This map shows the states that collect tolls nationwide. Connecticut is not one of them. Photo Credit: National Conference of State Legislatures
The Hartford Capitol building. Connecticut Democrats disagree over reinstating highway tolls for the first time since 1983, and where to spend that money.
Will tolls be returning to Connecticut highways? This old toll plaza on I-95 in New Rochelle was abandoned after New York switched to electronic toll "gantries.". Photo Credit: Google Maps

Local Drivers No Longer Spared Tolls Aimed At Out-Of-State Trucks? Keep Your Eye On Legislators

Gov. Ned Lamont's Republican challenger last fall, Bob Stefanowski, warned, "Give an inch, take a mile."

Stefanowski predicted that Democrat Lamont of Greenwich, who once favored tolls for all drivers -- cars and trucks -- would revert back to that money-grabbing proposition once he got initial support for out-of-state trucks only.

Earlier this year, Lamont and a coalition of business leaders, labor officials and state lawmakers called for the restoration of highway tolls to finance upgrades to the Connecticut’s crumbling transportation system -- which is expected to run a deficit in 2023 without new sources of revenue.

Top aides to Lamont are trying to persuade legislators to support tolls, as some holdouts in the governor’s own party asking for details on discounts for state residents.

Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff of Norwalk and Rep. Bob Godfrey of Danbury were among the Democrats expressing reservations about tolls this week. 

Lamont's latest plan calls for up to 50 electronic toll plazas, also known as gantries, located about every six miles on four state highways. He said a "congestion pricing method" is all that the federal government will allow.

The Department of Transportation completed a study in 2016 that proposed congestion pricing which charges motorists more during rush-hours and less at off-peak traveling times. 

Democrats have enough seats in the House (91 to 60) and Senate (22 to 14) to adopt tolls without any support from Republican legislators.

Unsatisfied with the governor’s lack of a long-term transportation spending plan, state Sen. John Fonfara, a Hartford Democrat who chairs the legislature’s revenue committee, proposed creating a state commission to write that plan and then recommend how to fund it.

"The public has a right to know before we pass a tolling bill; where will these dollars go?" Fonfara said on April 25. 

A document released by the governor's staff estimates that a commute from Stamford to New Haven would cost $1.80 during peak periods and $1.40 during off-peak periods. That’s based on a rate of 4.4 cents per mile during peak hours and 3.5 cents per mile during off-peak hours. New Haven to Hartford would cost $1.72 during peak periods and $1.36 during off-peak periods. The drive from Putnam to Norwich and Torrington to Bridgeport would be free because there are no toll gantries proposed for Routes 2 or 8.

When Lamont's proposed $43 million two-year budget was released on Feb. 20, it included tolls for trucks and cars with some discounts for local drivers.

Just prior to releasing his budget plan, Lamont said that trucks-only tolls would not generate enough revenue for the state to modernize its crumbling transportation infrastructure and probably won’t stand up to legal challenges. 

"Let me say this to everyone: People in this state are feeling squeezed, I know that," Lamont said. "They’re struggling, I’ve seen it. And I know this feels like another unnecessary cost they need to worry about. That’s why this has been so hard to come to terms with."

During her confirmation hearing, Lamont’s new budget chief, Melissa McCaw said tolls on all vehicles would generate far more than just trucks, raising as much as $800 million annually, with full implementation by 2025.

At that time, McCaw said there would be 53 high-speed toll plazas across highways statewide, not the 82 that were mentioned in a transportation study. The electronic toll plazas would be on Interstates 84, 91, 95 and Route 15. Connecticut drivers with an E-ZPass would get a discount of at least 30 percent.

Sen. Will Haskell, a Democrat from Westport, has said he favors sparing local drivers tolls if the state moves to restoring tolls for trucks and out-of-state drivers. 

If a resident lives a certain distance from the toll plaza, Haskell thinks they shouldn't be penalized with paying tolls every time they take a short commute to a nearby store.

Connecticut drivers already spend at least an hour getting to and from work — especially in Fairfield County — according to data from the U.S. Census Bureau. The average commuter in the United States spent 26.4 minutes traveling to work, according to census data covering a five-year period from 2013 to 2017. 

Having removed its toll booths in 1983 after a tractor-trailer killed six people at a Stratford toll booth, Connecticut is the one of the only states in New England without some form of electronic highway tolls. Vermont also does not have electronic tolls even though some of its roads are tolled.

Forty-two states charge tolls on their highways, including 28 states that collect tolls statewide, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Former Gov. Dannel Malloy proposed a $10 million study of tolls before his term ended. The tolling study was wrapped into a $255 million bond, which included money for highway and bridge repairs, and aid to towns for road work.

Any plan to add tolls would need approval of the state legislature.

Stefanowski, the Republican who lost to Lamont in November, tweeted: "Leaders don’t provide 'two options', they stick to their campaign promises. Although I saw this coming, it is still massively disappointing."