It was 30 years ago when the final 35-cent toll was collected at the Wallingford tollhouse on the Wilbur Cross Parkway.
The tollbooths closed for good at 11 p.m. on Friday, June 24, 1988. The next Monday, workers began removing booths along the Wilbur Cross and the Merritt parkways. At that time, the Wallingford booth was 37 years old.
Connecticut decided to abolish tolls in 1983 when a tragic accident at a Stratford tollbooth killed seven. Phasing out the tolls along the Connecticut Turnpike started two years later.
The accident in Stratford occurred when the driver of a tractor-trailer allegedly fell asleep at the wheel and crashed full speed into a line of cars waiting to pay the toll, causing an explosion and fire.
In September 1985, a series of highway fatalities prompted Gov. William O’Neill to order all of the turnpike tolls closed two months ahead of schedule.
The parkways, which run south from Meriden to the New York state line in Greenwich, had toll plazas in Wallingford, Milford and Greenwich.
The state legislature decided to close state toll booths along the Merritt and Wilbur Cross parkways soon after closing them on Interstate 95. Besides safety, they also cited concerns about emissions from cars waiting to go through the plazas, the Record-Journal reported at the time.
Those who supported ending the tolls said their demise would be fairer for residents living nearby and make the four-lane highway safer.
Not everyone was for the elimination of tolls, and those who opposed the move pointed to increased traffic now that the road would be free, and increased damage to the road with heavier traffic. Millions in state revenues was also projected to be lost. In the ’80s, the parkway tolls generated $13 million annually, but cost the state about $6 million to collect.
Now with the state facing billions in unfunded infrastructure repairs, some lawmakers are considering re-establishing tolling — particularly electronic tolling — in an effort to reclaim some of that revenue.
About five years ago, Rep. Pat Dillon, D-New Haven, introduced a bill in the legislature that would re-establish border tolls in the state. Her proposal came as Gov. Dannel P. Malloy and the DOT started to seriously study the issue of tolls, also pointing out the state’s revenue from its gasoline tax is set to decline as cars became more fuel-efficient.
This year, under Malloy’s direction, the State Bond Commission approved $10 million in financing for a study of establishing electronic tolling on most state highways.
Tolls could raise as much as $1 billion per year, with up to 40 percent coming from out-of-state motorists, as estimated by Department of Transportation Commissioner James Redeker. That number could be closer to $600 million to $800 million, depending on the level of discounts given to in-state residents.
The future of tolls has ignited fierce political debate moving into the November elections.
Both the Democratic gubernatorial candidate Ned Lamont and GOP candidate Bob Stefanowski have spoken out against the study, but Lamont remains open to the idea of trucker-only tolling, while Stefanowski views tolling as a tax, which goes against his no-tax pledge, according to the CT Mirror.