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.

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35 Comments

  1. Words of warning, in 1991 when Connecticut’s income tax proposal was failing, politicians “revised it”.

    First, the rate of income tax, would eventually be eliminated, after we had fixed the problem (an $8bn hole). Second we modified our constitution with a State Spending Cap. The clear intent of the voters was that politicians can’t spend more than they collect in taxes. The loophole was “spending” was not clearly defined. So for decades, politicians moved entire categories of debt, like future obligations, employee benefits and interest outside of the spending cap!

    Maybe a lawyer can comment, but in my opinion all financial contracts entered by the State of Connecticut since 1991 should be voided because those contracts ignored the Constitutional Spending Cap as it was intended by taxpayers. Tolls are nothing compared to the damage our income tax created.

  2. The amazing part of this is the author did not have to do anything but recite the facts to make his case…
    The evidence is overwhelming!

  3. Knocked it out of the park, Mr. Sculley. The state will never give up a revenue stream. The governor is intentionally starving the Special Transportation Fund, violating the spirit of the lockbox, creating a self made crisis.
    No trust, no TOLLS!

  4. Except the history of tolls in Connecticut proves this is false. Prior to 1989, Connecticut had tolls on many roads and bridges but the state removed all of them after a horrific accident at the Stratford toll plaza on I-95.

    Connecticut has a serious transportation funding problem. The revenue from the gas tax has been flat and are projected to go down in the future. Opponents to tolling have failed to propose a real sustainable solution to the problem. The Republican Plan is to borrow money but fails to say how that debt will be paid. They lie when they assume it can be done without raising the gas tax.

    Every state on the east coast has tolls. Every state in the country is evaluating tolling as a solution to the funding shortfalls that are coming as gas tax revenue drops. Connecticut can no longer afford to continuing the bandaid approach to transportation that it has had for the past 30 years. It’s time for a real sustainable comprehensive transportation plan.

    1. The increased gas tax was supposed to make up for the list toll revenue. If course, this being Connecticut, more and more of that ended up in the General Fund instead of its earmarked use for transportation.

      1. This is not true. What happened is the transportation related things paid for by the Transportation Fund has expanded. Things like DOT employee salaries and benefits or the Department of Safety (State Police) come out of the Fund. Is that considered “raiding” it? I say not really. Opponents say it is. Whose right?

      2. The STF was created for the singular purpose of road and bridge upkeep. It’s a documented fact the fund has been misused by shifting pension, benefit, and personnel expenses for DMV, DOT, and the state police into it. That was done when the General Fund was in deficit and the STF was in surplus. Get those expenses out and save about $1 billion in a two year budget period. That’s the amount Lamont and his pro-toll allies claim they need to raise.

        Plus, Lamont’s despicable diversion of $170 million from the STF made it even worse. End the misuse and abuse of the STF.

      3. The Transportation Fund was created to fund ALL forms of transportation, not just roads and bridges. Since it’s creation, it’s always been questionable what should and should be funded from it. The original legislation that created it was unclear which is why the Governor and Legislature have been able to make changes over the years. Different Governors have different interpretations. If the law was not so unclear, tapping into it for CTDOT and Public Safety employee salaries and benefits would have been stopped in court. Maybe we should be advocating better defining what the fund should be used for. Politically though I doubt that will ever happen.

    2. Oh Jay, you’re repeating the false claim of “…every state on the east coast…” You should do better research. Here, I’ll make it easy for you – https://ctmirror.org/category/ct-viewpoints/drive-from-here-to-canada-without-tolls/?fbclid=IwAR2lwnq-f6XIkhvPrmi855N-5lNb9cszkn9PhekHbrFB5O_khI-EBMUZJBw

      You’re claim about no “real solutions” have been proposed is also wrong. Here’s an Op-Ed with proposed solutions – https://www.rep-am.com/opinion/commentary/2019/07/06/rep-horn-should-reconsider-toll-position/

      1. Name me one state on the east coast that does not have tolls. You can’t because Connecticut is the only one.

        To link that editorial you must subscribe to the newspaper. I doubt it says anything we do not already know.

        We have a Transportation Fund that is running out of money. Gas tax receipts are flat and projected to go down. It’s kind of simple really, Twenty years of inflation have eaten away at what our transportation dollars will buy. We are long past due to address this problem. Tolls at least will tap out of state drivers who currently pay little to nothing toward our roads. Without tolls raising the gas tax is inevitable and that increase, unlike tolls, would be paid primarily by Connecticut residents.

      2. Jay – the info refuting your false claim about other states is right here in the Mirror. Didn’t you bother to look? I gave you the link. The facts are that no state in the USA has anything close to what has been proposed for Ct’s highways. None. Not only are you incorrect, but doing something because others may do it is far from a good reason.

