HARTFORD — With ongoing debate over tolls at its peak, as well as three bills in play that would establish them along Connecticut's system of highways, separating fact from the fiction can be a daunting task.
Connecticut drivers are still a long way from seeing actual tolls being built along their daily commutes. While all three bills indeed passed the Transportation Committee, these are only preliminary steps. At least one of these bills needs to pass with majority support from both chambers of the Connecticut General Assembly, before receiving a signature of approval from the governor's desk. Subsequently, state DOT officials would need to assemble a task force and formulate a final plan which itself would need to cross logistical and economic hurdles. Only after this would the plan see its way back to the General Assembly for approval.
It'll take several years to undergo the necessary steps before a plan is put into place, and it's quite possible the final version of the measure may look completely different, with the exception of a few shared similarities between current drafts.
For starters, all three bills would establish electronic tolling without monstrous toll booths. They'd also offer similar discount programs and penalties. The cost to drivers would be based on a 'congestion pricing model,' which would vary the applied rates through a number of factors like day and time of travel.
“It keeps people off the roads who don’t need to be there at rush hour," said Rep. Jonathan Steinberg [D-Westport]. "We have not seen in other states the diversion to local roads that Republicans seems to fearful of."
All three bills also offer up slightly different flavors. For instance, the Governor's bill wouldn't cap the toll fees.
“If anybody wants to come to the table with some other ideas who can bring them on board, I’m all ears,” explained Gov. Lamont.
Senate Bill 423 would freeze the toll rate for 10 years, though Republicans have questioned whether this would be enforceable.
House Minority Leader Themis Klarides said, “If anyone believes that, as they say, we have a bridge in Brooklyn we can sell you.”
“That is at best a promise that can be broken," added State Senate Republican Leader Len Fasano.
The Senate version also lays out 52 specific infrastructure improvement projects while handling revenue from tolls differently by shifting funds to a Special Transportation Fund sub-account. The aptly-named Transportation Priority Projects Account would then act essentially as a lock-box within a lock-box.
“We’re trying to prove to the public that’s its not going to be taken away; it’s not going to swept," said State Senator and Transportation Committee Chairman Carlo Leone. "It’s going to stay in there. It’s going totally 100% toward transportation infrastructure.”
And then there’s House Bill 7280, which would instead establish a quasi-government agency, the Connecticut Transportation Finance Authority, to approve infrastructure improvements.
“Yeah I think we kind of backed off the Authority," acknowledged Rep. Steinberg. "A lot of people feel uncomfortable with quasi-governmental entities."
“That’s the most cowardly way of doing legislation in this building,” said Sen. Fasano.
H.B. 7280 also allows tolls to be established on roads beyond I-91, 95, 84 and Route 15. “People still have an opportunity to speak out and speak out loudly,” explained Republican State Sen. Tony Hwang.