It’s time for the Democratic leaders of the General Assembly to demonstrate courage, call the legislature into special session, and enact tolls.  They need to stop dithering, and pretending that they need Republican votes.  Republicans, demonstrating shameless hypocrisy, will never support tolls.

It’s up to Democrats.  And Democrats need to get it done now.

Why must we collect tolls?  Because according to the 2017 report by TRIPnet, a transportation research organization, 57% of Connecticut’s roads are in poor condition.  Because according to the group’s 2018 report, three out of five Connecticut bridges are over 50 years old, making our state the fourth worst in terms of aged and dangerous bridges. Eight percent of all of our bridges are rated “structurally deficient,” and those structurally deficient bridges are on average 69 years old.   And it gets worse.  A list of the 250 most heavily traveled structurally deficient bridges compiled by the American Road and Transportation Builders Association reveals that 25 of them are here in Connecticut.

Our small state accounts for 10% of the most dangerous highly traveled bridges in this country.

What happens if we don’t raise revenue to repair those bridges?  We only need to look to 1983, when the Mianus River Bridge collapsed in the middle of the night, hurtling five people to their deaths on the rocks below.  Its neighbor, the Byram River Bridge, which also carries I-95 traffic into the state, is among the most highly traveled bridges rated “structurally deficient.”  How many people will die this time if the Byram River Bridge collapses not in the middle of the night, but at 5 pm on a Friday?  How many lives are we willing to risk before taking decisive action to raise revenue to make the repairs that we know must be made?

Let’s be clear: tolls are the most cost-effective way to raise that revenue.  According to Gov. Ned Lamont’s plan, and supported by the 2018 Connecticut Department of Transportation study, 40.6% of toll fees will be paid by out-of-state drivers.  There is no other user fee or tax that we can possibly implement that will result in people from other states contributing 40% of the funds we require for our infrastructure.

And the federal government is not coming to our rescue.  While barely a decade ago, the federal government contributed over half of the funds spent on transportation infrastructure in our state, today that figure is down to a third.

And let’s be clear that Connecticut is not going off on a crazy strategy of taking money from the pockets of its residents.  According to a 2018 PEW report, “at least a half-dozen states from Florida to Colorado are slapping tolls on roads that used to be free or building toll-only lanes this year, and many more are expected to do so next year. It all shows how, despite the nation’s relatively robust economy, even the most basic state services — providing roadways, bridges and tunnels — are still being squeezed.”

And, let’s dispose of the Connecticut GOP’s charade, “Prioritize Progress.”  That plan includes borrowing some $700 million every year in general obligation bonds, with interest and principal paid 100% by Connecticut taxpayers.    The result: Connecticut will add millions of dollars to its credit card debt that will have to be paid back at high interest rates by you and me and our children.

Republicans claim that they will not raise borrowing, but instead will stop borrowing for other requirements.  The absurdity of that claim is belied by the fact that the GOP refuses to tell taxpayers exactly what will be cut in this “prioritizing.”  School construction, which annually comprises between a fifth and a third of total state borrowing?  Higher education?  Affordable housing?  The Republicans won’t say because the outrage at their plan if it were to become clear would be instantaneous and deafening.

So, what’s the alternative if tolls don’t happen? Some are recommending a gas tax increase back to the 1990s rate of 39¢ per gallon from its current level of 25¢.  But, raising the state’s gasoline tax is not only regressive, it is paid overwhelmingly by local residents, as opposed to tolls which collect far more from out-of-state drivers.

It’s clear that we need to return tolls to Connecticut. It’s time for Democratic leaders to stiffen their spines and get tolls passed.  Republicans, no doubt, will wait until bodies are once again pulled from the rubble.  Democrats need to take action before that happens. No more dithering.

Pick up your phone. Tell your legislator to implement tolls now.

Sean Goldrick is a Greenwich investment professional and Gail Berritt, a Westport attorney.

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22 Comments

  1. Drive from CT to DC or ME and you’ll see that you pay to maintain other state’s roads. Why shouldn’t their residents help pay for ours when they use them?
    Drive the Merritt any day of the week and notice how many out of state license plates you see. Using our roads for free while we have to help maintain their roads when we travel through their states.

    1. Because the problem isn’t about revenue and never has. There is plenty of revenue for transportation projects. It gets diverted before it even makes it to the fund. And to further add to the problem, even the money that makes it to the STF doesn’t get spent on roads. It gets spent on overhead costs such as pensions and benefits. Highest in the nation by far. So when you drive through other states and pay a toll, most of that is actually going to the road you are on. Not so in CT.

