Opinion: Legislators are not considering the costs to obtain tolls

State Rep. Tom O’Dea (R-125) who represents New Canaan and part of Wilton, and is a member of the legislature’s Transportation Committee, has voted against three toll proposals. The bills made it out of committee along party-line votes.
“In addition to safety concerns, one of the main reasons we dismantled tolls in the 1980s was because it placed an unfair burden on commuters,” O’Dea said in a written statement. “This holds true today, but only on a much larger scale, and if we were to place tolls on our highways once again, the impact on high-density regions of our state, like Fairfield County, would be disastrous for the middle class.”
He said unlike other interstate systems, I-95 is used as a local road with exits almost every mile and the vast majority of people using I-95 in Fairfield County especially, between 70% and 80%, are Connecticut drivers.
“We’ve been told it will cost between $350 and $635 million to build a billion dollar a year tolling system with 60 to 80 gantries throughout the state; and remember, we only had 12 in the 80s. We’ve seen estimates of 10%-25% to operate and maintain the system,” he said.
He said Massachusetts, which obtains around $500 million annually from its 12 gantries, is seeing about 86% of its traffic paying by EZ pass and 14% being paid by mail. “Massachusetts is owed over $27 million from out of state drivers who failed to pay the mailed toll invoice. There are estimates that about 10% of the vehicle traffic will have plates that are missed, unreadable due to weather or untraceable to an address (i.e. unregistered). We’ve been told that each EZ pass transaction will cost about 20 cents to process and each video reviewed mailed invoice will cost about a dollar to process and mail. If out of state drivers are charged 11 cents a mile without an EZ pass and there are gantries every six miles, we would lose 34 cents for every bill mailed to the out of state driver, assuming they pay,” he said.
While O’Dea appreciates concerns about the condition of the state’s roads and bridges, he believes legislators are moving too quickly with tolls. “They are not considering the costs to obtain those tolls. Businesses will have to increase their prices for goods and services to compensate for the increased operational costs, especially those who rely on highways and limited access roads. Individuals and families living on fixed incomes will need to tighten their belts and those with lengthy commutes will be hit the hardest. We also cannot ignore the installation and operational costs. If the above numbers are accurate, it will take decades to get a single dollar from out of state drivers after costs to build, operate and maintain are taken into account and during those decades, Connecticut residents will have paid over 10 billion dollars in tolls to get that dollar from the out of state drivers. And experts have told us that congestion pricing does not reduce traffic,” he said.
The three bills that were approved by the committee are:
S.B. 423 (Senate Democrat bill) – An Act Concerning Funding for Connecticut’s Transportation Future
H.B. 7202 (governor’s bill) – An Act Concerning the Sustainability of Connecticut’s Transportation Infrastructure
H.B. 7280 (House Democrat bill) – An Act Concerning Support for Transportation Infrastructure and the Creation of the Connecticut Transportation Finance Authority
Now that the bills have cleared the Transportation Committee, they will be sent to the House and Senate chambers where leadership will determine if they are to be called for a vote. Before that happens, there is a chance the bills could be sent to the Appropriations Committee or Finance, Revenue & Bonding Committee.
State Rep Tom O’Dea (R-125) represents part of Wilton and New Canaan.