In this time of partisan gridlock, here is something that will shock you: I am a Republican and I am in full support of tolls in the state of Connecticut.
I will admit, it took some time before I came around to the idea, but I owe my newfound avocation for tolls to the CEO of a leading publicly traded heavy-side building materials company (a client of mine).
For the duration of our relationship (four years and counting), the CEO has been lobbying for tolls/an increase in gas tax as vital ways to help replace and revitalize our state’s aging infrastructure (rated a “C-” by the American Society of Civil Engineers). While true, Connecticut has the seventh highest gasoline tax rate in the country, we have not seen an increase in six years, and one doesn’t appear to be on the horizon.
I understand we live in one of the highest tax states in the country and asking our residents, many of whom cannot afford a tax increase (to offset the cost, perhaps provide a state tax credit to those whose incomes fall below a certain level), to pay more is widely unpopular (and is a big part of why the governor’s approval rating is falling faster than the rate at which the President tweets). But studies show that people are far more willing to pay for something that offers them a better, more efficient experience.
The reason the consensus for tolls hasn’t gained traction is because the Lamont administration has not done a good job of explaining/showing how tolls will greatly improve the user experience. (Years of misuse by prior administrations as it relates to transportation funds also haven’t helped). Instead, the governor has spent more time his first year in office playing defense on the tolls issue rather than offense. (Heck, if he was a defensive back on the UConn football team, he’d be the first lockdown corner we’ve had since the graduation of Obi Melifonwu).
Instead of repeatedly touting the many ways tolls could be used to improve the user experience—less congestion, less time in traffic, smoother surfaces, wider lanes to name a few — Lamont has challenged the opposition to come up with its own ideas and has failed time and time again to stick by his original proposal. I became supportive of tolls in this state after hearing the CEO advocate for them over and over and never wavering despite the expected blowback. Over time, it became impossible to ignore the benefits that a steady and reliable user fee would have on the improvement of the driver (and passenger) experience now and well into the future.
Now is the time to make this happen. Let’s face it, the system in place isn’t working. Our pension system is chronically underfunded and it will be for a while. As a result, our roadways will continue to be neglected unless we take this on ourselves. The only way for us to improve the experience on our roadways is to pay for it, with a little help from our friends in New York and Massachusetts, who have enjoyed the free rides for way too long.
Matthew Chudoba is an account director at a Norwalk-based PR firm where he is on the company’s real estate team.