    2. I favor tolls. But I would like to know more about the Republicans’ plan. Why don’t those Republicans make clear what they will cut from the bond budget to fund the $700 million each year they want CT to borrow? Once people see the pain that borrowing will cause, they’ll realize that tolls make sense. Or they’ll choose to tell their reps to cut bonding for schools and higher ed and housing. A foolish choice, but in a democracy, the people — through their reps — decide.

      1. Ask one of the Repub legislative leaders for a copy of their “Prioritize Progress” plan. It’s available.

    3. Because we can’t only toll out of state drivers like Lamont lied about. Then all your doing is putting another large tax on the working middle class of CT while doing nothing about our insane taxes on automobiles themselves and gas. You can’t just tax yourself into prosperity. Bob’s zero based budgeting was a good idea and sorry to say maybe we need to look at cutting back on some programs that hog up so much money. Maybe they could have used the money (fed and CT) for that awful useless bus line to fix some bridges. This state never had it’s priorities straight. It’s just “well tax for it”.

    4. And now ask yourself. Do the roads in those states really look and feel that much better than ours?

  2. The tolls will be constructed every six miles at least along I95 in southern CT. Is that equitable? This rec. comes from an investment professional and an attorney who can probably afford tolls, gas taxes and increased sales tax combined.

    1. Exactly. It would just be coffee money for them, real money for most of Ct. citizens. Like many toll advocates, those two are high income “Gold Coast” residents with NYC roots.

  3. No trust, no TOLLS! Toll revenue collected WILL end up in the General Fund. Transportation funds are already being diverted by Lamont into the General Fund. Tools are just another tax on an already overtaxed population.

    1. All toll money can go to the transportation fund and stay there. Thereby freeing up money now being paid for transportation out of the general fund.
      So where the toll money would go isn’t the most significant question.

      1. The key word in your comment is “can”, a hopeful verb. The problem is “can” has not been the reality. Money intended for the transportation fund has been diverted to the General Fund for years. Lamont did it this year. He and the driving tax advocates claim there is a bridge and highway crisis, but divert money intended to help with their supposed crisis. It’s deceptive, dishonest, and defies logic. That’s the reality.

      2. Yes, the money was diverted.
        My point is that the money from tolls can replace general fund money, freeing up those funds for other purposes.
        The lock box can be gamed when it isn’t ignored.

  4. You use sample states of FLA and CO. What you omitted. They don’t pay a tax to own a car. Fla has no state tax. CO is 4.63. We 6.99. There is my toll money. Give me back my car tax and my income tax at least to CO. Then i can afford your tolls. Its just a scam to get more money. Its for the gov’t class.

  5. This is a completely unbalanced analysis and it is purposely misleading – especially the criticism of the alternate proposals to funding infrastructure.

    The reason Democrats have not passed tolls even though they have the votes is they really do not know how much this is all going to cost the taxpayers and most of us are not attorneys from Westport or bankers from a Greenwich who can easily afford any tolls not matter how high it is.

    Some conservative estimates have tolls costing between $1.5 – 2.5 K per year for an average family just to drive to work and take their kids to events – that is a huge amount of money for a lot of working and middle class people.

    Their viewpoint is completely out of touch with reality and both authors seem to have forgotten what has caused our fiscal problems in the first place.

    1. You hit the nail on the head. Like many toll advocates, those two are high income “Gold Coast” residents with NYC roots. This article follows their equally out of touch Viewpoint article from a few weeks ago. They represent the class divide that is an undercurrent with this issue.

  6. CT doesn’t have an immediate transportation infrastructure problem. Or so the legislature believes.
    Tolls won’t produce any money for 5 years. So maybe there will be a problem in 5 years.
    Bonding would provide money for transportation. If the situation were urgent, the legislature would take action. But there’s a debate. The Governor wants “only” $1 billion in bonding. But he’s willing to add $300 million if only $100 million were used for transportation. That’s not much compared to the stated need.
    The legislature wants $1.3 billion before even thinking about transportation. When the Governor accedes, they’ll allow him the $100 million.
    There’s no interest in transportation. Except in tolls as a new revenue stream someday.

    1. I truly think most of the dems are in the pocket of the companies running the tolls and stand to make a pretty sizable payback for their installation.

      1. Hi Nick, in the interest of fostering deeper discussion, can you provide some kind of citation to reinforce your claim?

  7. Just a hit piece on Republicans by two rich Gold Coasters. Not worth the read. Does not deal with the total tax load middle class families are suffering under or the out migration stats that are related to the tax load.

  8. Connecticut has the 7th highest gas tax in the country. Unfortunately, our political class has taken a portion of this money (https://ctmirror.org/2018/02/06/repay-the-diverted-transportation-funds-before-raising-fares-and-taxes/) to support other government functions. What evidence is there that this won’t happen if we have tolls too? At the very least, our legislature should repay all the money raided and use it for infrastructure repair. if this is insufficient, then tolls can be discussed.

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