Tolls on the Table in Transportation Committee

Lawmakers heard some of the pros and cons of implementing tolls at the state border during a public hearing Wednesday.

Tolls have been considered the clubhouse favorite by some top lawmakers as a way to pay for continuing infrastructure needs. They would also help fund the governor's proposed overhaul of highways, trains and bridges, which he announced last week.

Patrick Jones testified on behalf of the International Bridge, Tunnel, and Turnpike Association that a new system of tolls in Connecticut would be modern, without people collecting money at toll booths.

“You’ll use a system of electronic toll collection with overhead gantrys, in which people can pass through the toll without slowing down," Jones told the Transportation Committee on Wednesday.

Office of Policy and Management Secretary Benjamin Barnes, who handles budget matters for Gov. Dannel Malloy, said the administration doesn't favor one revenue mechanism over another.

He said tolls are an option, but that the governor's priority is for the legislature to send a proposed constitutional amendment to voters. The amendment would allow them to decide on a "lockbox" to protect revenues meant to pay for transportation.

“The resources, whether they’re raised from tolls or bake sales, or sales taxes, or property taxes or what have you, that those revenues are being dedicated to transportation purposes is very critica,l" Barnes said.

Republicans lined up against the proposal for border tolls, saying they're just a tax. They've said only putting tolls in places where the state sees traffic from neighboring states isn't fair to the residents who live there.

State Sen. Scott Frantz, a Republican from Greenwich, said he even thinks such a specific tolling system wouldn't be constitutional. He also said it could put excess strain on local roads.

“I think It’s amoral to do it to the people that live in those border towns, because we know it’s going to happen," he said. "And people are going to get off and try to avoid the tolls, especially if they’re going to all the way across the state if they know they’re going to get sensed on the other 102 miles of the state, and they’ll take the time to go around."

State Rep. Tony Guerrera, a Democrat from Rocky Hill who has said publicly he thinks tolls are the answer, said the state has to find a way to pay for infrastructure with sagging gas tax revenues.

"We've given the General Assembly a wide range of options today," Guerrera said, referring to different kinds of toll possibilities.

He said the state has to take tolls into consideration.

“Relying on the gas tax is insufficient and we know that, and if we’re serious about redoing 84 or the viaduct, which is going to cost $5 billion, where are we going to get this money? You don’t have to be a brain surgeon to figure this out,” he said.

A committee vote on the toll measure could take place next month.

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