1.19 billion over the next five years.

    The sales tax transfer from the General Fund to the STF was scheduled to be phased in from 8 percent of car sales tax revenue to 100 percent by 2024. General Fund transfers are not protected by the new Transportation Lock Box. Freezing the sales tax transfer at 8 percent will leave the STF underfunded by $729.8 million by 2024, according to the governor’s budget.

    1. The diversion of vehicle sales tax to the STF was a temporary measure to shore up the STF and avoid its depletion until a more sustainable solution is implemented. It was never meant to be permanent. Unfortunately toll opponents think it was.

  3. They also need to raise bus tickets. Stop subsidising public transit on drivers backs. Also. You refer to the lock box we voted for. You do know out GA already stole funds for the recent budget from the STF to the general funds. The lock box is nothing more than a poor joke on us citizens. This is money play to save union contracts and benefits. Who is to say they will even keep toll money in the STF.

  4. “Connecticut needs … a solvent Special Transportation Fund (STF).”
    Agreed. Then put the monies into it received from taxes specifically implemented for that purpose and DO NOT RAID THE FUND!

    “Tolls will better prepare us for leveraging federal funding …”
    Please explain how that will work if the Feds have very limited allowances for the implementation of tolls on Interstate Highways.

    “In 2011, the Transportation Strategy Board concluded ‘Electronic tolling could finance most of the cost of large individual projects.’”
    Note also that ‘large individual projects’ does not provide for additional funds outside of those specific projects, particularly as the STF becomes more susceptible to fund sweeps to cover the General Budget.

    “In 2016, the Transportation Finance Panel again recommended ‘The state should authorize the process to implement congestion mitigation all-electronic tolling systems on the major corridors to help cover the costs of several large projects and mitigate congestion at various times of day.’”
    See the previous comment above.

    “Last year’s referendum to secure the STF passed with 88 percent of the vote — a slam-dunk by any referendum standard and a clear cry by residents for the improvements we have been talking about for so long.”
    Ask anyone who voted for the ‘lockbox’ if they truly believe that the revenues collected specifically for transportation will actually make it into the lockbox.

    The inability of our government to limit the expansion of social programs that cost, renegotiate labor contracts with far too much largess, and to refrain from local ‘pet projects’ designed to enhance reelectability have become a serious obstacle to putting our tax dollars to work in a way that truly benefits all taxpayers. JMHO

    1. The Federal Highway Administration has approved Connecticut being part of a Pilot Program to implement tolls on interstate highways. By using tolls to build several major projects On tolled roads across the state, it frees up money from the gas tax to fund other projects not on tolled highways.

      1. Jay – I understand that tolls MAY “free up money from the gas tax to fund other projects not on tolled highways.” BUT – the revenue has to get put into that fund – that seems to be where the real problem is. If government cannot manage our tax dollars appropriately, why should we trust them? Further, the Commission or Committee that is to be set up to manage tolls has a composition such that NO elected individual would have to answer to increases in tolls. The majority members of that group that are not elected to the position can overrule those that are elected.

        Remember the line “It’s the economy , stupid”? With this matter it’s simple “It’s a lack of trust issue!”

      2. So because you don’t trust the state we should do nothing? What does that solve? How does that get anything done? It just kicks the same can that we’ve been kicking for decades further down the road. Just what we need, more do nothing.

      3. I have never taken the position that the infrastructure should not be repaired, replaced or maintained. Just do not open the door via tolls to reach deeper into the pockets of residents with a regressive form of taxation. If tolls can somehow be determined to make sense, I want the elected officials on board with any form of expansion of tolls and not allow it to be left to some obscure entity that is not beholding to the taxpayer/voter.

        From where I sit the roads and bridges in our state are no worse off than those in the surrounding states that DO have tolls. We can make things work by using the bonding that would have to be done to initiate tolls directly on a prioritized projects that produce the most effective result. When will the toll revenue be realized and what will it cost between now and that nebulous point in time? Put the STF funds to work for what they were intended.

        Want to fix I-84 through Hartford – fine. Decide on how it should be done and do it. Soon. Public input is great, but at some point just get it done. If we have to bond for it, so be it. If there needs to be a toll gantry on the East side of the CT River and at West Hartford’s Westerly border SPECIFICALLY to pay for it, fine. But tolling sunsets when the project is paid off and does not become another cash cow for politicians to squander on useless pet projects that benefit but a very small number of our residents.

  5. So here’s the problem with your argument… The STF has been adequately funded for decades and the people of CT know that. They know that the STF has been raided (or diverted) time and time again to pay for other underfunded liabilities. Yes, the “lockbox” was passed overwhelmingly last year. An indication to political leaders to STOP RAIDING/DIVERTING FUNDS from the STF. Yet, that’s exactly what happened in this year’s budget – despite the so-called lockbox. Before any new revenue stream is put in place, the political leaders of CT need to truly demonstrate that funding for the STF will in fact remain in the STF and be used for transportation improvements and repairs. Three decades of political decision-making has demonstrated they won’t do that. So NO TOLLS!!!

  6. No tolls, cut spending, eliminate useless agencies, bureaus, directors, boards, commissions, authorities, etc.etc.. There is so much waste in government and every one of thesse agencies etc has a highly paid head person and dozens of employees are highly paid and compensated and benefitted for the next 50 years. Cut and Privatize.

    1. Hi Nicholas, in the spirit of fostering a higher level of discourse, can you provide specific examples of cuts you would make in the state budget and how much savings those cuts would achieve?

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