Road Blocks To Road Tolls
Governor-elect Ned Lamont has promised to address transportation and infrastructure funding, and voters in the state have supported the transportation “lock box,” allowing those funds to be used only for transportation-related spending. Adding to the coffers of transportation funds could be a rough road to travel, though.
Turning an eye to neighboring Rhode Island’s success at filling their coffers via toll collections, the governor-elect has suggested looking at tolls on Connecticut highways targeting only heavy trucks, primarily those from out-of-state. Banking on the popular opinion that it is long haul trucks that cause the most damage to roads, and thus should pay the price to drive on them, trucking tolls are seen as a way to build up revenue for repairs to roads and bridges.
It is one solution to a dire problem.
The roadblock may be organizations like the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut (MTAC), whose President Joseph R. Sculley notes that between the International Fuel Tax Agreement and the International Registration Plan, out-of-state truckers bring in nearly $30 million to the state already; in-state truckers add $9,600-plus in user fees and taxes.
While Rhode Island, which implemented a tractor-trailer toll at two locations on I-95 in June, has exceeded expectations for revenue collection, it is also currently fighting a lawsuit filed by the American Trucking Association and other motor carriers, alleging that Rhode Island is discriminating against interstate trucking companies, in violation of the Commerce Clause of the US Constitution.
How Rhode Island fares will be of interest to legislators pondering the benefit of tractor-trailer-only tolls.
Before the state invests millions in overhead electronic tolling systems required to make this work, legislators will want to take into consideration the possibility that truckers will avoid toll roads, impacting roads currently less affected by heavy truck traffic; that with the “lock box” in place, funds no longer diverted from the intended purpose will support infrastructure repairs; and as Mr Sculley suggested nearly a year ago in a statement to the Transportation Committee, alternatives such as an annual fee on electric and hybrid vehicles could be considered.
Connecticut’s legislators may also want to be cautious about supporting tolls on heavy trucks; if that money does not bring in the funds demanded for road and bridges upkeep, an electronic tolling system in place is one step closer to charging all vehicles on Connecticut roads.
The Department of Transportation released documents in November spelling out the benefit of electronic tolling on all vehicles, with discounts for in-state drivers. The temptation to fatten the pot by including all vehicles would be hard to resist. But the impact of added work-related traveling costs for Connecticut residents, especially for the working poor, has to be taken into account.
Legislators will no doubt be weighing a bill to implement tolls in the next year. Our hope is that they learn from neighboring states — and have options in mind that will benefit constituents while giving us the safe roads and bridges we deserve.
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