We need toll revenue and a solvent transportation fund
Tolls are needed to improve our roads and bridges. Tolls will allow for generous contributions toward the upkeep of Connecticut roads by out-of-state users— that’s good for Connecticut residents today. Tolls will allow for debt reduction, less borrowing, and more “pay-as-you-go” projects — that’s good for Connecticut residents in the future. Tolls will reduce the stress on the STF, allowing for a more vibrant public transportation system and better alternatives to driving alone — that’s good for drivers and public transportation riders. Tolls will better prepare us for leveraging federal funding for our projects in the near future — this is critical to the major work before us.
Over the past two decades, Connecticut has had four independent task forces — comprised of successful business leaders, economic development trailblazers, and transportation innovators — that have identified the major barriers to economic growth in Connecticut. All four identified a hearty transportation system as central to a strong economy and recommended increased transportation investment. Three specifically recommended electronic tolling, and each one did so with a greater sense of urgency than the previous.
In 2011, the Transportation Strategy Board concluded “Electronic tolling could finance most of the cost of large individual projects.” In 2016, the Transportation Finance Panel again recommended “The state should authorize the process to implement congestion mitigation all-electronic tolling systems on the major corridors to help cover the costs of several large projects and mitigate congestion at various times of day.”
The most recent recommendation for implementing tolls came from the Connecticut Commission on Fiscal Stability and Economic Growth in 2018, which noted “Despite its importance, the state has underinvested in transportation infrastructure for years. This has resulted in degraded infrastructure, causing congestion, potential future safety concerns and unreliable service. The resulting loss of productivity for business is a major impediment to economic growth.”
For a generation, our tolling debate has continued while our backlog of projects has expanded and congestion worsened. Our highways now rank among the worst in the nation. This has been coupled with the regular threat of major cuts and fare increases to our bus and rail services during a time when we should have been expanding these commuting options. We have all seen it and we have all been impacted.
Connecticut residents want major improvements in the transportation system. Last year’s referendum to secure the STF passed with 88 percent of the vote — a slam-dunk by any referendum standard and a clear cry by residents for the improvements we have been talking about for so long.
This choice is important to us all. Ask yourself: How much longer will we wait for lawmakers to find some other mysterious and agreeable funding solution that has eluded the State for more than 20 years? If you drive: How much more time will you waste in congestion? If you are a rail or bus rider: How many more years will you live under the threat of major service cuts and fare increases? Equally as important — Why would any of us want to take on these future colossal expenditures ourselves through borrowing when an enormous portion can and should be shared with out-of-state users?
Let’s take action now. Electronic tolling and the revenue it brings, coupled with a solvent STF, will address all of these problems for ourselves and Connecticut families in the future. The revenues raised by tolls can be used only on the roads that are tolled — nothing else. Beyond that, a sound and solvent STF will allow for improvements to our bus and rail services making them a more appealing alternative to driving alone — important to successful congestion pricing.
Let’s not wait any longer as conditions and congestion worsen and we fall farther behind on supporting our transportation systems — hobbling the State’s efforts to grow. Let’s achieve, and move beyond, state of good repair and work toward a state-of-the-art transportation network for all.
The positions expressed in this editorial are solely the personal opinions of Douglas Holcomb in his capacity as a private citizen. This editorial does not present the official opinions of the office of the Chief Executive Officer of the Greater Bridgeport Transit (“GBT”), the position in which Mr. Holcomb serves; nor does it present the opinions of the GBT as a public agency or those of any of its member municipalities.
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