Report says tolls could raise $1 billion a year
The Connecticut Department of Transportation (CTDOT) has released documents from a study showing that, should the General Assembly and new governor approve, Connecticut could raise approximately $1 billion annually with all-electronic tolling on highways around the state.
According to the documents, the total gross toll revenue in the first full year of operation (2023 assumed) could yield about $1.086 billion.
About 29% of revenue would come from trucks, while 71% would come from cars. Just over 40% of revenue would come from out-of-state vehicles (out-of-state vehicles are about 30% of traffic). As a percentage of total revenue, Connecticut autos would represent 44% of all toll revenue. The higher revenue share is due to discounts available to drivers with a state-issued E-ZPass.
The total net toll revenue in the first full year of operation (2023 assumed) would yield about $950 million, according to the report. The net revenues are the revenues remaining after deducting toll operating costs and annualized capital cost. The net revenues would be available to pay for maintenance and improvement of the highways and bridges, according to the documents.
CTDOT Commissioner James P. Redeker said this latest report on the study is designed to “inform a dialogue” among elected leaders and the citizens of Connecticut about the potential for instituting tolls in the state.
“Gov. Malloy’s Transportation Finance Panel concluded that current revenues are insufficient to maintain our roads and bridges or to remove traffic bottlenecks and reduce congestion and recommended tolls as one way of generating new revenue,” Redeker said.
The study documents were released in advance of an anticipated in-depth operational, environmental and engineering analysis for an all-electronic toll system, for which the State Bond Commission recently approved $10 million, Redeker said.
The study examined options for implementing tolls in Connecticut that would help pay for needed transportation infrastructure improvements, according to Redecker. He said it demonstrated that a statewide all-electronic tolling system on limited-access highways could raise substantial revenue with low rates for Connecticut drivers who would be offered a discount for using a Connecticut-issued E-Z Pass plus a commuter discount if they use the highways frequently. Without a Connecticut E-Z Pass, out-of-state drivers would pay more. As a result, it is estimated that about 40% of toll revenue would come from out-of-state cars and trucks.
State Rep. Gail Lavielle, (R-143), reviewed the study documents and noticed they were not meant to be construed as a plan, or even a recommendation.
She referred to a statement in the report that said information was based on a “realistic set of assumptions,” and should not be considered a recommended toll system since its intent was to inform the ongoing discussion on tolling.
“It appears to be what I’d describe as a ‘sample scenario.’ In other words, if we were to make a few assumptions, then set up the system this way, here is what we would get. It isn’t yet time to assume that this is the very proposal that would be submitted to the legislature, although it’s concerning that it was released only after the election,” she said.
She has concerns about the cost to install and operate the toll system versus the revenue received from it. “Normally, in most situations, when there is a need for revenue, you start with an estimate of how much revenue you need, especially when the sources of that revenue, pocketbooks, in this case, are not infinite. That didn’t happen here. Instead, the question here seems to have been, ‘How much can we get?’ I think residents should be seeing an approach that clearly defines revenue needs and then includes a conspicuously careful effort to avoid exceeding them. Raising more than needed would cause residents to spend unnecessary money,” she said.
She said she would like to see more projections in the study, including the effect of market-driven declines in gas tax revenue. “If it is expected to start declining substantially by 2023, this should be communicated to the public. In that event, toll revenues would be supplanting gas tax revenues instead of adding to them,” she said.
Finally, she was critical of a section in the study documents that discusses the administrative structure of tolling operations. “Again, it doesn’t make firm recommendations about this. There is no mention, however, of what organization or individuals would be making decisions on toll pricing. Since tolls are costs borne directly by residents, it makes sense for elected representatives to be involved in these decisions. That makes elected representatives accountable, which should ensure that residents’ interests are fully taken into account,” she said.
To read the tolling study documents in full, go to bit.ly/2Q5DoQV.