It seems pretty clear that Gov. Ned Lamont’s tolling idea is dead. The Republicans say “no way, ever” and his own Democrats can’t muster the guts to take an up or down vote because they’re so afraid of public reaction.

Jim Cameron

Oh, everyone in Hartford is still doing the usual square dance, posturing and politicking, but I doubt a special session to vote on tolls will ever happen: tolls are dead.

But ‘lest the anti-toll forces should start to rejoice, they may have won this battle but the war is far from over. Because when tolls go down to defeat, there are still plenty of “Plan B” options, none of which you (or they) will like.

Our bridges are still corroding, our highways are still potholed and our trains are running slower than ever. Transportation is grinding to a halt, and with it our state’s economy. Something must be done. The money must be found.

As one senior Lamont staffer told me, “The governor refuses to preside over another Mianus River bridge collapse. We cannot put politics ahead of peoples’ safety.”

It is clear that the Special Transportation Fund (STF) is headed into the red unless additional funding can be found. And if the STF is going to be insolvent, the state won’t be able to borrow anything on Wall Street for anything, transportation or otherwise. Our bond ratings will rival hat of a third-world nation.

So, if not tolls, where do we find the money?

Stop wasting money and CDOT: The Reason Foundation’s claim that Connecticut’s DOT ranks 46th in the nation in spending efficiency is bogus and has been widely debunked.  Even if we could save a few million by cutting CDOT waste, we still need billions to repair our roads and rails.

Raise the gasoline tax: It hasn’t changed a penny since 1997, not even adjusting for inflation. Like tolling, the gas tax would be a “user fee”… though not paid by those driving electric cars nor by out-of-staters who don’t buy gasoline here.

Raise the sales tax: Easily done but fairly regressive as it would hit everyone in the state, even those who never drive on our highways. And again, out-of-staters get a free ride assuming they don’t stop to buy anything passing through.

Raise the income tax: Another easy revenue source, but even less popular than tolling and just as politically dangerous.

Raise fares and cut service: This is what I call the Doomsday Scenario… worsening train and bus service, driving more people back to their cars. It’s a sure way to save money, but at the expense of those using mass transit and adding to traffic.

Partial tolling: Maybe go back to the trucks-only option, not everywhere but just on bridges most needing repairs? Makes sense, but the toll cynics won’t believe it will be so limited.

Vehicle miles tax: It works in Oregon, California and progressive European Union countries, but when the idea was floated years ago by Malloy’s Transportation Finance panel it was immediately rejected. Democrats pushed through a law stopping CDOT from even studying the concept. Paranoids fear “big brother” would be following where they drive, forgetting that their iPhones and Google (not to mention the NSA & FBI) can do so already.

Money for transportation will be found. If you’re not a fan of users paying their share (via tolling), get ready for the ugly alternatives.

Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media. Jim Cameron is founder of The Commuter Action Group, and a member of the Darien Representative Town Meeting.

CTViewpoints welcomes rebuttal or opposing views to this and all its commentaries. Read our guidelines and submit your commentary here.

Jim Cameron | Columnist

Jim Cameron is founder of the Commuter Action Group and advocates for Connecticut rail riders. He writes a weekly column called "Talking Transportation" for CT Mirror and other publications in the state. Read past Talking Transportation columns here. Contact Jim at CommuterActionGroup@gmail.com.

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29 Comments

  1. Here is a novel idea, how about we spend the taxes we already collect FOR transportation ON transportation. Here is a second one, stop investing in infrastructure that is not a priority or pet projects (like completely underutilized busways). Finally take bonds approved for other capital projects and spend them only on infrastructure that is in dire need of repair or will DIRECTLY help improve our competitiveness for businesses.

    We do have major traffic bottlenecks in some areas and train service needs to be improved but Connecticut usually ranks in the top 10 to 15 states for infrastructure in most national polls and studies.

    Can we make better investments? Yes. Do we need to tax already over taxed citizens 4 to 6 cents per mile just to get to work, no.

    1. I thought the bus way was stupid at first but honestly it does get decent use, but the town’s blocking development along the route are killing the potential.

  2. Mr Cameron, I cannot believe someone as “rail savey” as yourself thinks increasing fares will disuede or curtail ridership. Do you know what it actually costs to drive an park a car in midtown for an entire day?

    The monthly rail pass cost per ride is very low as compared to driving and parking in NYC for a day.
    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 significan room for fare increases if needed. This could easily fund and improve rail service. If you truly embrace the concept of a “Usage Fee”, lets ask those who ride the rails to pay for the rails. Especially, when many who ride the rails make salaries in excess of $100,000.00. Please, dont penalize or ask the middle class who drive to manufacturing and service jobs in CT to pay for brokers, bankers an government worker who ride the rails.

