The Democratic majority of the state House and Senate is lining up behind a plan to charge the largest tractor-trailers to use Connecticut’s bridges.
It’s taken a long time — years — to get to this compromised point. That’s because “toll” is a four-letter word that most legislators have been reluctant to tout and there’s been a vocal and visible grassroots effort to keep tolls from returning to Connecticut. You might remember then-Gov. Dannel Malloy’s effort to slip into the Bond Commission a $10 million study of tolls before leaving office; it went nowhere.
But Gov. Ned Lamont has been trying to make his CT2030 plan to spend $19 billion on transportation infrastructure over the next 10 years, first proposed in November, more palatable to legislators. Most recently, he scaled back tolling to only the 18-wheelers. Closed-door caucus meetings of both chambers Tuesday brought the sides closer to agreement.
There’s no question that Connecticut’s highways and bridges need repair and mass transit needs improvement. How to pay for the required work is the sticking point.
Before any compromised plan comes to a vote in Hartford, however, two elements are imperative: More details must be provided and a public hearing must be conducted.
Details include exactly how much revenue realistically could be projected by charging tolls on a dozen bridges to class 8 and higher tractor-trailers, and how could Connecticut’s plan save it from a similar court challenge faced by Rhode Island over its trucks-only tolls? Other details include the responsibilities of a Transportation Oversight Board, namely whether that group could set tolls, which should remain the purview of the General Assembly.
Exempting smaller trucks — those that deliver oil, for example — removes a central argument that truck tolling could cripple the local economy. The compromise is fairer as it’s the 18-wheelers that cause the most wear and tear on the highways.
By limiting the size of trucks, however, less money will be collected — about $170 million net annually vs $186 million — and the public needs to know how that will affect the infrastructure repair plan.
Citizens are highly engaged with the tolling issue, from demonstrators who are against any form of tolling to supporters who argue that out-of-state drivers using Connecticut’s roads should help pay for them. Their concerns deserve to be aired in a public hearing before the General Assembly votes.
They need to hear what safeguards would be in place to ensure that 18-wheeler tolls couldn’t morph into car tolls, a safeguard that any politician considering reelection would also want.
With details satisfied and a public hearing conducted, we support dealing with this controversial issue in a special session of the General Assembly this month.
One might question why not wait until the new session opens on Feb. 5. But it is better to clear the air now and deal with this issue that’s been hanging over the state’s head too long.
This editorial first appeared in the Connecticut Post on Jan. 8.