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Limited Highway Tolls Bill Passes Conn. Committee, Moves to House

Fri March 25, 2011 - Northeast Edition
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HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) A bill that would allow for the return of tolls on some Connecticut highways cleared a key legislative step on March 18.

The General Assembly’s Transportation Committee, on a 23-12 vote, approved a bill that would allow tolls on new state highways or highway extensions, such as the proposed completion of Route 11 in southeastern Connecticut.

The bill now moves to the House of Representatives for further action.

Members of the southeastern Connecticut delegation have pushed for the legislation as a way to help pay to finish Route 11, a project that has been stalled for years. It ends abruptly in Salem, detouring traffic onto a narrow, two-lane road.

The bill would not be mandatory.

“It’s not about putting tolls on existing highways. It’s not about border tolls. So if you’re concerned about your constituents who are currently commuting along our highways, nothing will change with this bill,” said Rep. Ed Jutila, D-East Lyme. “Passage of this bill does not mean tolls are automatically going to go up anywhere.”

But some Republican members of the committee said although they understand the desire to finish Route 11, they fear the bill could ultimately lead to tolls elsewhere in the state and possibly someday along existing stretches of highway.

“I think what we’re doing is establishing some level of precedent,” said Rep. David Scribner, R-Brookfield, the ranking House Republican on the Transportation Committee.

Another bill, proposed by Rep. Antonio Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill, the committee’s co-chairman, would allow electronic highway tolls elsewhere in Connecticut to help raise much-needed state revenue for transportation expenses. Guerrera said there are some technical issues with the bill, which has mixed support in the General Assembly, but he said he still plans to pursue the legislation.

The General Assembly closed the state’s toll booths in the late 1980s following some fatal crashes.

Gov. Dannel P. Malloy, the state’s new Democratic governor, has said he might favor using tolls to help raise money to help complete Route 11, which was supposed to move traffic from the Waterford/New London area to Hartford.

Jutila said he received a wake-up call a year or so ago when the Department of Transportation commissioner told the legislature that Route 11 was among a number of projects considered to be “un-fundable.”

“I realized at this point we’re probably not going to do new highway construction without coming up with a new mechanism for paying for it,” he said. This bill, Jutila said, could jumpstart other long-delayed highway projects in Connecticut.

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