Tolls hurt commuters

TRUMBULL, CT (October 17, 2018) – Rich Deecken, the Republican candidate for the State Senate in District 22, issued the following statement regarding proposals to install electronic tolling on Connecticut roadways:

Tolls are a regressive tax that disproportionately hurts lower income commuters. Residents of Bridgeport, Trumbull, Monroe and surrounding towns would be hit hardest as most commuters are heading southbound to Stamford, Westchester County and New York City for work during morning rush hour. Gold Coast commuters would not have to pay as much in tolls as they are closely situated to the New York-Stamford job market. This means more household income for middle and lower income families would be going toward paying for access to travel to work.

Tolls are prohibited from being placed exclusively at the state’s borders, and like proposed truck-only tolling, would illegally discriminate against interstate commerce. Connecticut residents would pay most of the tolls as opposed to out-of-state drivers; an estimated 75% of the total revenue collected from tolls would come from Connecticut drivers. The remainder would be paid by out of state residents, except there is one problem: Connecticut does not have reciprocity agreements with other states. There is no way to collect funds from out of state drivers if they do not have an electronic transmitter.

While cameras can capture license plates and send bills to the residences, toll dodgers are not compelled to pay as they are not penalized by their home state for failure to pay tolls in other states. As of April 2018, roughly 450,000 out-of-state drivers owe the Massachusetts Department of Transportation $15 million in unpaid tolls on the Mass Pike. In April 2018, the Texas Department of Transportation decided to waive $1.3 billion in late fines and fees owed by drivers on state-operated toll roadways. Out-of-state drivers would be getting a free ride through Connecticut which would place more of the burden on Connecticut residents.

Installing a minimum of 72 toll gantries statewide would cost $450-$650 million, and would require $157 million per year in annual toll operating costs. As opposed to the gasoline tax, which is collected by local vendors and is an efficient means of collection, tolls would require the creation of another bureau within the CT Department of Transportation to administer the toll program in Connecticut. 33% of funds collected from tolls would go to administration, collection and enforcement of the toll program, and not toward roadway maintenance.

The tolls proposed for Connecticut would not be fixed-rate tolls as in other states; instead, toll price would vary based upon congestion. Connecticut gave up the right to fixed-rate tolling when it eliminated all tolls in the late 1980’s. Under the proposed CDM Smith congestion pricing model, tolls would be placed on CT highways every 5 miles and would cost $.10 – $.20 per mile. For a commuter traveling from Bridgeport, Trumbull or Monroe, to the Greenwich-New York line, a driver would encounter 8 tolls one way, 16 tolls round trip per day on the Merritt Parkway or Interstate 95 and pay an extra $1,700 per year if the rate is $.10 per mile; $3,400 at $.20 per mile.

Toll receipts do not have to be specifically earmarked for roads. Contrary to popular belief, federal law allows toll revenue to be used for unrelated transportation projects. To emphasize again: receipts collected on Connecticut roads are not required or mandated to maintain the roads where they are placed.

Connecticut’s spends roughly $500,000 per mile of road while the average cost per mile in the United States is $180,000. Connecticut spends $100,000 per mile in administrative costs per mile of road, the highest of any state and nine times the national average of $11,000, according to the Reason Foundation 2017 Annual Highway Report. This clearly highlights the fact that our state is struggling with a spending problem, not a revenue problem.

Connecticut is a high cost-of-living state and tolls will only exacerbate the state’s affordability problem for middle and lower income families. If tolls were re-instituted in Connecticut, they would be paid exclusively by Connecticut residents, toll revenues would not be required to go toward the maintenance of the roads and a third of collected receipts would go toward administration of the toll program. Most importantly, tolls will hurt commuters and families by double-taxing them to travel within Connecticut as they already pay both federal and state gasoline taxes for road maintenance.

My opponent is on record of supporting tolls and voted to approve tolling in House Bill 5046 in April 2018. She believes working families should contribute more household income for the ability to commute to job markets beyond Greater Bridgeport. I believe in toll-free access to the open road. As your state senator, I will never support any toll legislation in Connecticut. We made the right call to eliminate tolls years ago; we can’t afford to go back.