Driver survey will focus on Route 11 tolls

A driver survey starting this month, during which motorists will be handed survey cards while waiting at traffic lights and stop signs, will highlight the beginning of a study to determine whether tolls could help pay to complete Route 11.

The study starts next week, according to the state Department of Transportation.

DOT staff will hand out the survey cards at 19 locations for a couple of weeks in mid-August and again in mid-September.

The postage-paid cards, which are expected to include about 20 questions, will ask drivers about the routes they use in the area. One question the cards won't ask: an opinion on tolls.

"This is basically a study to determine the feasibility and how a tolling application could be applied to fund the construction of Route 11," said DOT spokesman Kevin Nursick. "Part of that means we need to know where folks are driving to and from in the area, and how they use those roadways in the area to get around. It'll help us get a clearer picture of how tolling might work to fund the construction of Route 11."

The agency will not announce when and where in the region the surveys are to be distributed in an attempt to avoid a type of ballot-stuffing scenario that could skew the results. Nursick said the distribution would potentially take place mostly on side roads and entrance/exit ramps.

Nursick said employees will not stop traffic on the highway and their interaction with drivers will be short. The DOT will likely put up signs and cones to let drivers know they are approaching a survey location.

The cards will be quick to fill out, Nursick said. The agency also expects to offer a modest incentive for people to return the cards, such as entry into a drawing for a gift card.

"It won't be an encumbrance in terms of holding people up," Nursick said. "There are no prolonged conversations."

The agency will likely hand out between 50,000 and 75,000 survey cards, which are still being modified. Nursick said the results won't be available until the end of the study process, which the agency expects to take another two years.

The survey is just a small portion of the study, said Nursick, who described the $5 million round of environmental, engineering and funding studies as two-pronged. One prong is devoted to engineering and the environment, he said, while the other is focused on tolls and funding. The studies will be financed through $4.4 million in federal funds and $600,000 in matching state dollars.

The agency has selected BL Companies, located in Meriden, to conduct environmental studies, design engineering services and conduct a preliminary traffic and tolling/revenue study for the extension; Wilbur Smith Associates of New Haven will do the preliminary traffic and tolling/revenue study as a sub-consultant.

According to a news release issued by the DOT Thursday, the funding study's goal is to determine whether tolls, and in particular electronic tolls, can generate enough revenue to finance, in whole or in part, the proposed extension of the highway from Salem 8 1/2 miles south to Interstate 95.

k.crompton@theday.com

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