May 14, 2018

Democrats’ lack of a plan doomed tolls

Greg Bordonaro Editor

Connecticut will go another year without a vote on highway tolls implementation and Democrats have no one but themselves to blame.

Why? They weren't transparent from the get-go on what tolling actually means for Connecticut commuters and how much it might cost individual drivers.

It wasn't until the very end of the legislative session that any clarity on potential pricing was revealed. It also was never clear exactly where and how many tolls would exist.

That allowed critics, including Republicans, to sow seeds of fear and disdain among the electorate. In an election year, that's a death knell to any controversial legislation.

The attempt at toll adoption failed so miserably that Democrats couldn't even muster enough support for a bill that simply called on the Department of Transportation to develop a detailed electronic tolling plan.

The bigger question is, why doesn't that plan already exist? If legislative leaders were serious about statewide toll adoption — and many Democrats are — they should have come into the legislative session with a firm blueprint and sold it to the public.

Instead, it wasn't until the end of the legislative session that we started to see some specifics about potential costs, including that Connecticut drivers would be eligible for discounts. In fact, Connecticut residents with an E-ZPass would pay half the rate as other motorists, according to one plan outline.

If we had known that earlier it could have eased some lawmakers' anxiety.

But transparency should go even further than that. There should also be a clear and detailed accounting of how lawmakers plan to use toll funds. What is the funding schedule and how much do those projects cost? It should be noted that Connecticut pays more to maintain its highways than most other states. Are we really getting the best bang for our buck?

Lawmakers are missing their opportunity to adopt statewide tolling, especially as business leaders and others warm up to the idea given the state's transportation funding shortage. I moderated a panel discussion at a commercial real estate conference in Hartford on May 2, and when the crowd was asked if they support tolls, at least three-quarters of the 150 or so people in the audience raised their hand.

But before any votes are cast in favor of tolls, let's see a detailed plan and give the public ample time to digest it and provide feedback.

Only then can we move this process forward.

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