HARTFORD, CONN. Three decades after doing away with highway tolls, Connecticut’s legislature is taking a hard look at bringing them back to help fill a depleted fund for transportation projects.
The state House of Representatives could take up draft legislation on tolls as soon as Wednesday. A plan under review would include discounts for Connecticut drivers and commuters, with the possibility of different rates for peak and off-peak hours.
A 1983 truck crash that killed seven people at a toll booth on Interstate 95 in Stratford created pressure to remove the toll booths, and they were eliminated from the highway within three years. Additional legislation called for tolls to be stricken from other state highways by 1988.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy has endorsed a return of tolls, warning that $4.3 billion in transportation projects will have to be delayed or canceled if there isn’t new revenue generated.
But opposition and skepticism remain as to whether Connecticut should join neighboring states with tolls, making the fate of any tolling legislation uncertain this year.
“This is the lightning rod for everyone who is dissatisfied. This has sent them right over the top,” said Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, referring to angry constituents she has heard from. She said tolls would be another tax in a state “that has already been devastated by too many additional taxes.”
Other lawmakers are pushing to pass legislation this session that gets the ball rolling on a plan for tolls that the General Assembly can eventually approve or reject. This year’s legislative session is scheduled to adjourn at midnight on May 9.
“We have been talking about this for a number of years,” said Rep. Antonio “Tony” Guerrera, D-Rocky Hill, the co-chairman of the legislature’s Transportation Committee. “You need some type of blueprint here and we don’t have that.”
A document highlighting aspects of the draft legislation shows Connecticut drivers with an E-ZPass would receive an approximate 30 percent discount. For Connecticut commuters or frequent users with an E-ZPass, there would be an additional 20 percent reduction. Lawmakers also are considering a state income tax rebate for drivers and other breaks, including gas tax cuts.
The document also indicates a Connecticut resident might pay about 4.4 cents per mile during off-peak times and 5.5 cents per mile in peak periods. That is compared to an out-of-state driver with an E-ZPass paying 6.3 cents for off-peak travel and 9.9 cents for peak periods.
Higher rates could be charged for drivers without the E-ZPass. A Connecticut driver with a state-issued E-ZPass and a commuter discount might pay a total of $1.72 to drive from the New York state line to New Haven — 49 miles — during the off-peak time and $2.16 during peak hours.
But Guerrera stressed that such amounts could change, depending on what the Department of Transportation ultimately recommends to the legislature.
Besides the price of the tolls, the department would be required to consider ways to help small businesses impacted by tolls, where to locate the electronic tolling gantries and estimates of how much it would cost to operate the toll sites, among other issues. The department also would have to conduct studies to satisfy federal requirements for tolls.