Tolls bill revised as House prepares to vote, but specifics remain unknown

House Democrats released proposed changes to a bill authorizing the Connecticut Department of Transportation to move forward with implementing tolls on Connecticut’s highways.

The revisions include removal of a 30-day “deemed approved” provision in the original bill, which would have automatically approved the DOT’s tolling plan if the legislature did not vote on the matter within 30 days.

The revised language specifies that tolls must be placed on I-84, I-95, I-91, the Merritt and Wilbur Cross Parkways, but tolls may be installed on other limited access highways if the DOT Commissioner believes it is necessary.

It also orders the DOT to “consider toll discounts, toll credits and income tax credits for CT residents,” but offers no specific figures.

House Speaker Joe Aresimowicz, D-Berlin, said the tolls could be 11.9 cents per mile during peak hours and 9.4 cents during off-peak with discounts for Connecticut residents down to 3.5 cents per mile depending on the type of E-ZPass they have.

At previous press conferences, Aresimowicz has repeatedly said there were no specifics as to the number of gantries on the price of the tolls, but did say the tolls would bring in $1.3 billion per year.

The state’s 2015 study by CDM Smith priced the tolls between 10 and 20 cents per mile and estimated that 70 percent of the toll revenue would come from Connecticut drivers. The offering of discounts could potentially change that ratio.

However, there is no language in the bill stating what the toll rate would be, as the DOT will include that information in their proposal. The revisions also say the DOT must report on the validity of lowering the state’s gasoline tax “as the health of the STF [Special Transportation Fund] improves.”

The Department of Economic and Community Development must also consider ways to ease the toll burden on small businesses.

Aresimowicz said the tolls bill will come to a vote in the House today, but a public meeting in Milford on Saturday showed residents remain angry at the idea.

The revised bill language requires the DOT to conduct the federal environmental studies necessary to receive federal approval of installing tolls. The DOT would then create a proposal as to the number of gantries, their location and toll prices which would be voted on by the legislature.

Aresimowicz said the state would use a contractor to run the toll gantries. Installation costs are estimated any where from $450 to $600 million and operating costs are estimated to be $157 million per year.

The revisions in the bill contradict Gov. Dannel Malloy and DOT Commissioner James Redeker’s proposal earlier this year, which said Connecticut would need to install tolls, raise the gas tax and implement a new tire tax.

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Marc E. Fitch

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