Transit panel: 11 reasons state needs highway tolls

The electronic tolls that allow motorists to pay while moving — not like the old toll booths that were removed in 1985 which required motorists to stop — will most likely be installed on Connecticut  highways in the coming years, explained James P. Redeker Commissioner of the Department of Transportation (DOT).
He joined a panel in New Canaan Town Hall on Jan. 24 to discuss issues with transportation. Other members of the panel included State Rep. Fred Wilms (R.-142), State Rep. Tom O’Dea (R-125) and State Sen.Toni Boucher (R-126), who arrived near the end of the discussion.
The panel offered several reasons why the state needs tolls. Here are eleven:

  1. Electronic tolls are considered safer now. The toll booths that were installed on Connecticut highways in 1958, forced drivers to stop, often causing traffic congestion and other dangers.The booths were abolished in 1988 after a crash killed seven people in Stratford in 1983. Before being removed in 1985, tolls generated about $65 million annually in revenue for the state.
  2. Expenses for transportation are outpacing the budget. Bus and rail subsidy expenses are more than what was in the budget, Redeker said. “You have to adjust for that,” he added. In the last 20 years, the operating budget has grown 215%, said Redeker.
  3. Connecticut is the only state in the region that does not have tolls. “Like tolls or not, it’s how other states are paying rather than raising other taxes,” said Redeker.
  4. More spending cuts in transportation will not solve the state’s fiscal problems.The DOT has already factored in extensive budget cuts. In early January, the state released a roster of 400 capital projects, worth nearly $4.3 billion, that have been postponed over the lack of funding. Cuts in the operating budgets will have repercussions, explained Reteker. There is 15% cuts in personnel, which will impact snow plowing when a storm lasts more than a full day, he said. “We are not going to achieve the standards we’d like to.” he added. The lack of money for maintenance will mean closing highway rest areas, but not service plazas, he added. The state would not benefit from making cuts to such areas as the New Haven rail main line, since there is a net profit and revenue that the state needs.
  5. Fees from trucks will not add new revenue since inter-state trucks already pay fees, explained Redeker.
  6. Transportation funds have been used to makeup shortfalls in other parts of the budget. The panel urged the audience to vote next November for the “lockbox” (a referendum that will force the state to keep revenue for the DOT in the transportation budget.)
  7. A state budget deficit for $240 million looms for 2019, and “we are going to have to address that this year and make sure we once again have a balanced budget,” said Wilms.  
  8. The state cannot sell transportation bonds unless it garners more revenue. The state has a large deficit in fiscal 2019 and a cumulative deficit of $338 million — “You can’t sell bonds for transportation with that kind of performance,” said Redeker. There is an “urgent need” for the state to raise bonds to pay bills for $1 billion of costs already incurred, he said.
  9. Revenues are not coming into the fund at the pace projected. Gas tax revenues and new car sales tax revenues are lower than expected, explained Redeker.
  10. An increased gas tax will not help because people will simply try to avoid buying gas in the state, said the panel.
  11. Debt service has put a strain on the budget. Over 20 years the capital budget has increased by 600% and to finance that “we sell bonds and that is what is causing the rising debt service,” said Redeker. The gas tax, that was reduced by 14 cents 20 years ago “is essentially the revenue that was supposed to support bonds that were sold over 20 years,” said Redeker.

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A panel discussed the state’s transportation woes in Town Hall. (From left to right) State Rep. Fred Wilms (R.-142), State Rep. Tom O’Dea (R-125) and James P. Redeker Commissioner of the Department of Transportation (DOT). State Sen.Toni Boucher (R-126), arrived after the photo was taken. — Grace Duffield photo

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