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Dillon Seeks To Bring Back Highway Tolls

by Paul Bass | Jan 3, 2013 11:51 am

(29) Comments | Commenting has been closed | E-mail the Author

Posted to: State, Transportation

Melissa Bailey Photo If Pat Dillon gets her way, all those drivers zipping through Connecticut will have to start ponying up.

Democrat Dillon (pictured at the Capitol), a New Haven state representative, has introduced a bill for the upcoming General Assembly session to bring back tolls on state highways. That way Connecticut could join states like Massachusetts and New York and New Jersey in collecting money from interstate drivers.

“We’re a toll-free zone. We’re paying tolls in Massachusetts, and we’re paying tolls in New York. That’s a lot of money. We need it for road upkeep. It’s very important for infrastructure,” Dillon said in an interview.

Her bill does not specify where the toll booths would be placed. She said she envisioned them cropping up at state borders on I-95, I-91, and the Wilbur Cross and Merritt Parkways.

She said she’d like to see the money collected go toward fixing roads as well as boosting mass transit, “given what’s going on with gridlock on our highways.”

Dillon said she does not have an estimate for how much money new tolls would bring the state. Nor does Alan Calandro, who heads the state’s Office of Fiscal Analysis.

In 2010 a Democrat from Fairfield County named Rudy Marconi ran for governor largely on the platform of bringing back tolls. At the time he estimated that the tolls could bring $1 billion a year to state coffers. (Click on the play arrow to watch him discuss the issue at the time.) A website called Toll Road News estimated in 2011 that placing toll plazas at eight key border points would bring the state up to $237 million in revenues with operating costs running at 5 to 10 percent. A 2009 Connecticut Transportation Strategy Board report estimated billions of dollars can come in. “Highway border tolls would raise significant revenue, but would do little to improve congestion in the corridor unless the revenues were invested in projects that provided such benefits,” the report warned. The details of a toll plan—how many tolls, where to use them, how much to charge, whether to use congestion pricing—would obviously determine the amount of revenue raised. And click here for links to findings of a 2009 state Office of Legislative Research report; it showed the state collected $72.3 million in the final full year of toll collection three decades ago.

Marconi never won his party’s nomination. He did plant a seed.

Connecticut abolished tolls on I-95 in 1985, then on other highways soon after. Legislators did so after a tractor-trailer driver named Kluttz killed seven people in a crash at the Startford toll plaza after he fell asleep behind the wheel.

American toll stations have undergone dramatic changes since then. Rather than queue up at smog-producing booths, in many places the majority of drivers pass below an overhang that electronically charges their E-Z pass accounts.

Meanwhile, Connecticut has plunged into a long-term fiscal morass. The gas tax has soared to the country’s fourth-highest level, in part because states offset their rates with money collected from tolls. Highways are as clogged as ever with drivers who feel trains or buses don’t offer suitable alternatives. And the advent of hybrid and electric cars promises to reduce the money the state will take in long-term from the gas tax, meaning it will need to find other ways to finance road repairs.

“We’ve got to start facing some realities in Connecticut,” said East Hartford state Sen. Gary LeBeau, who called himself an “enthusiastic supporter” of Dillon’s bill.

He noted that the bill faces long odds, though, because of continuing opposition from Fairfield County lawmakers. He suggested that Connecticut include a “frequent user” discounts part of a toll plan to help assuage them.

That won’t sway Fairfield state Sen. John McKinney. In an interview Wednesday, McKinney called tolls “another way to get more money from taxpayers” without legislators making choices about spending priorities. He argued that if legislators were that concerned about paying for road repairs, they wouldn’t have voted to raid the state’s transportation fund of “hundreds of millions of dollars” over the past decade to plug general operation budget gaps; and would not have directed $150 million in no-strings-attached federal transportation money to helping build the New Britain-Hartford busway. He said he also worried about the impact of border tolls on businesses in Greenwich that rely on Westchester County customers.

