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Unelected officials will have power to toll Connecticut highways under transportation authority proposal

If tolls come to Connecticut’s highways, it may not be through a legislative vote but rather through a new quasi-public entity governed by unelected officials largely appointed by the governor.

On Wednesday the Transportation Committee will hear public testimony regarding two bills to establish the Connecticut Transportation Authority, which would have the ability to install tolls, collect toll revenue, borrow money, own and lease land, and manage maintenance and construction on tolled highways.

The new transportation authority would have a 15 member board of directors, most of whom would be appointed either directly or indirectly by the governor.

According to Raised Bills 389 and 5391, the governor would appoint 5 members to the board of directors, but another 4 board members will be commissioners appointed by the governor.

Commissioners of the departments of Transportation, Motor Vehicles and Revenue Services, and the secretary of the Office of Policy and Management will all be permanent members of the Connecticut Transportation Authority’s board of directors.

The remaining 6 board members will be appointed by party leaders in the House of Representatives and the Senate.

Although future governors might be able to influence the majority of the CTA through appointments, the CTA can only be dissolved through legislative action and only after any bonds have been paid off.

Malloy has indicated that he will not seek reelection, but the CTA would be established immediately upon passage of the legislation and could conceivably begin their work before the governor leaves office.

The CTA would have the authority to establish tolls on Connecticut’s interstates, the Wilbur Cross Parkway and the Merritt Parkway, set the toll rates and collect the revenue. Toll revenue would be used to maintain those highways.

Essentially, the Department of Transportation would no longer be in charge of maintenance or construction over Connecticut’s major highways, seceding that responsibility to the CTA.

The CTA would also maintain offices and employees, all of whom would be subject to collective bargaining agreements.

Although establishing tolls was considered during the 2017 session, Malloy gave the issue new life when he announced the Special Transportation Fund was on the verge of insolvency and suspended over 400 infrastructure projects.

Malloy and DOT Commissioner James Redeker — who would have a position on the CTA — touted highway tolls, an increase to the gasoline tax and a new tire tax as a way to bolster revenue for Connecticut’s transportation projects, but the proposal has not proven very popular with the public.

The STF has come under increased pressure due to rising debt costs, increasing operating costs and flattening revenue.

The CTA would be able to issue its own bonds, essentially giving the state another avenue for borrowing money after being unable to manage its borrowing costs through the STF. As a quasi-public entity it is unclear if Connecticut’s recent bonding cap would apply to the CTA.

There have been several attempts in the past to establish a quasi-public authority for transportation, including a nearly identical bill last year.

In 2015, Malloy also attempted to create the Connecticut Transit Corridor Development Authority, which would have been a similar quasi-public agency, but focused on railroad transportation and with the ability to use eminent domain to confiscate property. That proposal was eventually defeated.

As yet, there does not appear to be any language in the bill creating the CTA pertaining to eminent domain.

Although it is estimated that 70 percent of toll revenue would come from Connecticut commuters, the CTA would only be required to hold one public hearing on tolls.

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