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Tolling Points

Malloy Puts Connecticut at a Crossroads with Historic Tolling Announcement

Bill Cramer

In an historic announcement January 31, Connecticut Gov. Dannel Malloy unveiled a plan to introduce all-electronic tolling on his state’s highways by mid-2022.

The plan will roll out alongside a phased, 7¢-per-gallon increase in the state gas tax and a $3 tire tax “to not only avert insolvency in the transportation program but also fund a major, 30-year rebuilding initiative,” the Connecticut Mirror reports.

“We stand at a crossroads in Connecticut,” Malloy said in a livestreamed announcement at the state Capitol. “We need to make a decision, and we need to make it soon.” With the state’s transportation infrastructure falling into disrepair, he reminded citizens that a sound highway system is also a cornerstone for a healthy community and a strong economy.

“It’s about growing our economy today, tomorrow, and far into the future,” he said.

Clearing the Road for Tolling

It’s easy to point to a single moment when the ground shifts, and it’s important to celebrate a big win when it happens. But a scientist once compared policy-making to the geological process of plate tectonics, with long periods of slow, almost imperceptible change below the surface, followed by the occasional eruption at ground level that is immediately visible to all.

Connecticut is a great example of how those small changes can add up to great things.

It’s been decades since Connecticut last tolled its highways, and tolling itself has been transformed since then. The state’s highway funding deficit had been on the rise for many years by February 2015, when the joint House and Senate Transportation Committee took up consideration of new tolling legislation and invited IBTTA Executive Director and CEO Patrick Jones to share his views.

“We can very definitely assure you that the practice and technology of toll collection has advanced significantly in the last 30 years,” Jones told the committee. “New tolling entities have the opportunity to design their systems to incorporate non-stop, all-electronic toll collection from the outset, saving considerably on construction costs and avoiding the need to impede traffic flow.”

By March 2017, the legislature was hearing from a local citizen, retired West Hartford dentist Bob Hall, who attended transportation committee meeting to voice his support for tolling.

"Is this going to be popular? Of course not," Hall told his elected representatives. But "I'm concerned the money is running out and we can't maintain our infrastructure."

By September 2017, the Connecticut Post was weighing the state’s transportation budget shortfall against the revenue nearby states were taking in from tolling—including $395 million to Massachusetts, $708.3 million to New York State, $1.03 billion to Pennsylvania, $1.57 billion to New Jersey, and nearly $1.9 billion to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

“Revenue projections for statewide tolling in Connecticut vary, with some estimates placing the take at $900 million a year,” the paper noted. “A study commissioned by the state ranged from a high of $62 billion over 25 years to $5 billion if only $2 border tolls were established.”

Two days before Malloy’s announcement, with some legislators pushing hard for new toll revenue, the American Automobile Association reported that 47% of Connecticut residents favored the move. At that point, with momentum peaking and the idea firmly lodged in the public mind, it was just a question of when the state would make the move, not whether it would soon happen.

Trust and Accountability

In a year when IBTTA members are emphasizing trust and accountability in all their stakeholder relationships, Connecticut’s job now will be to prove how powerfully tolling can deliver. But the process within the state is already under way, with former NBC news anchor Jim Cameron going out of his way last April to knock down the myths that still accumulate around modern toll roads.

To focus mostly on the positive replies, rather than the negative oldthink—Cameron made a powerful case that all-electronic tolling is safe (a major concern after Connecticut’s “fiery truck crash” of 1983). It’s permitted under federal statute. AET moves traffic faster rather than slowing it down by allowing toll users to pass through a gantry at highway speeds. And it creates options and choices rather than triggering traffic diversions.

Perhaps most important of all, Cameron took on the bad, old narrative that roads should be free. (If your mortgage payment is coming up, there’s still time to find and memorize that formula before you try to present it to your bank!)

“Every time we hit a pothole on a highway or bridge that should have been repaired, we’re paying a toll,” he noted. “Maintaining our interstates is expensive, and paying a toll for road repairs seems cheaper than paying for blown tires, alignments, and bent rims.”

Those costs add up to $864 per year for the average Connecticut motorist, according to the 2017 Report Card on America’s Infrastructure issued by the American Society of Civil Engineers.

So Connecticut has a lot of work ahead, but every reason to celebrate a hard-earned win. With dozens of new launches to look back on over the last several years, tolling agencies from coast to coast will have a lot of insight and experience to share. We can’t wait to get started.

Get the latest on all-electronic tolling! Sign up today for IBTTA’s Managed, Lanes, AET & Technology Summit, April 22-24, 2018 in Charlotte, NC.