        The other article has specific ideas for helping our STF without tolls. You ought to read it and not disparage it without having read it. If you tried to access it you would have found they have a free 5 articles per month service option.

      3. I read CT Mirror every day. I have no idea which of the many articles on the subject you are referring to. You obviously misread or misunderstood what it said because the fact is every state on the east coast has tolls except Connecticut.

        You are correct that what Connecticut was considering was more comprehensive than what other states have today but most other states are considering a similar system to address the soon coming funding shortfalls as vehicles shift to alternative fuel vehicles and away from taxed gasoline. They may not be doing so publicly but as a 30 plus year transportation engineer, I can tell you they are evaluating it.

      4. I put the link to the article in my comment and don’t know why you can’t or won’t use it. It is you who is “obviously wrong” in your false accusation that I misread or misunderstood what was written in that article – I wrote it and understand it quite well. Maybe you should read it, you might learn something.

      5. There is no link showing up in your post so I can’t read it. You wrote an article that says there are other east coast states that don’t have tolls? It is wrong.

        So just answer my question, what east coast state other than Connecticut does not have tolls? It should be easy to answer since there are only 14 states along the east coast. It’s really easy since the answer is zero. I will make it even easier for you. Here is a list:
        Florida – Tolls
        Georgia – Tolls
        South Carolina – Tolls
        North Carolina – Tolls
        Virginia – Tolls
        Maryland – Tolls
        Delaware- Tolls
        New Jersey – Tolls
        New York – Tolls
        Connecticut – No Tolls
        Rhode Island – Tolls
        Massachusetts – Tolls
        New Hampshire – Tolls
        Maine – Tolls

        Am I missing something?

      6. Thanks. So it is not an article. It is an opinion piece that he has written. I do not remember seeing it but it does have some misinformation.

        First is that it does not dispute my claim that every state on the east coast but Connecticut has tolls. It talks about states across the country which is not what I said.

        Second he is wrong when he says New York only has tolls on bridges. There is a Highway toll on I-95 in Westchester County that is not on a bridge. There are several others around the state as well.

        Finally he is right that no state is proposing a toll system quite like what Connecticut was proposing but you have to understand something, Connecticut’s proposal was to be a model for future programs around the country. All states are facing the problem of the gas tax no longer being a sustainable source of funding for transportation. Thanks again for sending this.

      7. The link shows in my comment above. I don’t know why you don’t see it.
        In your zeal to promote driving TAXES on highways and bridges all over Ct, you incorrectly refer to my article. I did NOT write that NYS only has tolls on bridges.

        There are highway tolls on the NYS Thruway but not on hundreds of miles of other highways and parkways in NYS. Going to Manhattan using I-684 or Rt 15 from Ct, there is only the Henry Hudson bridge toll. Those who go using a short (approx. 13 miles) portion of the Thruway do pay a toll.

        Please tell us why doing something because others do it is a good reason to do anything.

      8. Your list includes R.I, a state that does not have highway tolls for passenger vehicles. What they do have is under legal challenge. More importantly, doing something because others do it is a poor reason for doing anything.

        Show where I said “New York only has tolls on bridges.” I did not write or say that.

        Where and when was it publicly said or written that Ct’s extensive toll proposal is “a model for future programs”? I’ve worked on this issue for 10 years and have never heard or seen that.

      9. Cars pay a toll on the Pell (Newport) Bridge in Rhode Island. I misunderstood your post about New York. Sorry about that.

        If you truly know the transportation industry, you know every state is facing a revenue issue and are considering ways to implement user fees. Oregon seems to be leading this effort with Connecticut second.

      10. Jay, Here’s what I wrote about R.I.- “…R.I, a state that does not have highway tolls for passenger vehicles.” That’s highway tolls, not bridge tolls. Yes, I know they have one bridge toll.

        You didn’t answer this question: “Where and when was it publicly said or written that Ct’s extensive toll proposal is “a model for future programs”? Did Lamont, Arisimowicz, Lemar, Looney, Leone, other pro-tolls pols say that?

        You didn’t answer this request: “Please tell us why doing something because others do it is a good reason to do anything.”

        BTW – tolls are not “user fees”, they are TAXES, as the Federal judge in the R.I. case has written.

        What is your role and tasks as a “30 year transportation engineer”? I suspect you may be in a position to gain work or profit if tolls are implemented.

      11. A toll is a toll whether it is on a highway or a bridge. Governor Lamont’s latest plan is to toll bridges rather than highway tolls but again it does not matter.

        Also I am past the point in my career where I will benefit from any toll proposal but even then I am very concerned about the condition of our roads and transportation network and how we can fund improvements. For the sake of our state, you should be too.

