Initial OK of tolls bill could give boost to finishing Route 11

A bill that would allow tolls on some state highways and pave the way for the completion of Route 11 cleared a major hurdle Thursday.

By a 37-15 vote, the Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee approved House Bill 6200, which would authorize the Department of Transportation to place tolls on new highways. The measure is intended to help the state raise money to complete Route 11, a project that has remained unfinished for decades.

Route 11 abruptly ends in Salem and detours traffic to Route 85 via Route 82, both of which are two-lane roads. If completed, Route 11 would connect with Interstate 95 in Waterford.

State Rep. Ed Jutila, D-East Lyme, a co-sponsor of the bill, said Thursday that while the bill does not mention Route 11 specifically, it would create a potential funding stream for the highway.

"We now have a governor that's openly speaking in favor of it and providing real leadership on it," Jutila said of Gov. Dannel P. Malloy. "There's a renewed energy and enthusiasm for it up in Hartford."

Last month, the bill passed through the General Assembly's Transportation Committee by a 23-12 vote. Jutila said that last year a similar tolls bill passed the committee, but with fewer votes. The full House of Representatives never voted on it.

A small change in HB 6200's language was made Thursday, which would "allow the DOT to authorize tolls only until an amount equal to the cost of any bonds has been recouped." The full House could vote on it before the end of this year's session in June.

Opponents have argued that the measure would lead to tolls on existing highways, and that tolls would create congestion and safety concerns.

In public hearing testimony in February, state Sen. John A. Kissel, R-Enfield, referred to a 1983 incident in which a truck crashed into vehicles waiting at a Stratford toll booth and killed seven people.

But some Salem residents and others in the region have argued that safety is already a concern on Route 85. At a recent meeting of the Southeastern Council of Governments, Salem resident David Wordell said he's counted nine fatalities resulting from car accidents in the 50 years he has lived on Route 85.

Salem First Selectman Kevin Lyden said he thinks many motorists would support tolls if it meant saving 30 minutes in their commute. He's also been encouraged by recent support for Route 11 and said he supports tolls.

"I think we've got support that we didn't have before," Lyden said. "We're happy that it's a priority and that it appears that it has more momentum than it has had in a while."

jeff.johnson@theday.com

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