Tolls or no tolls, planning for Route 11 will move forward

Hartford - Even though the Route 11 tolls bill stalled last week in the state legislature, the planning phase of the highway extension project is set to shift back into gear this summer.

"It was not necessary in order for the project to proceed forward," said state Rep. Ed Jutila, D-East Lyme, "but it would have been really helpful."

The bill, which passed the House but was never called for a Senate vote, would have given the state authority to establish tolls on a proposed 8½-mile extension of Route 11 that, if built, would connect the road with Interstate 95 in Waterford.

The legislation was related to but not a prerequisite for the new $5 million round of environmental, engineering and funding studies on the Route 11 project that the state Department of Transportation expects to have underway in coming weeks. The studies would be financed through $4.4 million in federal funds and $600,000 in matching state dollars.

One study will examine the practicality of placing tolls on Route 11 to help finance the state's portion of total project costs. Jutila said Connecticut could be responsible for about 20 percent of the roughly $900 million endeavor, and tolls could be one potential revenue source.

The House of Representatives debated the bill for more than two hours earlier this month before voting 76-60 to pass it. Its opponents, mostly Republicans, generally objected to reintroducing any highway tolls to a state that hasn't had them since 1988.

The bill's language said the toll mechanisms would be taken away once the project's construction bonds were retired.

Sen. Andrea Stillman, D-Waterford, said on Friday that she was ready to introduce and defend the Route 11 bill in the Senate. But Democratic leadership ultimately opted to not call the bill during the frenzied final hours of the last day of regular session, which adjourned Wednesday at midnight.

"There was a lot of opposition to the bill and it would have had a lot of talking," Stillman said.

Senators who didn't like the legislation saw it "as a way to open the door to more tolls," she said. "I was obviously disappointed."

Jutila said he wasn't surprised by the outcome in the Senate.

"The word 'toll' alone always generates emotion and controversy," he said.

Jutila also said he expects to introduce the bill again during next year's legislative session. "I'm certainly not going to give up on it," he said.

The bill could have an easier time passing in 2012, as House Minority Leader Lawrence Cafero, R-Norwalk, has suggested that even he might consider supporting it later on if the Route 11 project actually gets underway.

During House debate, Cafero said that enacting such legislation now "is putting the cart before the horse, or the tolls before the road."

j.reindl@theday.com

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