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Tolls: Road testing free market ideas to drive better roads with less traffic

Since colonial times, turnpikes have represented a guiding principle of public finance: Let those who benefit bear the costs.

It’s been 30 years since a horrific accident at the Stratford toll station prompted Connecticut to eliminate tolls. Since then, Connecticut has made no significant changes to its transportation system or funding mechanism, relying on the eighth-highest gas tax in the nation and the highest tax on diesel fuel. Infrastructure needs have lagged funding, and congestion has worsened. Meanwhile, most of our neighboring states have adopted technology, such as EZ Pass, to establish modern, efficient and safe tolling.

Before Connecticut creates a new revenue source in the form of tolls to fund transportation projects, it should first stop siphoning off $146 million a year in oil company taxes which are diverted to the general fund. The state should also reduce or eliminate the $269 million used to subsidize rail and bus service. And if Connecticut does implement tolls, it should come with a corresponding reduction in the state gas tax to ensure tolls don’t become just another tax siphoned off to feed bigger government unrelated to roads.

If Connecticut were to re-institute tolls, it should also consider congestion pricing – charging higher prices during times of peak use, and lower or perhaps zero tolls during off-peak times – to help reduce traffic delays.

Tolls

Done right, re-instituting tolls has the potential to ease congestion, raise revenue for infrastructure improvements, increase economic efficiency, cut pollution, and bolster public transportation.

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