        Unfortunately the reports and articles discussing tolling are from professional organizations (Institute of Transportation Engineers, American Society of Civil Engineers, International Bridge Turnpike and Tunnel Authority Association, etc.) that require membership to read. Here though is a federal report on tolls that may interest you.

        https://www.ibtta.org/sites/default/files/documents/2017/CRS%20Interstate%20tolls_2017-08-04.pdf

      12. Jay, What led you to suggest I am not concerned about the condition of our roads and transportation network? You are quite wrong. As has been widely reported and written, the driving tax controversy isn’t about that, it is about how to pay for it. That’s where the great divide is.

        Additionally, you didn’t answer this question: “Where and when was it publicly said or written that Ct’s extensive toll proposal is “a model for future programs”? Did Lamont, Arisimowicz, Lemar, Looney, Leone, other pro-tolls pols say that?

        You also didn’t answer this request: “Please tell us why doing something because others do it is a good reason to do anything.”

        Thank you for the link to that report. I will read it.

    3. Nonsense, taxes have been diverted away from actual construction projects into the general fund for decades.

      The solution is to reprioritize currently approved bonding (that is the Republican plan), meaning less schools but better roads and train service – however that plan is ALSO NOT GOOD ENOUGH. Gov. Lamont needs to cut departmental budgets by 5% across the board. Combined, this will provide close to $3 billion per year. That is enough to cover most major viable projects without raising taxes or tolls. Will this hurt a lot of people who rely on government programs? – yes it will.

      Our budget 20 years ago was ~$10 Billion it is now $21 Billion yet the population growth was 156K people with average annual inflation rate of 2.12% over this period – where has the money going?

      Government has clearly failed it’s fiscal responsibilities, if this was public company we would be prosecuting officers of it for embezzlement, fraud and willful ignorance.

    4. The Republican plan to pay off the debt is the same plan that dems have to pay off our pension problem. Kick the can and bills to the next generation. And don’t tell me that idea can’t work. Either way through debt or tolls our kids will be paying anyways. At least by putting it into bonding and kicking the can. We have time to tell our kids to get outta here so in 30 years when bills come in. All will be left is those who live off gov’t and state employees.

  5. Great editorial. Honest and right to the point. I just wish the politicians in our State Capitol could be just as honest and forthcoming. Their misrepresentations and untruths set a fine example for our children as to how one should conduct themselves when in a position of authority

  6. Perhaps Mr. Sculley doesn’t remember the 1986 crash at the Stratford toll barrier and its aftermath–the exception that proves the rule? It turns out that it was a shortsighted decision to de-toll our main highways, since we’re now having to face the prospect of putting them back up. Roads are expensive to maintain, and the conditions of the tolled interstates in neighboring states compared to our own are markedly better.

    1. Except that the increased gas tax revenue was supposed to make up for lost toll revenue and ended up in the General Fund…

      1. You do realize that tolls were eliminated more than 30 years ago and that the gas tax has not been raised in 20 years. I think we can all agree that a dollar today does not buy anywhere near what it did 20 years ago.

      1. Penna Turnpike, NE extension…new concrete and smooth as an Autobahn. NY Thruway, north and west of Albany (I90 and I 87), so counts as two? MassPike is good especially on the western end. I know people hate on the NJT, but only were I95 here as smartly engineered (with express lanes) and maintained.

      2. The NYS Thruway does not go north of Albany. That is I-87, the Adirondack Northway and it has zero driving TAXES (a/k/a/ “tolls”) on it. Check your facts.

      3. 1. Mass pike east of I84
        2. I66 alexerenda VA
        3. I87 monroe to Yonkers
        4. Njt/gsp north Jersey
        5. I95 metro Baltimore
        6. Penn pike metro blue bell

        None of these locations have any better road condition and in fact have the same or worse congestion than any CT highway sees. Yet they have tolls on them.

    2. One should also remember the tolling mechanism that was in place when that incident occurred. Make all lanes of traffic stop to drop a quarter in the basket. The catastrophic result was inevitable. At least the Mass Pike had a better mechanism for most of its length whereby one paid at the booth OFF the major traffic lanes. What CT did made sense for the CT Turnpike. Now we have the ability to work with overhead gantries and electronic tolling.

      Not that I support the concept, because I do not.

  7. The Toll proponents really ought to reconsider the makeup of the Toll Commission/Committee. The majority of that group, based on my last read of the proposed legislation, would be appointed members with elected officials representing the minority. It’s easy to foresee how that will go when the rates are increased or when more toll gantries are installed. Those who are elected can simply refrain from supporting an expansion and be able to say “I didn’t vote for that.”

    How can we who will be paying the tab support this?

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