Toll bill moves to state House of Representatives

Connecticut may be moving closer to having tolls installed on its highways following passage of House Bill 5046 by a narrow vote on April 5 in the legislature’s Finance, Revenue & Bonding Committee. The bill now moves to the House of Representatives.

The 26-25 vote on An Act Concerning the Sustainability of Transportation Projects was hailed by Gov. Dannel Malloy and decried by state Senator Toni Boucher (R-26). Wilton’s state Rep. Gail Lavielle (R-143), Easton’s Adam Dunsby (R-135), and Ridgefield’s John Frey (R-111) also voted against passage.

“I believe that, in fact, this bill would represent one of the biggest tax increases — after two of the largest tax increases -—  in our state’s history. I cannot underscore that enough,” Boucher said in a press release. “It is a tax … on top of the most burdened tax state in the country.”

She said House Bill 5046 gives far-reaching powers to the state Department of Transportation, comparing the authority the department would have on tolls to the authority it presently has on state rail and bus service.

She also noted that 70% of toll money collected would come from Connecticut drivers and the bill before the committee contains no provision to reduce other taxes.

“Nowhere in this legislation does it say, ‘Well, we’re going to take out the gas tax or we’re going to cut it in half so it won’t be such a burden on Connecticut residents,’” she said. “And by far those most affected would be those at the bottom of the economic ladder. They would be the ones required to get to work at rush hour congestion times.”

Sen. Boucher said the addition of tolls to Connecticut highways gives businesses and taxpayers another incentive to leave the state.

According to information on the general assembly website, the bill authorizes DOT to:

  • Construct and maintain electronic tolling systems on state highways — I-84, I-95, I-91 and the Wilbur Cross and Merritt parkways — or contract with a toll operator to do so.

  • Enter into tolling agreements with the Federal Highway Administration and other government entities in order to fulfill its toll-related responsibilities.

  • Charge tolls, and set and modify toll rates in amounts sufficient to pay, at a minimum, the highway operation and maintenance costs and debt service on any bonds issued for the tolled highways.

It also:

  • Includes provisions related to toll implementation, including toll collection and enforcement, data privacy, toll system interoperability, and outsourcing.

  • Requires that toll revenue go into the Special Transportation Fund and be used in accordance with federal tolling laws.

“This is an important step forward as we work to ensure the long-term solvency of the Special Transportation Fund, and I applaud Finance Committee leadership,” Malloy said. “The truth is that if we do not find new revenue, we will not be able to keep our roads, bridges, tunnels, and rails in a state of good repair, and we will be forced to significantly increase fares and dramatically reduce services on bus and rail services. If we fail to take action this year — on this bill and on my proposals to ensure the short-term viability of the transportation fund — we will put the safety of Connecticut drivers at risk and cause unnecessary harm to our economy.”

The governor’s praise was among the minority in the Joint Favorable Report issued by the Transportation Committee.

Among those entering negative comments about tolling was the Western Connecticut Council of Governments, which includes Wilton, Ridgefield, Weston, Redding, and New Canaan among its 18 municipal members.

“As drafted, the bills would empower an unelected body, with unclear accountability, to raise an unspecified but presumably large amount of revenue from persons and businesses in the state. This arrangement raises numerous questions beyond ones of good governance,” the report said.

Among the questions the council asked:

  • What will the impact of tolls be on the state's economy?

  • Who will be affected by tolls?

  • How will the impact of tolls on low and moderate income households be mitigated?

The American Civil Liberties Union of Connecticut worries about privacy issues. It suggested the DOT be required to develop and implement a privacy policy and protocol relating to toll customer information and other data that is collected, received, maintained, archived, accessed and disclosed by the department to a toll operator.

Any law should prohibit, with some exceptions, the sharing or sale of toll customer information and exempt toll customer information from the Freedom of Information Act except under specific circumstances. License plate data should be used only for collecting tolls and should not be kept more than 48 hours, unless so requested by law enforcement.

Even some support for the bill was not full-throttled, such as the comments provided by Carl Ornowski of Trumbull who said vehicles registered in Connecticut should be exempt.

The Connecticut Construction Industries Association Inc., Operating Engineers Continuing Political Committee, Local 478, and American Council of Engineering Companies of Connecticut offered support for the bill.

According to the report, the latter said, “The technological advances afforded by electronic tolling have improved the ability to tailor tolling to our individual needs and concerns. As engineers and businesses directly involved with the design, implementation and benefits of such systems in other states, we understand the value funding from electronic tolling can bring to Connecticut.”