    1. Hi John Doe, in the spirit of fostering deeper discussion, can you show the math on your cost per trip calculation? It appears you are assuming commuters are using the monthly ticket all 30/31 days in a calendar month when, in reality, most are only commuting on weekdays (20-23 days per month). That increases the average roundtrip cost to as high as $16.75.

      1. True. But folks on the Eastern side of the state who never go to NY nor drive over those bridges on the western side of the state wouldn’t be saddled paying for the wealthy NY suburbanites on the other side of the state. Why must the rich who are escaping NY use those middle class folks on the Eastern side of the state to pay for their welfare?

      2. Yup, and us folks in the NW corner of Ct. And the folks in the north central part of Ct. too. Lamont & the driving TAX advocates want those who drive highways all over Ct to subsidize the “wealthy NY suburbanites” in SW Ct for their train rides to & from Manhattan. No thank you. For those train rides, let them pay higher “user fees”, as Lamont likes to call his highway driving TAXES.

        For many of those Manhattanites, Ct is just a bedroom community. The 2016 UConn income study of SW Ct train riders showed 30% have incomes of $250,000 and up and 64% at $100,000 and up. They can afford higher train user fees far more than most Ct. citizens can afford Lamont’s proposed highway driving TAXES.

      3. Sorry, for the error. High levels of taxation, cause me to have lapses in concentration. However, that adjusted cost is still well below what it it would cost to drive and park in Midtown NYC. For reference, I had an office on the corner of 5th and 40th for 7 years. So, I am speaking from a point of knowledge.

  3. Im a landlord here in CT and Ive constantly said we need a “renters tax”. Renters here basically get a free ride of not having to pay any sort of tax for residing in the state. Maybe the state can go there. Owners already pay to much in property tax and everytime it goes higher landlords have to raise rents. Why not let the state be the bad guy for once and just charge every renter in the state 50$ resident fee? I dont think thats unfair and with New haven and Hartford having a rent population of about 13000 each thats about THIRTEEN MILLION A QUARTER! Even if you did it every 6 months instead, thats a lot of money this state can have to eventually squander, lose and launder to buddies, cause lord knows they wont use it correctly!

    1. Their paying the rent that pays the taxes. You could rearrange that but I’m not sure it would change the end math much.

      1. no them paying the rent isnt paying the taxes, Im still paying the taxes. Them paying rent would now be considered a “resident fee”. Let CT now charge EVERYONE. Lower property taxes and start charging a simple “resident fee” than everyone over 18 pays, even students. By 18 you need some form of state ID or license and thats how you know where to send it, or they just go online. I mean so many people talk about spreading the wealth, and paying a fair share. Those own property, the fee would be included in their property taxes. In essence it opens up a WHOLE other group of people to tax. Maybe some students and the elderly could get a discount, 25$ instead of 50.

        Them paying rent, is paying the rent. When I go buy a car, the dealer doesnt pay the taxes, they pay their own but there is a sales tax so essentially its like a sales tax on your rent.

  4. I read you column and it seems to me you left out a few facts like the gas tax was meant to be used for the transportation fund but our representatives in Hartford has diverted this money to the General Fund. The issue isn’t that Everytime they need finding for transportation, they divert the money for transportation to some other area. The same has been done with other funds like the money from the casino’s. This money was to go to education now it goes to the General Fund. The biggest issue the state has is the benefits to their retired employers but no one want to talk about cutting those.

    1. I think the issue with existing benefits is the way the contracts are worded it’s legally questionable if it can be changed. Best case it would take years of legal proceedings to make it happen. Worst case courts decide you can’t cut them and taxpayers are stuck with the legal bill and the benefits.

      1. I would say its worth the chance to go to legal and courts and try. The worst is we get stuck with legal bills. Oh well. The state spends so much would we even notice? To spend a few million to get out of billions in debt sounds like a good gamble. This is the kind of case right now with 5-4 majority on the supreme court. Those conservatives are looking to kill the unions. We can be that case.

  5. I am so glad to read that jim thinks tolls are dead. I don’t agree with tolls but do enjoy his essays in the mirror. He is knowledge able in these subjects so him saying its dead. I hope he right. Even Jim here realized in one of his last essays that its a trust issue. Its not even so much about tolls as much as its about the waste and trust.

  6. Also to all that support tolls. Where is the money coming from to build the 50 tolls? You don’t like the plan of borrowing so how do get the tolls up?

    1. Hi Help, most states pursuing new toll gantries in the 21st century have required the builders to pay for the construction up front and then pay them back from the toll revenue collected from those gantries. State lawmakers have suggested that Connecticut would pursue a similar strategy.

      1. That’s great, but what percentage of the toll revenue actually makes it into the STF and when does it start?
        Nonetheless until that revenue stream is realized, where do the funds come from for current and ongoing DOT expenditures?

      2. Queston back to you. If it goes the way you say. Do the contractors get paid back cost plus interest or get some kind of mark up on their costs?

