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Route 11 tolls clear latest hurdle

By Johanna Somers

Publication: theday.com

Published April 12. 2013 3:00PM   Updated April 12. 2013 8:30PM
Bill to help fund highway completion now moves to House

Hartford — The legislature's Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee voted 30-19 Friday to establish tolls to help pay for the completion of Route 11. The bill now moves to the House of Representatives.

"Those of us in southeastern Connecticut are waiting for the completion (of Route 11)," state Sen. Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford, said. "We must be pushing the 40-year mark on this road."

The Transportation Committee also has voted to support the bill, which has been controversial because it would reintroduce tolls to the state.

"This funding scheme and the reintroduction of tolls for the purposes of our roadways is something that is very controversial," state Sen. Toni Boucher, R-Wilton, said.

Boucher said there is a study on tolls, including a toll for Route 11, currently underway. She said she was told the study would be completed by the fall and would provide the legislature with a better understanding of whether it should move forward with tolls or use alternative means to fund the road.

Regardless of whether the study shows the toll for Route 11 has merit, Stillman said, this bill at least would put the idea in place.

"October rolls around and we are not in session and it gives the go-ahead to the department if their study proves that it is a good idea to start the process," Stillman said. … "Nobody likes tolls, let's get real, but the reality is that this is a very small stretch of road and we need a way to try to pay for it."

The use of secondary roads instead of a completed Route 11 also is a public safety concern, she said. The current road is inadequate for traffic and it goes by a large aquifer that provides drinking water in southeastern Connecticut, Stillman said. Many accidents, including the rollover of an oil tanker some years ago, raise concerns about polluting the water source, she said.

The tolls wouldn't pay for the entire Route 11 project, which is projected to cost between $1.2 billion and $1.5 billion. The state would pay 20 percent of that cost through bonding, with the federal government providing the other 80 percent. The tolls would be used to pay back the money the state would bond.

A couple of months ago, former Salem First Selectman Peter Sielman, who has followed the project for years, said highway and interchange completion costs could be paid off in about 25 years if a $2 toll for cars and a higher toll for trucks were imposed. But last month, State Rep. Pamela Sawyer, R-Bolton, a member of the Transportation Committee, said she has heard the toll might be as high as $5.

Stillman said the federal government is not sending the state enough money to pay for new roads and bridges, and the gas tax doesn't raise enough money either. Therefore, tolls need to be discussed, she said.

"It's a very small piece of road, which people of southeastern Connecticut have been waiting many years for," Stillman said.

State Rep. David Scribner, R-Brookfield, said he opposed the bill, in part because it potentially could tie up all other state transportation projects.

The state Department of Transportation would have to commit the funding and prioritize it above all other transportation projects in Connecticut, he said.

"My opposition is not only to tolls in general, which we have had many debates about. It has to do with the impact that it would have on our Special Transportation Fund and the prioritization of all other transportation projects throughout the state, including rails, highways, badly needed bridge repairs, (and) our ports."

j.somers@theday.com

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