Several other Fairfield County lawmakers made their opposition plain at a forum the Connecticut Fund for the Environment hosted last year to discuss funding transportation infrastructure. “There is a visceral reaction from the public, not just from the voters, but also from businesses and chambers of commerce particularly in cities like Danbury where 40 percent of mall business comes from New York state,” state Sen. Toni Boucher, a Wilton Republican, remarked at the forum, according to Click here to read.

Some of her other proposals include:

• Allowing cities to charge more than $250 in fines for someone who wants to retrieve a confiscated dirt bike or all-terrain vehicle. She made the proposal in response to an outcry in November from local cops and aldermen for more help. (Read about that here; click on the play arrow to watch some of the testimony of young dirt bikers who disagree with the idea of a crackdown.)

• Fully funding the state’s payments in lieu of taxes program, which reimburses communities for property tax revenue lost on tax-exempt hospitals and universities, among other not-for-profits.

• Reimbursing cities for property taxes lost from “supportive housing” complexes, which enable addicts and people with mental disabilities to live in apartments, rather than hospitals or behind bars or shelters, and receive social-service support on-site.

“These are people who would still be in state hospitals if we still had them. It’s more humane to place people in the community. The problem is somebody’s paying a price for that because of our property tax system,” Dillon said.

“When we closed the state hospitals and we moved people out in the community, a lot of those folks have gone to housing which is zoned out of a lot of towns. I’m proud that we don’t do ‘not in my backyard’ [in New Haven]. We are very open. We have very good social policy. But we pay for that” through property taxes.

• Bonding $3.45 million for major structural repairs at the Shubert theater.

Christine Stuart contributed reporting.

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posted by: SaveOurCity on January 3, 2013  12:33pm

its amazing that CT is the only state in the NE without tolls (and also the state with the weakest financial picture)  A truck driver falls asleep and there is a tragedy so we eliminate tolls?  Is there a worse knee jerk reaction this side of taking guns from law abiding citizens in order to make us safer?

posted by: DingDong on January 3, 2013  12:59pm

Great proposal, Pat.  I’m glad to see someone has the courage to propose this—it may not be popular with everyone, but it’s the only sane way to pay for our highways.  Moreover, I would add that i’s only fair, given how Metro North fares keep going up.

posted by: Kevin on January 3, 2013  1:11pm

The article is somewhat inaccurate as to the history of tolls. The state agreed with the federal government in August 1983 to remove the I-95 tolls once the bonds they were backing were paid off (the accident described in the article occurred in January of that year. In exchange, the state received substantially more federal transportation funding, including funding for the replacement Mianus River bridge. The tolls were removed in 1985, two months ahead of schedule, after a second fatal accident at the Stratford toll plaza. Future information about tolls in the state is available in a report prepared by the Office of Legislative Research accessible at http://www.cga.ct.gov/2009/rpt/2009-R-0122.htm.

posted by: anonymous on January 3, 2013  1:17pm

Save Our City, I don’t think there are many proposals out there to take away your guns completely.

There are, however, sensible proposals to limit the types of guns that can be purchased. 

This is because my right to be alive trumps your right to own a rocket launcher or quasi-machine gun revolver.

posted by: Walt B on January 3, 2013  1:23pm

Vermont and Rhode Island don’t have Toll Highways, and the financial state of our little neighbors to the east is far more dire then ours.  Just saying.
I’d like to see tolls only at the borders, like the one New York hits us with on 95 in Rye.

posted by: Noteworthy on January 3, 2013  2:21pm

When Pat and the rest of the legislature, plus the governor, quit raiding the transportation fund of all our gas tax money for general fund, non-transportation expenses, launch the tolls and I’ll be happy to pay. But the reality is Pat and all the rest of the braintrust in Hartford have used the gas tax money like a little piggy bank slush fund. And while we’re talking about gas taxes, the wholesale tax on gas was earmarked for gas station tank replacement and mitigation expenses but almost none of the money is being used to pay for those expenses because once again, the legislature and Malloy quit taking it for other purposes.

