Toiling Over Tolls

Consultants studying the possibility of reinstating tolls on some Connecticut highways are warning that officials could face a tough battle from the public.

The state Transportation Strategy Board is reviewing a report by Cambridge Systematics, a Massachusetts consultant expected to unveil the results of its $1 million analysis next month.

The mission? Consultants were to review ways to ease gridlock on Connecticut roads, including whether adding tolls on some highways would be feasible.

The result? The report includes options such as creating toll lanes parallel to highways that would let drivers travel faster; charging drivers statewide based on miles they travel; and limiting tolls to highways that need work.

"Public acceptance will be more of a challenge," the report said of an idea to charge only trucks. "Diversion to local roads may be significant."

Fairfield County drivers also could be charged higher "congestion pricing" fees to use Interstate 95 and the Merritt Parkway during rush hour and varying fees at other times, the report said.

"Tolling existing toll-free corridors would be a challenge," the report said.

The Transportation Strategy Board expects to review the report and make its recommendations this spring to the General Assembly and Gov. M. Jodi Rell. Rell has said she opposes reinstating tolls.

Tolls were removed from Connecticut highways and bridges in the 1980s, and repeated suggestions to reinstate them have been greeted with mixed emotions by lawmakers and drivers.

Karen Burnaska, a member of the Transportation Strategy Board, said a small state like Connecticut faces complex issues with tolls.

"We have a lot to consider," Burnaska said. "Connecticut has some very unique features and you can't assume that what works on the Massachusetts Turnpike will work on I-95."

Some other options being examined in the report are:

  • Imposing tolls on all limited-access highways in the state, including the Merritt Parkway, I-95, I-91, I-84 and Route 8.
  • Tolling all traffic on I-95 north of New Haven and I-84 north of Danbury, or tolling specially created express lanes to fund expansion of those corridors.
  • Placing tolls at state borders, ensuring out-of-state travelers pay a share of maintaining highways.
  • Tolling only truck traffic.
  • Converting highway shoulders into so-called HOT lanes, allowing drivers pay to use lanes reserved for carpoolers or buses.

State Sen. Bob Duff, D-Norwalk, vice chairman of the legislature's transportation committee, said it is likely tolls will face strong opposition.

Congestion pricing in Fairfield County and elsewhere punishes residents unless the state gives them the option of better rail service and mass transit, Duff said.

State Rep. Lile Gibbons, R-Greenwich, another member of the transportation committee, said she supports electronic tolls to raise money to maintain heavily traveled highways.

"The technology of the EZ-Pass system is so advanced that there is no resemblance to the toll booths of yesterday," Gibbons said. "We have too many people who use Connecticut as a pass-through to get from the southern part of the country into New England, who add to the wear and tear of our highways and contribute nothing to the upkeep."

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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