Friday, February 18, 2011

Recycling a Bad Idea - Border Tolls

The Connecticut General Assembly's Transportation Committee conducted a public hearing today to recycle a bad idea - border tolls. This is the plan to place tolls only at the state's borders to capture money from the transient drivers that get to drive on Connecticut's roads for free. WRONG!

Here's the real story.

Border tolls create an unfair tax for the residents and businesses close to the tolls. In the greater Danbury area we have over 18,000 residents who commute to New York for work. Many more commuters go to Stamford and Greenwich by I-84 and I-684. These drivers will pay an unfair regional tax for the right to use the highways while residents in central Connecticut will not pay.

The proponents have an argument for the unfair tax - they propose a deep discount based on your home zip code! Unfortunately, a similar discount is being contested in the Rhode Island courts. A regional tax like border tolls is simply unfair.

Another major concern of mine is the dramatic impact on local roads from traffic diverting from the tolls at the border. In Danbury, Route 6 and Mill Plain Road run parallel to I-84 across the border. A resident driving to Brewster every day can easily find alternate routes to avoid paying the unfair regional tax imposed by the implementation of border tolls. Neighborhoods like Aunt Hack, King Street and Ridgebury would all be impacted by toll diversion traffic. New Fairfield and Sherman would experience similar impacts from Route 22 traffic.

Greater Danbury is the largest retail area in the state and generates nearly fifteen percent of all sales taxes. The Danbury Fair Mall is the largest enclosed mall in New England and the Federal Road area hosts dozens of big-box retailers and car dealers. A large part of the retail customer base comes from New York. Will tolls make a difference to shoppers? Think how often people drive miles to save a few dollars but maybe not if they reject paying tolls.

Connecticut must apply to the federal government to implement tolls on our highways. The legislature may authorize tolls but they don't have the final say. The governor of Pennsylvania proposed tolls in his budget only to have the federal government reject the application, creating a huge hole in the state budget.

Finally, the state of Connecticut recieves hundreds of millions of dollars in federal highway transportation dollars for maintenance of our interstate highways. Should the federal government approve new tolls here they will stop sending this money to Connecticut. That means we have to pay for the cost of the new toll equipment, the staff to run the system AND replenish the hundreds of millions of federal dollars before we even break even. The numbers don't add up.

Implementing tolls in Connecticut is a bad idea but border tolls is absolutely the worst idea.