Bills Approved by Committee Along Party-Line Votes
HARTFORD – State Representative Tom O’Dea (R-New Canaan, Wilton), a member of the legislature’s Transportation Committee, voted against three toll proposals. Despite opposition from Rep. O’Dea, as well as House and Senate Republicans, the bills made it out of committee along party-line votes.
“In addition to safety concerns, one of the main reasons we dismantled tolls in the 1980s was because it placed an unfair burden on commuters. This holds true today, but only on a much larger scale, and if we were to place tolls on our highways once again, the impact on high-density regions of our state, like Fairfield County, would be disastrous for the middle class” Rep. O’Dea said. “Unlike any other interstate system, I-95 is used as a local road with exits almost every mile and the vast majority of people using I-95 in Fairfield County especially, between 70 and 80%, are Connecticut drivers. We’ve been told it will cost between $350 and $635 million to build a billion dollar a year tolling system with 60 to 80 gantries throughout the state; and remember, we only had 12 in the 80’s. We’ve seen estimates of 10-25% to operate and maintain the system. We’ve been told Massachusetts, which obtains around $500 million annually from their 12 gantries, is seeing about 86% of their traffic paying by EZ pass and 14% being paid by mail. Massachusetts is owed over $27 million from out of state drivers who failed to pay the mailed toll invoice. There are estimates that about 10% of the vehicle traffic will have plates that are missed, unreadable due to weather or untraceable to an address (i.e. unregistered). We’ve been told that each EZ pass transaction will cost about 20 cents to process and each video reviewed mailed invoice will cost about a dollar to process and mail. If out of state drivers are charged 11 cents a mile without an EZ pass and there are gantries every six miles, we would lose 34 cents for every bill mailed to the out of state driver, assuming they pay.”
Added Rep. O’Dea, “I appreciate that my colleagues across the aisle are concerned about the condition of our roads and bridges because I am too; however, I am concerned they are moving too quickly and are not considering the costs to obtain those tolls. Businesses will have to increase their prices for goods and services to compensate for the increased operational costs, especially those who rely on highways and limited access roads. Individuals and families living on fixed incomes will need to tighten their belts and those with lengthy commutes will be hit the hardest. We also cannot ignore the installation and operational costs. If the above numbers are accurate, it will take decades to get a single dollar from out of state drivers after costs to build, operate and maintain are taken into account and during those decades, Connecticut residents will have paid over 10 billion dollars in tolls to get that dollar from the out of state drivers. And experts have told us that congestion pricing does not reduce traffic.
Finally, as a result of the first bipartisan budget in decades, we have a reliable source of revenue for the transportation fund at the levels requested by our DOT from the gas tax and new car sales tax. The majority party has diverted almost a billion dollars from the transportation fund over the last decade when you include the diversion of the new car sale tax into the general fund that Governor Lamont is currently proposing. Tolls may be the easy solution, but I was not elected make the easy decisions. My constituents expect me to perform my due diligence before casting a vote that will directly affect their lives in a very significant way. Based on the research I have done, going from a no toll state to the most tolled state does not make financial sense. If we were to cut spending, reduce taxes, toll only bridges over a body of water to prevent diverging traffic onto local roads and have only 12 gantries across the state like we had in the 80s, and like Massachusetts does now, I’d reconsider my position.”
The three bills that were approved by the committee are:
· S.B. 423 (Senate Democrat bill) – An Act Concerning Funding for Connecticut’s Transportation Future
· H.B. 7202 (Governor’s bill) – An Act Concerning the Sustainability of Connecticut’s Transportation Infrastructure
· H.B. 7280 (House Democrat bill) – An Act Concerning Support for Transportation Infrastructure and the Creation of the Connecticut Transportation Finance Authority
Now that the bills have cleared the Transportation Committee, they will be sent to the House and Senate chambers where leadership will determine if they are to be called for a vote. Before that happens, there is a chance the bills could be sent to the Appropriations Committee or Finance, Revenue & Bonding Committee.