I’ll say it again - start spending the $300+ million a year in gas tax money on transportation expenses, pay for the tank remediation. If you need more money, go with tolls. But don’t tax us at the toll booth and keep stealing and misdirecting our money from the pumps too. Get real.

posted by: Atwater on January 3, 2013  2:46pm

If tolls are put up than the gas tax should be repealed or reduced. The income from interstate transit should allow an easement on the citizens’ tax burden. Also, DOT fares should be lowered accordingly (rail & bus).

As for gun laws: The Second Amendment needs to be repealed and replaced with a modern article that corresponds to our reality, not the reality of George Washington, John Adams and Tommy Jefferson. The city should not move to create new laws, but should work harder to enforce the laws already on the books. Responsible citizens aren’t the problem, criminals are.

posted by: Webblog1 on January 3, 2013  3:39pm

In addition to Kevin’s link…there are other obstacles Dillon will have to overcome before her over ambitious idea can be even be considered:

http://search.cga.state.ct.us/dtsearch_lpa.html

Some of her other proposals include:

• Bonding $3.45 million for major structural repairs at the Shubert theater.

WHAT!

posted by: Webblog1 on January 3, 2013  4:05pm

2nd attempt to link:

http://search.cga.state.ct.us/dtSearch_lpa.html

posted by: Webblog1 on January 3, 2013  4:10pm

RE: Issues Surrounding Reinstating Tolls in Connecticut


You asked where “exit” tolls could be placed on Connecticut roads, how much traffic would go through them, how much revenue they would generate, and what a typical toll rate should be compared to rates in other states. You also wanted to know how much federal funding would be lost if tolls were constructed.

SUMMARY

As a practical matter, putting toll booths on exit and entrance ramps on Connecticut highways is not feasible. Most ramps and the local streets that feed into the state roads are not designed nor functionally capable of handling the lines of traffic that would result from tolls. Traffic would inevitably back up onto the expressways during peak and even some off-peak periods.

When Connecticut had tolls, they were barrier-type facilities extending across the roadway at certain locations. All proposals for reinstituting tolls since their removal have been for one-way barrier tolls. The last of Connecticut’s toll facilities was closed in 1986. Reinstituting tolls would require addressing several major political, financial, environmental, traffic management, and safety issues all of which are more difficult to solve now that there are no tolls.

The most logical candidates for tolls are the roads on the Interstate Highway System because they carry the traffic volumes that makes tolls most cost effective. But they also create most of the obstacles to effectively bringing tolls back to Connecticut. Putting tolls on Connecticut’s noninterstate expressways, such as Routes 2, 9, 25, and 72, might not produce net revenue worth the problems associated with putting them up. It was estimated that tolls on all of the noninterstate expressways might not generate any more revenue than was being produced by the Greenwich, Norwalk, and Stratford tolls on the old Connecticut Turnpike.

The two main options for reinstituting tolls seem to be to (1) put them back on some or all of the same facilities that had them in 1986 (the Connecticut Turnpike, the Merritt and Wilbur Cross Parkways, and the Charter Oak, Bissell, and Putnam Bridges) or (2) put them on most of the interstate highways.

Putting tolls back only on the Connecticut Turnpike, and by necessity the Merritt Parkway to prevent traffic diversion, would probably require repayment of $ 200 to $ 300 million in federal funds the state has received since they were removed and might involve loss of as much as $ 200 million in new fundsT

posted by: btocchi on January 3, 2013  4:24pm

Connecticut needs to bring the tolls back.  Not only will tolls go to maintain the crumbling state highway system, but can also help with public transportation improvements.  With electronic tolling systems, it is no longer needed to build toll plazas which increase congestion.  Last month the Massachusetts Department of Transportation announced that the Massachusetts Turnpike will be converted to a 100% electronic toll system in about four years.  Let’s face it, Connecticut’s highways are in the worst condition of any of the highways in the Northeast, and a good deal of traffic on either the Connecticut Turnpike or the Merritt/Wilber Cross Parkways is traffic going between New York and Boston (I am usually one of them).  It is about time that everyone pays for the wear and tear done on Connecticut’s highways.

