Nobody likes the idea of paying tolls. But tolls are coming back to Connecticut and I just wish that lawmakers in Hartford would be honest with us about why.
We are running out of money for the Special Transportation Fund, that’s why. And none of the re-funding alternatives are attractive: vehicle miles tax, sales tax, gas tax and yes, tolls. But tolls on our highways would not be a tax.
Tolls are a user fee. You only pay a toll if you drive. If you use mass transit or ride a bike, you pay no tolls. Doesn’t that seem fairer than taxing everyone, even those who don’t drive?
Let me dispel a few other myths about highway tolling being spread by dishonest pols:
TOLLS ARE NOT SAFE: When is the media going to stop telling us that tolls were eliminated in Connecticut because of the “fiery truck crash” at a toll barrier in Stratford in 1983? Tolls are collected thousands of times a minute in New York and New Jersey without a single toll booth or fiery truck crash. EZ-Pass toll collection is fast and safe.
WASHINGTON WON’T LET US TOLL: Not so. The Federal Highway Administration has told Hartford that we can toll I-95 and I-84 if tolling is used to manage traffic as opposed to just raise money.
TOLLS SLOW TRAFFIC: In fact, the opposite is true. With barrier free tolls, cars don’t slow down. And by making people pay for the privilege of driving on a major highway (especially at rush hour), those that don’t want to pay won’t drive then, making for less traffic and a faster ride for those who are willing to pay.
LET’S JUST TOLL OUT-OF-STATERS: Sorry, that’s against the law. These are our highways so we all should pay for them. And PS: we all pay tolls when we drive in New York and New Jersey, so why are we now giving those states’ residents a free ride in Connecticut?
TOLLS WILL DIVERT TRAFFIC TO LOCAL ROADS:Maybe so for the first week or two. If people would rather drive on Route 1 instead of paying a 50 cent tolls on I-95, they obviously don’t value their time, so let ‘em. It will just mean a faster ride (and less traffic) on the toll road for us who do.
TOLL MONEY WILL BE MIS-USED: I share this concern and think nobody will support tolls or taxes until we have a “lock box” on transportation funds to be certain they are not misappropriated. But the absence of a lock-box is not an excuse to deny the need for funding.
THE ROADS SHOULD BE FREE: Every time we hit a pothole on a highway or bridge that should have been repaired, we’re paying a toll. Maintaining our interstates is expensive and paying a toll for road repairs seems cheaper than paying for blown tires, alignments and bent rims. A recent study says those car repairs average $864 a year for every Connecticut motorist.
But why am I the only one talking about the value of tolls? Where’s the governor, our transportation advocate? Where’s the Commissioner of the DOT? Why aren’t they explaining the why’s and how’s of modern tolling?
Even the Democrats who voted tolling bills out of committee for broader debate are reluctant to make the case that it’s time for tolls. And nay-saying opponents of tolls, pandering to the public, are offering no alternatives.
Shame on all of them.
Posted with permission of Hearst CT Media. Jim Cameron is founder of The Commuter Action Group, and a member of the Darien Representative Town Meeting.