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Route 11 funding bill still in limbo

By Johanna Somers

Publication: The Day

Published June 15. 2013 4:00AM

Hartford - Residents of southeastern Connecticut will have to wait at least one more year for the General Assembly to pass toll legislation that might enable completion Route 11.

The state Department of Transportation has not yet completed its Route 11 study, but enough details were released to state Rep. Ed Jutila, D-East Lyme, for him to realize that his original bill in the recently ended session of the General Assembly wouldn't work in the way he intended.

The Finance, Revenue and Bonding Committee passed House Bill 6052 this legislative session, but the bill was not called up in the House or the Senate. In previous sessions a similar bill has at least been passed in one of the two chambers.

"I finally got (the DOT) to give me some preliminary indications from the study, which were that the tolls on the 'yet to be completed portion of Route 11' would not generate sufficient revenue to finance a significant portion of the state's projected cost for the project," Jutila said Friday.

The bill would have authorized the DOT to establish electronic tolls to pay for the construction of extending Route 11 from Salem to Interstate 95.

Extending Route 11 and completing the interchange of Route 11 and I-95 and I-395 was estimated to cost $1.2 billion to $1.5 billion. The DOT would have applied for 80 percent of the funding from the federal government and 20 percent from the state. Revenue from the tolls was supposed to be used to pay the state back its 20 percent contribution.

Proponents of the bill had projected that it might take 25 years to pay the state back if the toll were $2 for a car and higher for a truck.

But Jutila said that the previous planning was "back-of-the-envelope calculations." The DOT has been working on a study in which motorists were interviewed and similar situations in other parts of the country were studied, Jutila said.

The right balance has to be struck between a toll price that is high enough to generate revenue and low enough to attract motorists.

A number of cars are going to stay on the current Route 85 to avoid the toll, Jutila said. He said he would have to wait for the final report and other DOT studies on tolls before he knew exactly how a toll on Route 11 might work and what alternative options might exist.

But not passing a toll bill this legislative session wouldn't delay the project because preliminary design and environmental studies are ongoing, he added.

The DOT would still have to present a financing plan to the Federal Highway Administration to obtain federal funding, but the bill doesn't necessarily have to be passed yet, he said.

"I would rather wait and see the full results and maybe look at this in a more comprehensive way and come up with a more detailed tolling bill," Jutila said.

j.somers@theday.com

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