      3. Hi Help, great question. The specific payment structure varies from state-to-state, but here is one recent example in North Carolina that might shed some light on a possible path forward for Connecticut. The state brought in a company to finance, design, build and maintain tolling “hot lanes” on I-77 near Charlotte. As the Office of the State Auditor explains, “Under this approach the selected vendor once the contract is executed becomes the ‘concessionaire’ that is responsible to secure financing and then to design and build the project in accordance with the technical requirements of the CA. Once the I-77 P3 Project is open to traffic the concessionaire is responsible for the operations and maintenance including the toll operations for the I-77 HOT lanes. The toll revenues collected belong to the concessionaire and will be used to repay financing secured for the design-build phase, to pay for operations and maintenance of the Project and if revenues are adequate to pay a rate of return on investor equity provided during the project financing. As described in Section 2 of this report there are provisions in the CA that allow for revenue sharing with NCDOT when performance exceeds predefined levels.”

        The “predefined levels” are, of course, low enough that the state of North Carolina can expect to receive millions of dollars in revenue from the tolls each year.

        State Auditor’s Report: http://www.ncauditor.net/EPSWeb/Reports/Performance/PER-2018-4200.pdf
        General information on the project: https://www.constructiondive.com/news/contractor-races-to-complete-650m-north-carolina-toll-lanes/529301/

      4. Hi Help, great question. The specific payment structure varies from state-to-state, but here is one recent example in North Carolina that might shed some light on a possible path forward for Connecticut. The state brought in a company to finance, design, build and maintain tolling “hot lanes” on I-77 near Charlotte. As the Office of the State Auditor explains, “Under this approach the selected vendor once the contract is executed becomes the ‘concessionaire’ that is responsible to secure financing and then to design and build the project in accordance with the technical requirements of the CA. Once the I-77 P3 Project is open to traffic the concessionaire is responsible for the operations and maintenance including the toll operations for the I-77 HOT lanes. The toll revenues collected belong to the concessionaire and will be used to repay financing secured for the design-build phase, to pay for operations and maintenance of the Project and if revenues are adequate to pay a rate of return on investor equity provided during the project financing. As described in Section 2 of this report there are provisions in the CA that allow for revenue sharing with NCDOT when performance exceeds predefined levels.”

        The “predefined levels” are, of course, low enough that the state of North Carolina can expect to receive millions of dollars in revenue from the tolls each year.

        State Auditor’s Report: http://www.ncauditor.net/EPSWeb/Reports/Performance/PER-2018-4200.pdf
        General information on the project: https://www.constructiondive.com/news/contractor-races-to-complete-650m-north-carolina-toll-lanes/529301/

      5. Hi Help, great question. The specific payment structure varies from state-to-state, but here is one recent example in North Carolina that might shed some light on a possible path forward for Connecticut. The state brought in a company to finance, design, build and maintain tolling “hot lanes” on I-77 near Charlotte. As the Office of the State Auditor explains, “Under this approach the selected vendor once the contract is executed becomes the ‘concessionaire’ that is responsible to secure financing and then to design and build the project in accordance with the technical requirements of the CA. Once the I-77 P3 Project is open to traffic the concessionaire is responsible for the operations and maintenance including the toll operations for the I-77 HOT lanes. The toll revenues collected belong to the concessionaire and will be used to repay financing secured for the design-build phase, to pay for operations and maintenance of the Project and if revenues are adequate to pay a rate of return on investor equity provided during the project financing. As described in Section 2 of this report there are provisions in the CA that allow for revenue sharing with NCDOT when performance exceeds predefined levels.”

        The “predefined levels” are, of course, low enough that the state of North Carolina can expect to receive millions of dollars in revenue from the tolls each year.

        State Auditor’s Report: http://www.ncauditor.net/EPSWeb/Reports/Performance/PER-2018-4200.pdf
        General information on the project: https://www.constructiondive.com/news/contractor-races-to-complete-650m-north-carolina-toll-lanes/529301/

    2. The bigger issue it’s a tax that requires 20-30%of the tax be used just to collect it. That’s a pretty poor way to raise revenue.