posted by: streever on January 3, 2013  4:30pm

Webblog1
I’m not informed well enough to speak to the amount of money needed, but the Schubert is a place-defining landmark, that has provided a very real cultural service for almost a century, all the while as a non-profit: i.e., they aren’t a corporation with a profit/loss.

I’m not personally invested in the Schubert: the last time I bought a ticket to an event there was maybe 2005, to see Ira Glass, but this doesn’t preclude my awareness of the value that the Schubert provides not just New Haven but the entire world.

Productions which could not make it in a more competitive venue debut there, gain interest, and go on to become Broadway hits.

The Schubert contributes to our culture and atmosphere and it is absolutely appropriate for Dillon or any other legislator to attempt to find State support for any major infrastructure repairs needed.

This exact proposal may or may not have merit, but I take issue with what I perceive in your comment. I suspect that you are opposed to any government funding of the Schubert, which I believe is a misguided view.

posted by: Anderson Scooper on January 3, 2013  4:50pm

Any chance we might have the “toll” conversation within the technological reality of the year 2013?

All-Electonic tolls in Florida:
http://www.floridasturnpike.com/all-electronictolling/FAQs.cfm?TollByPlate

Fair and progressive discount rates in Virginia for border residents and commuters:
http://www.chesapeakeexpressway.com/E-ZPass/discount.htm

Congestion pricing primer:
http://ops.fhwa.dot.gov/publications/congestionpricing/sec2.htm

posted by: Rep. Pat Dillon on January 3, 2013  5:53pm

Thanks for the feedback. A few comments:
1. the legislature did reduce the gas tax last session, but no one noticed. Prices are driven by more than taxes: e.g. supply, speculation over stability in the Middle East, the price of corn (ethanol).
2. the legislature does move items in and out of the Transportation Fund.
3. 65% of the cost of new rail cars for Metro North - well over $800 million - were paid for by every CT taxpayer wherever they live, but the use of the cars and therefore the benefit is concentrated. We need safe roads and transit options beyond the shoreline.
4. economic development and safety all over the state requires infrastructure: road repair and mass transit options. It’s fair that those who use the roads bear part of that cost.
5.  if a toll proposal reduces congestion, repayment is unlikely.
6. Fairfield County does oppose this and many other measures. Hopefully we can find common ground for the benefit of the whole state.

posted by: HhE on January 3, 2013  6:25pm

Never mind the tolls (annoying, but probably the right thing to do), or the Shubert (a worthy cultural asset), what is a “quasi-machine gun revolver?”  I know what a rocket launcher is; things like a RPG-7 are destructive devices and thus off the table, and I already have a good supply of Estes rockets, so no worries there.  Is anonymous writing about a Webley-Fosbery or the Dardick tround?  Oh for a pistol permit and North of $10,000 burning a hole in my pocket.

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Webley-Fosbery_Automatic_Revolver

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dardick_tround

posted by: PH on January 3, 2013  7:01pm

Love this idea.  The state desperately needs money, and other states don’t hesitate to hit up people passing through their regions.  Ever drive down to DC?  NY, NJ, DE, MD all demand payment for passage, why wouldn’t we ask the same from them?

posted by: HhE on January 3, 2013  9:19pm

Rep. Pat Dillon, I put it to you that while the benefits of MetroNorh and all that may seam concentrated, the Gold Coast that makes the income tax as lucrative as it is, would be unworkable without rail.

I for one favor more rail systems throughout the state, and I am prepared to pay for this with higher taxes.

posted by: New Haven Taxpayer on January 3, 2013  10:17pm

Go Pat Go!
I am sick of watching NY & NJ cars drive like maniacs for free through CT. A round trip to JFK cost me $14 in tolls! Get some back from them.

posted by: Atwater on January 4, 2013  11:13am

To Dillon:

1. The gas tax did go down, but it should be decreased even further, if not completely repealed. Tolls on the State’s borders would help make up the loss of revenue. It is hard for Connecticut to compete when we have the second highest gas prices in the Continental United States. It is also very difficult for Connecticut workers to finance necessary transportation with such high gas prices. It behooves the Legislature to seriously consider the re-construction of interstate tolls on the borders.

2. I agree that the State needs a bigger and better commuter rail system. However, the demand seems to be concentrated, for the time being, so the allocation of funds should be concentrated. And, if tolls go up, CT Transit fares should go down, not just for rail service but also for bus service.

The whole point of interstate tolls is to fund roadway repair, roadway construction, to help fund mass transit and to mitigate the financial responsibility for same from Connecticut taxpayers.  Hopefully the new year will be a more productive year for our State’s government and they will work to make Connecticut a more livable and work-friendly state.

posted by: ACR on January 4, 2013  12:27pm

Regardless of what we do, we should allow CT taxpayers to deduct 100% of their tolls from their CT income tax.

CT already has the highest percentage of “foreign” traffic in the country, mostly on I95.
Let’s use this as an opportunity to effectively tax out of state traffic.

posted by: Webblog1 on January 4, 2013  3:21pm

To: Pat Dillon,
In light of the below historical data, regarding CT Tolls, please expand and expound on your
Comment as follows:
5. “If a toll proposal reduces congestion, repayment is unlikely”.

Connecticut abolishes tollsAfter the 1983 truck crash that killed 7 people at the Stratford toll plaza, toll opponents pressured the State of Connecticut to remove tolls from the Turnpike in 1985. Three years later, these same opponents successfully lobbied the Connecticut General Assembly to pass legislation abolishing tolls on all of Connecticut’s highways (with the exception of two car ferries across the Connecticut River in Chester and Glastonbury). While the 1983 Stratford accident was cited as the main reason for abolishing tolls in Connecticut, the underlying reason was the fact that federal legislation at that time forbade states with toll roads from using federal funds for road projects. Because the Mianus River Bridge was rebuilt with federal highway funds following its June 1983 collapse, Connecticut was required by Section 113(c) of the Federal Aid Highway Act of 1956 to remove tolls from the Turnpike once its construction bonds were paid off.[10]

The debate over tolls on the Turnpike did not end in 1988 with the abolition of tolls in Connecticut. Prior to their removal in 1985, tolls on the Connecticut Turnpike generated over $65 million annually. Since their removal in the late 1980s, Connecticut lawmakers have continuously discussed reinstating tolls, but have balked at bringing tolls back out of fear of having to repay $2.6 billion in federal highway funds that Connecticut received for Turnpike construction projects following the abolition of tolls.

During the economic recession of the early 1990s, legislators studied reinstating tolls on parts of the Connecticut Turnpike and portions of highways around Hartford to make up for huge budget deficits. Proposals for reinstating tolls were scrapped in lieu of implementing an income tax and increasing the state gasoline tax and sales tax, and imposing a new tax on corporate windfall profits.

[edit] Toll debate continuesWith continual budget woes in Hartford, the idea of reinstating tolls resurfaced in January 2010. State Rep. Tony Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill, estimates a $5 toll at Connecticut’s borders could generate $600 million in revenue. Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has expressed pessimism that toll revenue would be spent exclusively on infrastructure repairs, but a need to generate additional revenue, paired with decreases in traditional highway funding sources (such as federal aid and gas tax revenue) means the idea could

posted by: Webblog1 on January 4, 2013  3:38pm

To: Pat Dillon

Alternatively, comment on the Toll roads news link attached here:
http://www.tollroadsnews.com/node/5165

posted by: swatty on January 4, 2013  7:40pm

Thanks for weighing in on the boards to further explain Pat. You have my vote as long as you’re in office which I hope is a long time!

posted by: Noteworthy on January 5, 2013  3:48pm

Pat:

The “reduction in gas tax” was a cap on the wholesale tax once the wholesale price hit a certain threshold. The savings with the cap amounts to a few cents a gallon. Connecticut’s gas tax costs drivers almost 50 cents a gallon and is higher than all of our neighbors. It’s even worse on trucks.

