Tolls the best solution

The Connecticut Department of Transportation began the year by announcing that projects vital to maintaining a healthy highway system and economy in southeastern Connecticut - widening Interstate 95, adding a second span to the Mohegan Pequot Bridge and extending Route 11 - are "unfundable."

That's not acceptable. Connecticut needs a reliable source of funding to improve and maintain its transportation system.

Does anybody have a better solution than reintroducing highway tolls?

The General Assembly's Transportation Committee held a hearing last week on a proposed bill that calls for installing electronic tolls near Connecticut's borders with New York, Massachusetts and Rhode Island with revenues directed to the special transportation fund. The idea makes sense.

States throughout the Northeast - New York, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New Hampshire and Maine among them - use tolls to raise transportation revenues. But Connecticut provides those who are passing through the opportunity to use its highway infrastructure free.

Many Connecticut drivers still have bad memories of waiting in long lines at toll booths to toss tokens into baskets. A campaign to remove the tolls finally succeeded after a tragic accident at the Stratford toll plaza killed seven people in 1983. For years after, the concept of using tolls to raise transportation funds was politically off limits in Connecticut.

But the reality is finally setting in that the state must find some way to meet its transportation needs and tolling is superior to the alternatives.

One other option is to increase the already high gasoline tax, but that tax puts a disproportionate burden on state drivers because out-of-state drivers often pass through without ever filling up. Connecticut could use other forms of taxation, not directly tied to transportation, that would not be as fair and, practically speaking, the state does not have sufficient tax revenues to meet general government needs, never mind underwrite highway improvements.

Tolls generate revenues from those using the highways. Use of the E-ZPass system, already utilized in surrounding states, eliminates the need for stopping and paying at toll booths. Yes, it would be an added financial burden for those who cross borders for job commuting, but this has not discouraged border tolls in other states and there is no evidence it has detracted from their commerce. If tolls convince some commuters that mass transit or carpooling are better alternatives, all the better.

Tolls should no longer be a political four-letter word in Connecticut.

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Editorial Page Editor Paul Choiniere, Managing Editor Tim Cotter, Staff Writer Julia Bergman and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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