  7. The statement “The governor refuses to preside over another Mianus River bridge collapse. We cannot put politics ahead of peoples’ safety.” is laughable since the budget shortchanges the Special Transportation fund by 1.19 billion over 5 years by directing vehicle sales taxes to the general fund instead. So send that money back to the STF – start with that. Also your statement: “The Reason Foundation’s claim that Connecticut’s DOT ranks 46th in the nation in spending efficiency is bogus and has been widely debunked.” Where is your evidence this is true? I am aware the State DOT disputed Reason Foundations’s study and not in a convincing way either: The State DOT took Reason Foundation’s study and changed the milage calculation methodolgy FOR CONNECTICUT ONLY and then claimed it’s efficiency ranking went from 50th (worst) to 10th. See link: https://yankeeinstitute.org/2018/02/22/connecticut-dot-strikes-back-at-reason-foundations-study-but-strikes-out/

    1. Hi Sn Gl, we can provide a better explanation as to how the Reason Foundation’s calculation ended up being slightly off. The culprit seems to be in the misinformation published in the Federal Highway Administration data, which the Reason Foundation cites as the source of its data. After checking the FHWA source, the data it provides was correctly cited by Reason. However, the data on the FHWA site is way off. If one goes to the CT budget documents, the expenditures for highway administration can at most be:

      – $28,021,970 (for Highway/Bridge Engineering, Rights of Way, and Construction Services)
      – $317,036 (for Highway and Bridge Research)
      – $19,675,243 (for Transportation Administration)
      – $7,774,661 (for Transportation Policy and Planning)
      – $36,016,080 (for Agency Management — including rail and bus)
      – Grand total: $91,804,990.

      In addition, assuming that all of this money went for payroll (which is not true, but most of it did), add another 65% for fringe benefits, which brings the total up to $151,478,823, which is far short of the $403,072,000 used by the FHWA. Using the “state controlled highway mileage” figure cited by Reason (4,054 miles), the real number for transportation administration per state controlled highway mile is accordingly about $37,365. That still ranks CT between California and Rhode Island, but it’s not as high as the number cited by the Yankee Institute. To verify the numbers included above, a detailed breakdown in governor’s budget for FY 2015 is available at: https://portal.ct.gov/-/media/OPM/Budget/2014_2015_Biennial_Budget/BudgetinDetail/Transportationpdf.pdf?la=en

    2. Hi Sn Gl, we can provide a better explanation as to how the Reason Foundation’s calculation ended up being slightly off. The culprit seems to be in the misinformation published in the Federal Highway Administration data, which the Reason Foundation cites as the source of its data. After checking the FHWA source, the data it provides was correctly cited by Reason. However, the data on the FHWA site is way off. If one goes to the CT budget documents, the expenditures for highway administration can at most be:

      – $28,021,970 (for Highway/Bridge Engineering, Rights of Way, and Construction Services)
      – $317,036 (for Highway and Bridge Research)
      – $19,675,243 (for Transportation Administration)
      – $7,774,661 (for Transportation Policy and Planning)
      – $36,016,080 (for Agency Management — including rail and bus)
      – Grand total: $91,804,990.

      In addition, assuming that all of this money went for payroll (which is not true, but most of it did), add another 65% for fringe benefits, which brings the total up to $151,478,823, which is far short of the $403,072,000 used by the FHWA. Using the “state controlled highway mileage” figure cited by Reason (4,054 miles), the real number for transportation administration per state controlled highway mile is accordingly about $37,365. That still ranks CT between California and Rhode Island, but it’s not as high as the number cited by the Yankee Institute. To verify the numbers included above, a detailed breakdown in governor’s budget for FY 2015 is available at: https://portal.ct.gov/-/media/OPM/Budget/2014_2015_Biennial_Budget/BudgetinDetail/Transportationpdf.pdf?la=en

      1. Reason Foundation used figures the State of Connecticut reported to FHWA. See https://www.fhwa.dot.gov/policyinformation/statistics/2015/ – In the excel spread sheet next to 11.4.3.5. Disbursements by States for State-administered, classified by function,
        the State of CT – not Reason Foundation – reported the following:

        GENERAL ADMINISTRATION 372,670,000
        RESEARCH and Planning 30,342,000

        TOTAL: 403,072,000

        If the State of Ct says these figures are incorrect, they should change what they report to FHWA. Otherwise, Reason got it exactly correct.

      2. The budget document link you provided does not align to actual disbursements The State reported to FHWA as the budget does not include fringe and other benefit costs as you correctly stated. The State DOT does not dispute the actual level of disbursements – rather they say fringe benfits and other costs should not be included in the calculation – see link https://yankeeinstitute.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/02/REASON-FOUNDATION_02_20_18.pdf. For me, all salaries and benefits related to transportation should be reported and was reported by CT to FHWA. To do otherwise would disguise the true costs to the tax payer of maintaining our transportation system.

  8. How about the our representatives get legalization of marijuana and sports gambling approved and moving. We have the infrastructure in medical marijuana facilities already set up in the state as well as the casinos and other facilities. What is the holdup? Why are we dragging our feet? Massachusetts (marijuana) New Jersey (sports gambling) are making millions in additional revenues. Why are we followers (maybe) and not initiators.

    1. Sure, let’s give the politicians more revenue to squander on special interests and pork projects so that they can remain in office even longer.

      The answer lies in using the taxpayers’ hard-earned money in frugal ways that benefit society as a whole. Adding new revenue sources will not foster that evolution.

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