Gov. Dannel Malloy signed an executive order on Tuesday forcing another study on how to implement electronic tolls on Connecticut’s highways and their potential impact on commuters.
Tolls were a hot-button issue during the 2018 legislative session. Several bills which would have authorized the study and implementation of tolls were never brought to a vote due to public and political opposition.
According to the governor’s press release a $10 million bond will fund a study of how electronic tolls on I-84, I-95, I-91, the Merritt and Wilbur Cross, and “other limited access highways as determined by the DOT commissioner” would affect commuters and transportation revenue.
“Today, I am directing state agencies to commence a comprehensive study that will provide the legislature with just that,” Malloy said in a press release. “As Connecticut’s General Assembly and next governor consider how to address the future of our state’s transportation funding, this study and plan will prove to be invaluable in their endeavor to make an informed decision.”
Malloy began 2018 with an announcement that the state’s Special Transportation Fund was insolvent due to high debt service costs and increasing operating costs. The governor recommended implementing tolls, a higher gasoline tax and a tire tax.
A bill in the House would have authorized a study on tolling in Connecticut as well as completed the environmental studies necessary for federal approval for tolling Connecticut’s interstates. Although House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, promised to bring the measure to a vote in the House, a vote was never held.
A 2015 study by CDM Smith, an engineering consulting company, estimated that 78 toll gantries on Connecticut’s interstate highways and the Merritt/Wilbur Cross parkways could bring in more than $1 billion per year to the Special Transportation Fund.
The study also estimated that 70 percent of the cost would be paid by in-state residents.
Several groups loudly opposed tolls in Connecticut including the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut, radio hosts Chaz & AJ in the Morning and the Yankee Institute, which held a "Toll Troll" demonstration on the front lawn of the Capitol building in April.
"On his way out the door, Dan Malloy is spending $10 million of the people's money to study a way to take even more money from Connecticut residents who need to drive to work," said Carol Platt Liebau, president of Yankee Institute. "Hasn't he done enough over the past eight years to make things difficult for Connecticut taxpayers?"
President of the Motor Transport Association of Connecticut Joe Sculley questioned why the state would need to spend an additional $10 million.
"I believe the message this sends is that these state agencies can’t do their job unless they get extra bond money," Sculley said. "These agencies have studies already from expert consultants like CDM Smith. At the end of the 2018 session there was an effort to pass legislation that ignored the CDM Smith study."
In his press release, Malloy says the study will explore ways in which Connecticut drivers could receive a discount or whether Connecticut could potentially lower the gasoline tax — two ideas floated at the end of 2018’s legislative session by Democratic representatives who supported tolls.
Although tolls proved unpopular with the public, Malloy has already said he will not seek reelection, leaving a future governor and legislature to decide what to do with the results of the study.
“We need to be truthful with the people we were elected to represent,” Malloy said. “Without transforming the way we fund our highways, we will be unable to pay for the large-scale construction and rehabilitation projects that our state needs to ensure continued safe travel while attracting businesses and growing our economy.”