The case for tolls

There was good reason to charge tolls when the Connecticut Turnpike opened in 1958 - the state was still helping pay construction costs and also had additional road maintenance expenses.

By the same token, it made sense to stop collecting tolls in 1985 - the construction bond had long been paid off and traffic backed up so often at eight collection plazas on Interstate 95 that Connecticut became known as "The Toll Booth State."

But it took a 1983 crash involving a truck that slammed into four cars at the Stratford toll plaza, killing seven and injuring several others, to finally persuade lawmakers to get rid of the booths.

Now, after a quarter-century of free rides, highway congestion has grown increasingly nightmarish and funds for maintenance and mass-transit alternatives have dwindled. As fuel efficiency for cars improves, revenues from the gas tax will also drop.

It is time to return to the starting line and bring back tolls.

This is one conclusion of a report issued Wednesday by The Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a coalition of regional planning and transportation groups determined to relieve highway congestion, focus on building communities around transit hubs, encourage bus and rail projects and raise revenues to pay for it.

We support these goals with one caveat: Revenues raised by tolls must be restricted, by law, to supporting transportation.

Drivers familiar with the E-ZPass system in use throughout the Northeast realize such electronic collection is far less disruptive than the old method of paying toll collectors or tossing coins or tokens into a basket and waiting for a gate to go up. With proper design, motorists don't even have to slow down as the electronic reader on the windshield automatically deducts the levy from an account tied to a credit card.

Highway tolls may even encourage more people to take a bus or train - or better yet, hop on a bike.

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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