Camillo: The Case Against Tolls in CT

Op-Ed from State Rep. Fred Camillo (R-151st) on the subject of tolls

Connecticut has a proud history. Home to transformative inventions, world changing
manufacturing, and national leaders, good old Connecticut Yankee ingenuity cemented our place in a young, growing nation. That legacy has recently been diminished, but for many, regaining our standing as a producer and economic leader is priority number one. That endeavor should not include more taxes, including tolls, to get there. Such thinking and action has already failed miserably.

Unfortunately, the first Democratic toll proposal has been filed. While not surprising, since many Democratic candidates pledged support for tolls during the recent campaign, it still concerns thousands of Connecticut residents who are looking at yet another hit to their wallets.

Some estimates have teachers commuting from Trumbull to Greenwich paying approximately $1620 per year. How is that helpful to those teachers and their families?

Riverbank Farms, which comes from Roxbury to Greenwich twice a week for 6 months to
deliver to farmer’s markets, would pay an additional $372 per year just for their Greenwich trips. How does that benefit that company or the consumers in Greenwich that will be looking at higher prices due to the tolls?

A local Greenwich trucking business estimates its yearly toll costs will exceed $72,000! That extra cost will surely be passed on to consumers who will already be paying their own toll costs.

Tolls disappeared from our roads in the late 80s and at that time, there were only 14 toll plazas. This new proposal would call for a per mile rate comparable to neighboring state. Proponents argue these are different from the old ones, and they are correct. The new gantries provide for a free flow of traffic, so the safety issues are reduced. However, that is and has never been the point of contention. The issue is purely economical. Let’s examine the arguments, both pro and con.

Proponents correctly point out that our neighboring states have them. They also cite that at least 30% of the revenue would come from out of state residents. Why not have someone other than Connecticut residents foot some of the bill? Okay, that is a fair point. On the flip side, which they don’t say, is that 70% would come from Connecticut pockets.

Regarding the former, the fact that states on our borders have tolls doesn’t prove their presence equates to well-maintained roads and good economic fortunes. On a recent drive to South Carolina and Florida, I drove through several states that did not have tolls, yet had well maintained roads and are doing quite well economically. So, when we look at the northeast states that do toll, many seem to not be the equal of their southern counterparts. That is certainly not the reason for the disparity in economic fortunes, but it most certainly hasn’t helped those of us in the northeast.

Pro-toll legislators point to a study that suggests $1 billion in revenue will come to our small state from toll revenue. That does not take into account the high cost to operate AND collect these toll charges. It is also hard to imagine when our bigger neighbor, Massachusetts, brings in only $400 million, and can’t even collect on all of that as evidenced by the trouble they have collecting money from out of state drivers who pass through the state without an EZ Pass.

Moreover, these fees/taxes will most likely increase each year. In other states with tolls, amounts charged have gone up annually, 3.2% per vehicle and 3.6% per commercial vehicle. This fact must be considered, too.

What are the options?

In addition to all important better fiscal management and restraint, let’s start with keeping the weigh stations open longer and more consistently, which will bring in much needed revenue stemming from truck violations. When the weigh stations were operated by the state troopers, they were open more, brought in more revenue, and got unsafe trucks off the road, especially at the borders.

Secondly, with a Special Transportation Fund (STF) lock box having been passed via
referendum in November, we should see money intended for transportation-related uses finally being used for such purposes. The yearly raids on the STF have been costly and made worse by highly questionable spending. For example, Connecticut spends over $100,000 per mile on administrative costs, compared with a state national average of $9,600, over ten times that national average! That should be considered before mandating our taxpayers pay one dime on tolls.

Another example of exorbitant spending is the New Britain Busway, a project that cost taxpayers almost three quarters of a billion dollars for just 9.1 miles of road, tearing up light railway in the process. So, let’s give a protected STF a chance to do what it was created for.

Ultimately, the evidence shows that state residents have and are still paying enough to address transportation infrastructure. The knee jerk reaction that is this toll proposal will only exacerbate the exodus from our beautiful state. We need real, concrete, and time tested solutions, which are staring us in the face, not more revenue grabs.

Let’s all work together to stop ideas and legislation that are punitive and a continuation of decades of failure, and instead return to what made Connecticut an economic leader, a
destination, and a place we are proud to call home.