Reports continue to come out about a revamped push for tolls, and reportedly this time they will be “limited” to bridges. There are claims about bridge tolls being removed once the costs of a bridge repair are paid for, which is very hard to believe. In fact, surrounding states provide evidence that claims about temporary tolls never come to fruition.
The Tobin Bridge in Boston was supposed to have its tolls removed after enough money was collected to pay off the $27 million in bonds that were issued to finance the construction. The tolls, which were only charged in the southbound direction, never came down. Now, tolls are charged in both directions on the bridge.
Tolls on the Massachusetts Turnpike were supposed to be removed in 2017 after the bonds that were issued to finance the road’s construction were paid off. The tolls are still there. They aren’t coming down.
The tolls on the New York Thruway were supposed to be removed in 1996. They are still up. Not only are they still there, the State of New York has been sending taxpayer funds to the Thruway Authority to infuse cash in order to prevent unpopular toll hikes. The reason this is necessary is because the Thruway spends its toll revenue on things that have nothing to do with the road that is tolled. So much for a “user fee.”
Tolls on the Pennsylvania Turnpike were supposed to be removed once bonds that were issued to fund construction were retired. Rather than retire the initial bonds that were used to build the Pennsylvania Turnpike, the Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission (PTC) continues to bond against turnpike toll revenue in order to be able to send $450 million annually towards public transportation. Again, so much for a “user fee.”
The PTC has at least $12.2 billion in debt obligations. As a result, the PTC has raised tolls on the Pennsylvania Turnpike for 12 consecutive years, and they have also already pledged to increase tolls every year until 2044. The democratic governor of Pennsylvania, Tom Wolf, recently said, “The turnpike really is driving business away.” To state the obvious, tolls on the Pennsylvania Turnpike are never coming down.
Let’s not forget that we need look no further than the Constitution State to find a broken promise regarding transportation funding. The Constitutional “lockbox” was supposed to ensure that tax revenue pledged for transportation would in fact go towards transportation purposes, and not be taken for non-transportation purposes. Only a few months after voters overwhelmingly endorsed that concept, their will was disregarded when more than $170 million in future new car sales tax revenue was diverted before it got to the Special Transportation Fund (STF), which is completely legal under the lockbox.
There is enough proof, both within Connecticut and in surrounding states, to know that any promise regarding tolls is empty. The toll revenue will not be limited to the road or bridge that is tolled. There is no such thing as a “temporary” toll. Once a toll goes up, it is never coming down, and the rate will only increase. The only way to ensure responsibility regarding tolls is to not allow them to go up in the first place.
Joseph R. Sculley is President of the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut.