New push for tolls in Connecticut - four toll bills in legislature

February 21, 2011
By Peter Samuel

With the state governor Dannel Malloy proposing to hike the state gasoline to the highest level in the country, several legislators are suggesting tolls as a better way to raise revenue. Malloy is proposing 3c/gal increases in gasoline and 4c/gal in diesel which would leapfrog the state ahead of New York to have the most expensive motor fuel in the country.

State senator Edith Prague (Dem - 19th District, Columbia) has filed a bill that would provide for tolls at various state borders. SB31 is titled "AN ACT REQUIRING THE OPERATION OF GATEWAY TOLLS" and it reads: "That the Commissioner of Transportation shall immediately operate tolls on the state's major highways, at locations where motor vehicles enter or exit this state."

A similar bill AB6136 introduced in the lower house by Rep Antonio Guerrara (Dem, Rocky Hill 29th District), transportation committee chairman.

AB6136 is titled "AN ACT ESTABLISHING TOLLS AT CONNECTICUT'S BORDERS."

It provides: "That the Department of Transportation shall immediately initiate all actions necessary for the establishment of electronic tolls at the state's borders; that commencing July 1, 2011, and monthly thereafter, the Commissioner of Transportation shall submit a progress report on such actions taken during the preceding month to the joint standing committee of the General Assembly having cognizance of matters relating to transportation."

Eight potential toll points

Prague's bill contains no statement of purpose but Guerrera's says: "Statement of Purpose:
To establish tolls at Connecticut's borders and create a source of revenue for the Special Transportation Fund."

Such proposals would probably collect tolls at about eight points going clockwise from the southwest (see map nearby):

(1) I-95W Stamford

(2) Merritt Parkway CT15 Greenwich

(3) I-84W Danbury

(4) I-91 Thompsonville/Windsor Locks north of Hartford, s of Springfeild MA

(5) I-84E south of Sturbridge MA

(6) I-395 Putnam/Woodstock s of Worcester MA

(7) US6 Providence Pike, East Brooklyn, w of Providence RI

(8) I-95E Paucatuck

Several of these could be associated with upgrading the highway being tolled, since they need rebuilds, rehab and in some cases extra lanes.  In the case of (7) US6 the old Providence Pike could be upgraded to 2x2 lanes grade separated to improve service, and also provide an alternate quality route between Boston and New York to I-95 and I-90/I-395 and as part of an upgrade of the east-west route between Hartford and Providence which begins in a short segment of I-384.  In providence itself US6 is expressway standard.

Another possible gateway toll project is CT8 north of Waterbury, a charming expressway that follows the Naugatuck River valley to Winsted about 8 miles, 13 km short of the Massachusetts border. A connection to the Massachusetts Turnpike could be part of tolls there.

Back-of-the-envelop T&$ study

Traffic counts at these eight gateways are in the 400k to 500k vehicles/day range (90% cars/10% trucks), so a car toll of a dollar and truck tolls of $4 would gross between $190m and $237m (see table nearby).

Capital costs of modern all-electronic toll equipment cost be of the order of $40m to $50m and annual operating costs would start at 10% or more of revenue ($20m to $30m) but be capable of being driven down to perhaps 5% ($10m/year) within several years.

(The Associated Press ran a report Feb 16 by Jennifer Sposato suggesting toll collection in Connecticut would present drivers with "another type of 'stop-and-go' traffic," but it is inconceivable anyone would build expensive stop-to-pay toll booths in Connecticut given that tollers around the country are doing away with cash toll collection - Miami's HEFT went all-electronic last week and Maryland ICC MD200 tollroad opens later this week with all toll collection at full highway speed.)

Gateway tolls would collect roughly the same amount collected by the gasoline/diesel tax and way more than the 7% to 8% increase in revenue possible from the 3c/4c increase proposed by the Governor.

General revenue source a Federal No-no, for now

Under present US law states can only impose new tolls on roads that have received federal aid for the benefit of the corridor in which they are located or to manage traffic better with variable toll rates but the financing programs could be designed to further those objectives. It is unclear there would be any serious restriction at three of the eight toll points since they are on highways built originally on toll revenues not federal aid [I-95W (1) and I-395 (6) as the Connecticut Turnpike and the Merritt Parkway (2)] but most parts have used some federal aid in the years since they de-tolled in 1985.

Guerrera's Statement of Purpose for tolls to be a source of revenue for a general transportation fund conflicts with present US law on tolling roads that have received federal grants.

However the new US Congress is quite likely to reduce or eliminate completely the restrictions on states tolling, especially since the parlous state of the transportation budget makes it certain federal grants to the states for highways will be cut. The argument on Capitol Hill will be: "If we're forced to cut grants to the states for highways, it makes no sense for us to restrict them from raising the money themselves with tolls."

So Connecticut's timing could be good for tolls.

Project tolls

A third bill AB2600 has been introduced by Rep Ed Jutila, majority assistant whip (Dem 37th) provides for project tolls in which revenues are used strictly for the road being improved.

Titled "AN ACT CONCERNING THE IMPOSITION OF TOLLS ON NEW HIGHWAYS OR HIGHWAY EXTENSIONS" it provides:

"That the Department of Transportation shall be authorized to impose tolls on vehicles traveling on a new highway or new extension of an existing highway in order to collect a portion of the state's share of the cost of such new highway or extension; that revenue generated by the imposition of any such toll shall only be used to fund the highway or extension on which such toll is imposed, and that the imposition of such toll shall be discontinued upon collection of such portion of the state's share of such cost."

Its statement of purpose is: "To secure a reliable funding source for any new highway of highway extension."

An early candidate for toll financing could be an extension of the CT11 expressway from CT82 where it presently ends about 9 miles, 15km south to the I-95/395 interchange to provide a higher quality connection between Hartford and the coast around New London.

A fourth bill from Rep Jonathan Steinberg (Dem, 136th) wants to toll trucks only: "AN ACT INSTITUTING TOLL CHARGES FOR TRUCKS USING CONNECTICUT INTERSTATE HIGHWAYS."

It provides: "That the general statutes be amended to require installation of EZ Pass toll stations on interstate highways in Connecticut to collect toll charges exclusively from large cargo trucks passing through the state."

Its purpose: "To reduce traffic congestion on interstate highways, promote greater highway safety and generate revenues to support the state's highway infrastructure."

Connecticut presently levies 45.4c/gallon on gasoline (25c excise + 20.4c gross receipts tax) and 46.4c/gallon diesel (26c excise + 20.4c gross receipts). These would both be raised by 3c for gasoline and 4c for diesel, with gasoline tax going to 48.4c/gallon and diesel to 50.4. There is a federal tax of18.4c/gallon on gasoline and 24.4c/gallon on diesel so total tax would go from 63.8 to 66.8c/gallon and from 70.8c to 74.8c on diesel.

Gassin' up outside the little high-tax state

One difficulty in increasing the gasoline/diesel taxes beyond those of neighboring states is that for a small state like Connecticut (just 90 miles, 150km east-west and 50 miles, 80km north-south) a considerable proportion of traffic is given a strong incentive to 'gas up' outside the state. The burden of the gas tax increase then falls disproportionately on those who travel locally and little on interstate traffic.

BACKGROUND: Connecticut along with Vermont has been one of the few states in the northeast without tolls since old cash barrier plazas were abolished in the years 1985 to 1989. There have been moves previously to reintroduce tolls that have come to nothing. Circumstances have changed and the timing now may be more propitious.

Committee hearings are being held for the toll bills.

TOLLROADSnews 2011-02-21

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