For the first time since tolls were removed from the state's highways 32 years ago, a bill to put them back on the roads cleared the Transportation Committee on a party-line, 19-15 vote.
"We should have done this four years ago," said Rep. Tony Guerrera, the House Chairman of the Transportation Committee.
“Ten years down the road, when you see more roads being fixed, more bridges, more infrastructure, when it comes to rail, bus service whatever it may be, you’ll realize it was the right thing to do for the State of Connecticut," Guerrera said following the vote.
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The proposal would authorize the regulation and construction of electronic tolls on the state's highways, using the revenue from those collections for infrastructure projects. The measure would also cut the state's gas tax by half of one cent each year for five years, once the tolls are installed. Further, Connecticut residents would pay less on the state's roads than out of state drivers.
"All of the reasons against this have been taken away," Guerrera added. He also pointed out how ther Office of Policy and Management now projects that the state's Special Transportation Fund is projected to be empty within the next five years.
Opponents to tolls have been vocal. They've argued since the beginning of the debate this year, and in recent years, that tolls are just a new tax on the middle class, who could least afford it.
Sen. Toni Boucher, the Senate Transportation Committee co-Chair, has advocated for a higher gas tax, and a better use of state bonding to pay for road and bridge projects.
“Connecticut has reached a point where it has taxed its residents to the hilt," Boucher said. "We’ve become an unaffordable state and this is just one more cost that especially our middle class has to bear when they get to work at rush hour, and that’s when they would tax them more as a toll," Boucher said.
Tolls were removed from the state following a crash involving a tractor trailer that drove into a toll plaza, colliding with several cars, killing six people.
Even though the transportation committee approved the measure, it will likely be heard by another committee, likely Finance, Revenue, and Bonding, because any toll proposal would increase the amount of money the state takes in.
The legislative session ends June 7.