Second, the transportation fund has been raided for more than paying for train cars. And even so, those cars should have been paid for by the people who use the train.

When you divert money for real transportation needs away from roads, and related costs, like tank remediation, it means there is a maintenance problem and tank remediation goes unfunded. This is precisely the problem that is now happening - and of course, the usual bellyaching about not having enough money. The money is there - if you quit taking it, and apply it for the purpose to which it is intended, it’s amazing how far it would stretch.

posted by: Noteworthy on January 5, 2013  3:53pm

A little more:

There are over $100 million in tank removal claims pending - of which some $18 million have been approved and are awaiting payment. Malloy and the legislature didn’t put enough money in the tank fund to pay the claims; has announced it will not pay the pending claims and is going to shut down the program altogether. This then creates problems for gas stations and their insurance which will then drive up the price of gas even further.

And it’s all because the money raised by gas taxes is not being spent in the manner in which it was intended. Period. All the rest of the “explainations” are just excuses and rationalizations to divert the money.

posted by: Seth P on January 5, 2013  4:30pm

This is logical and extremely called for given the economic climate.  You have my support all the way Pat!

posted by: mozartthedog on January 5, 2013  8:07pm

I would rather be on the side opposing resumption of toll collection in Connecticut, but it is rapidly becoming a Hobson’s Choice, especially if the feds reduce the Interstate Highway Fund.  50% of something is better than 80% of nothing.

I heard a discussion coming home last night on WICC and Pat Dillon’s name was mentioned.  They did half truth on one fact; the guest was a state rep and he said if you start collecting tolls you lose your all your federal interstate compensation and you never the federal gasoline tax money come back.  Actually, the highway loses its status as an Interstate and state is responsible for 50% of the maintenance instead of just 20%.  Also if you are going to only toll state boarders, the highways can retain Interstate status by simply taking the first mile at each state border as state highway—put up a sign that says State Highway Begins at milepost 0.1 and State Highway Ends at milepost 1.0.  The electronic transponder readers are on that mile and the state is responsible to maintain that mile—the rest of the highway remains an 80-20 Interstate.

What is important is that the rates never exceed one dollar below the state’s average price of one gallon of diesel fuel—this way trucks don’t drive around it because it would cost them more in fuel to do so. 

I would recommend looking into the scenario in Spring Valley, NY where only tractor trailers and buses pay, passenger cars are free.  Then add to that express toll lanes where passenger cars can either ride with the traffic for free and use these special lanes, pay a little money, and move through traffic faster.

SS

posted by: anonymous on January 6, 2013  11:36am

Anderson, congestion pricing can dramatically reduce congestion and raise money for mass transit.

It should be implemented without any delay, particularly given the State’s high asthma rates within urban centers.

Every year our legislators dawdle more time away, and every year, more children die.

posted by: streever on January 6, 2013  1:41pm

anon is right about the asthma rates and long-term increase in early mortality rate for children:
http://www.nhregister.com/articles/2012/12/10/news/doc50c5f2176e014859595943.txt

New Haven was ranked one of the worst cities for asthma in America last year. It is well-past time for us to address our problem, which is far too many single occupancy vehicles.

We need to increase our investment in mass transit. Yes, it is expensive, but the reality is that we all enjoy a significant health and longevity benefit when we take more Stamford/NYC commuters out of cars and put them on trains.

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