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Reconsidering tolls

Published January 14. 2013 4:00AM

For years this newspaper has urged the legislature to take a serious look at returning tolls to some state highways. Not the tolls of old that caused long lines as drivers fished in their pockets for tokens and coins to drop into baskets. Today's tolls, found all along the Northeast corridor, utilize EZ-Pass systems that allow drivers to sail through, the fee collected electronically from a credit or debit card.

Older drivers are still haunted by the recollections of those long lines and more terribly by the January 1983 crash in which a tractor-trailer plowed into cars waiting at a Stratford toll, killing seven. After that accident mounting public pressure convinced lawmakers to remove the tolls. Yet with a toll system designed correctly, the chance of such an accident today would be remote.

The fact is that Connecticut needs to generate revenue to maintain and repair its aging highway infrastructure. With cars becoming ever more fuel efficient, revenues generated by the gasoline tax will continue to drop. While states throughout the Northeast generate revenues from out-of-state visitors driving along their highways, Connecticut gets little from them, and nothing if they do not gas up here (and why should they - it's expensive).

According to the Connecticut Mirror, Rep. Pat Dillon, D-New Haven, plans to introduce legislation this session to begin a discussion about tolls. Meanwhile the Department of Transportation is undertaking two studies looking at putting tolls on Interstate 84 near Hartford and on Interstate 95 between New Haven and New York.

An increasing number of states are using tolls in creative fashion. Congestion pricing assesses higher fees during rush hours. This approach can persuade drivers to alter their habits, shifting travel times earlier or later, and convince those not commuting to work to wait for off-peak drive times. Tolls would also make it more attractive for some to switch to Metro North commuter trains.

Another option involves construction of toll-only lanes, with drivers paying a toll to avoid traffic.

And we continue to advocate for using tolls to subsidize the completion of Route 11 from its terminus in Salem to an interchange with Interstates 95 and 395, vital to helping spur economic growth in this region.

One stipulation - toll revenues must go into a dedicated fund for transportation needs alone.

We've seen the toll discussion start before, only to quickly fade, but perhaps this time will be different.

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