Transportation Board Looks at Conn. Toll Issue

Fri June 05, 2009 - Northeast Edition
Stephanie Reitz

HARTFORD, Conn. (AP) Drivers won’t see tolls revived on Connecticut highways anytime soon, but officials say the issue is far from dead.

Members of the state Transportation Strategy Board on May 21 decided to postpone making a recommendation to the General Assembly, saying too many questions remain unanswered about the complicated topic and they need more time to study the options. They did not set a timeframe.

Tolls were removed from Connecticut highways and bridges in the 1980s, and the old toll booths, including those along Interstate 95, were demolished.

In recent years, though, some government officials have said electronic tolls — collected without the need to stop at booths — could ease congestion and potentially raise billions of dollars for the cash-strapped state.

But the idea is unpopular with many drivers. Gov. M. Jodi Rell also opposes it. Connecticut drivers already pay annual property taxes on their vehicles, and gas taxes of 25 cents per gallon on regular fuel and 43.4 cents on diesel.

Strategy board members said their recent public hearings made one thing very clear: Many drivers think the toll income will disappear into a black hole of state spending, and don’t trust that it would finance highway work, commuter rail service or other promised benefits.

“Really the view seems to be, ’This is just another way to extract money from me,’’’ said Fred Wilms, a strategy board member from Norwalk.

Dozens of states already charge drivers to use highways, bridges, ferries or tunnels, including all of Connecticut’s border states and most along the nation’s Northeast corridor.

New York and Massachusetts have collected billions over the years from their lengthy turnpikes. And in Rhode Island — which has a toll bridge over its Narragansett Bay connecting to Newport and Jamestown — some officials have suggested adding tolls elsewhere to help that state deal with a budget crisis.

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