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Tolling Points

All-Electronic Tolling Could Raise $1 Billion Per Year for Connecticut

By: 
Bill Cramer

A new administration is taking the reins in Connecticut with a powerful new piece of evidence in hand, after the Department of Transportation (CTDOT) reported late last year that the state could raise about $1 billion per year with the introduction of all-electronic tolling (AET).

The analysis by the state’s Transportation Finance Panel “concluded that current revenues are insufficient to maintain our roads and bridges or to remove traffic bottlenecks and reduce congestion, and recommended tolls as one way of generating new revenue,” CTDOT Commissioner James P. Redeker said in a November 14 release, scarcely a week after mid-term elections brought former telecom executive Ned Lamont to the governor’s mansion.

By the time the report appeared, the incoming governor had already expressed support for a more modest tolling plan as one way to tackle his state’s long-standing highway funding challenges. “Democrat Ned Lamont’s transportation plan includes highway tolls on heavy cargo trucks, which he says will bring in an estimated $350 million annually and help pay for expanding airports, fostering economic development around train stations, faster Metro-North service and expanded bus connections,” CT Post reported before the election.

Steadily Building the Case

Connecticut has been slowly, carefully building the case for a return to tolling for several years. IBTTA Executive Director and CEO Patrick Jones was invited to testify before the House and Senate Transportation Committee in 2015, and the issue was still very much in play in 2017, when retired West Hartford dentist Bob Hall went to the trouble of meeting with the committee to express his support.

"Is this going to be popular? Of course not," he told committee members at the time. But "I'm concerned the money is running out and we can't maintain our infrastructure."

Fast forward about 20 months, and the Finance Panel study “demonstrated that a statewide all-electronic tolling system on limited access highways could raise substantial revenue with low rates for Connecticut drivers, who would be offered a discount for using a Connecticut-issued E-ZPass plus a commuter discount if they use the highways frequently,” the CTDOT release stated.

“Without a Connecticut E-ZPass, out-of-state drivers would pay more. As a result, it is estimated that about 40% of toll revenue would come from out-of-state cars and trucks.”

One Step at a Time

The need for this kind of analysis has been building for years. “Highways in Hartford and Waterbury need hugely expensive maintenance, transit users are tired of steadily rising fares, and Fairfield County drivers want relief from ever-worsening traffic congestion,” the Hartford Courant stated in 2017, in its coverage of Hall’s committee appearance.

But there’s a lot to like about the methodical approach Connecticut has taken in its gradual embrace of tolling: While commuters need relief right away, the state’s underlying problems with infrastructure funding and financing have been accumulating for decades, and the best policy responses are the ones that will emerge gradually and stand the test of time.

“The solutions Connecticut is now considering are coming not a moment too soon,” Jones says. “But the state should be commended for the deliberate way it has built momentum and buy-in to reintroduce tolling. They’re gradually envisioning and building a system that will stand them in good stead for decades and generations to come.”

Get the latest on all-electronic tolling and the other technology options that are transforming modern roadways. Register today for IBTTA’s Annual Technology Summit, March 31-April 2, 2019 in Orlando, Florida.