There was something encouraging about a recent AAA poll about returning tolls to Connecticut. Of 980 state drivers, 47 percent supported electronic tolls. That result is remarkable when you consider Connecticut residents have a right to feel they already pay enough, and to say enough is enough.
But returning tolls to the state makes sense, and it does so not just because everybody else does it. When you cross a bridge and have to pay a toll to do so, it makes sense if the payment goes toward maintaining the bridge and ensuring safety. That can also be said for the wider range of highways and byways. It’s not surprising that those supporting tolls want the money committed to transportation.
The state is facing a serious shortage when it comes to the Special Transportation Fund, expected to be about $38 million short by next year and to be in deficit of up to $216 million by 2022.
The poll, conducted by AAA Allied and AAA Northeast earlier this month, contained some revealing details about attitudes toward tolls. While most supported tolls, nearly a third, 30 percent, do not support any increase (that’s the enough is enough point of view, which is well taken). Sixteen percent would rather see an increase in federal and state gas taxes.
My own feeling about tolls is that I don’t like them, but that assessment is based primarily on the frustration of getting delayed or stuck in traffic because of them.
Automation does not in all cases make this better. (If I’m going to have to stop to pay a toll, I’d prefer handing it over to a human being I can say hi to.) But those misgivings are alleviated by today’s electronic systems, where you don’t necessarily have to stop and simply drive under some metallic structure that automatically takes your toll.
Not all that long ago I was taking routine drives to Baltimore, where my son was attending college. The experience could be maddening, because except for Connecticut there’s a toll to pay in every state along the way. Once I wised up and got EZpass, the drive went much more smoothly. It’s still no fun to pay so much money, but the example of paying to cross a bridge helps justify the expense.
There’s no question but that Connecticut needs infrastructure improvements, as does the nation. In a recent opinion piece, Democratic U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Esty, who represents the 5th District, wrote about a bipartisan (as in 24 Democrats and 24 Republicans) report on rebuilding the nation’s infrastructure: “Our parents and grandparents turned gravel roads into paved roads,” she wrote, “and today we risk allowing paved roads to turn back into gravel ones.”
Kicking the can down the road, so to speak, will leave a most unpleasant predicament for our children.
It was interesting to see that 5 percent of those responding in the AAA poll supported paying a fee based on the miles they drive each year. There were plans for Connecticut to participate in a study of that type of approach by the I-95 Coalition, but the mileage-based tax was highly unpopular. There was a little too much Big Brother about having mileage activity tracked (never mind that we already spy on ourselves through the vast network of smartphones and other devices).
We should see more talk about tolls in the next legislative session, and it’s already a topic in the governor’s race. The devil will be in the details, as in where the tolls will be placed and how much the charge will be, but in general it’s time after decades of their absence to consider returning tolls to the Nutmeg State.
Reach Jeffery Kurz at 203-317-2213, or firstname.lastname@example.org.