Call for Tolls Grows Louder as Transit Funds Diminish

Dec 17, 2012

Transportation advocates and officials across Connecticut gathered in the state capitol Monday to ask some tough questions about how the state will pay for badly-needed transit upgrades. Commuters themselves will probably have to chip in.

On the national level, we’re looking either at a “fiscal cliff” meltdown with big spending cuts or possible tax increases. Here in Connecticut, the state’s own money problems seem to be getting worse each day. So where does that leave funding for transportation?

“There’s a real sense that we have to look very quickly at what the options are.”

That’s Jim Redeker, commissioner of the state’s Department of Transportation, speaking in the state capitol’s Old Judiciary Room. Redeker says we need new sources of revenue to pay for badly-needed projects like overhauling the Aetna Viaduct, that portion of I-84 that goes into downtown Hartford. Or for modernizing Metro-North’s New Haven rail line. Those are multi-billion-dollar projects. And tolls – long considered a kind of “third rail” of Connecticut politics – may be part of the answer.

“I think tolls need to be looked at, like everything else, and so we are.”

Redeker said the state is studying the possibility of tolling drivers based on what time of day they’re driving or the size and capacity of their car; or tolling certain lanes on a highway. But it will take a lot of political will to get people to accept the idea.

“There’s just no room or no political will at all for tolls in Fairfield County.”

Kim Fawcett represents Fairfield and Westport in the Connecticut General Assembly. She says the only way to even start a conversation about tolls is to try and sell a grand vision of what they could pay for. Maybe something like this:

“You’re going to get a commute of thirty minutes to New York City instead of the hour and fifteen minutes that it currently takes on the train.”

It’s been almost 30 years since drivers have paid tolls in Connecticut; they were phased out after a fiery car crash at a toll barricade killed seven people in 1983. Now, it’s basically just gas taxes and federal funding that pay for transportation infrastructure here – and that pot of money is quickly running out.